Legendary Dutch sneaker spot Patta has closed its doors. After merging the main store with their struggling Precinct 5 premium boutique, Amsterdam’s Homegrown heroes have decided to shift course due to business pressures. We’re not sure what it all means, but we’re assured that Patta will continue in some shape or form into the future (check out the Patta crew’s press release here). Hopefully a reboot is not too far away. We thought it timely to reflect on Patta’s immense creative legacy and classic colabs by digging up our in-depth interview with Patta co-founder Gee from Issue 17.
Tell me about Patta. I know you’re based in Amsterdam, one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Famous for tulips, smoking pot and wooden shoes.
And good parties! I think Amsterdam is around a million people so it’s a small town but it’s a pretty open- minded city and it’s definitely animated. A lot of artists come over here to work. It’s small but it has that big city feel.
You just had your fifth birthday as well?
Yeah, we started Patta five years ago. We basically wanted to open up a spot where you could find good stuff that was different from anywhere else. I was working at a record store for a couple of years and then for Sony music. My business partner Edson used to work for FatBeats. That’s where we actually met. Our connection with music is tight, it’s pretty much the base of all the stuff that we do.
Do you feel like you were pretty naive when you started out?
Yeah, we were pretty raw. We were like, ‘We’re gonna go to the US to buy some sneakers and make some money!’ and it was, you’re right, naive on our part (chuckles). We opened our doors, did a little renovation and we thought it would go like that. Obviously, it doesn’t go like that. We stumbled into headaches, but we had fun too. Slowly but surely, our name got out.
It’s still an Air Max town isn’t it?
I think in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, girls and boys wear Air Max, that’s it. People here are still really into their bright runners, but even I have to admit that it’s simmering down. Amsterdam is not like London, Milan, Tokyo or New York. We’re a little bit behind the other majors, so perhaps the black and white period is where we are headed now (chuckles).
It feels like everyone deserted the colour boat so fast, almost as if they’re embarrassed of what they used to be excited about?
Yeah, I know what you mean. For me, how I approach a product always is that it has to fit the shoe. I don’t make a black shoe just because the trend is not to use any colour. You can see plain shoes from us like the Converse and you can see all-out crazy shoes like the Forum we did for adidas. The direction definitely is the more plain stuff but I hope that people start to see that it’s actually about style. Style comes naturally and I don’t think that just because it’s basic, it’s stylish.
I agree. Basic can be stylish. Or boring.
I think slowly but surely, we’ll see that is going to turn around a little bit. To be honest, it’s boring to make everything black and white and grey. Don’t get me wrong it’s common knowledge that the best sneaker silhouettes stand out when they are basic black or white. The challenge is to find the challenge!
Tell Hiroshi that!
Hiroshi does it in a way that fits the shoes he works with. The way he simplifies things is actually a good example of how it SHOULD be done. He is exceptional.
No doubt about it. Whose style do you admire?
Ha, I look at my dad and the guy’s just flavour, you know. He wears cool hats and sometimes he looks all black and really, really classy. Other times he wears jeans and sneakers and he still looks like boom! That’s the way it’s supposed to be, yo! Stop talking about getting older, why not dress for that certain day however you feel. You don’t have to walk around every single day looking the same. To me it’s boring. Sometimes I just don’t give a fuck but sometimes I just want to look all black and all that.
All black is good.
All black can be really good!
Was the Gel Lyte III the first colab you guys did?
Yeah it was. Before that, Peter (Parra) did the Air Max Homegrown for Amsterdam and we helped him out with that…
The ones that sold in Australia a month before the official launch?
Yeah, that’s the one. You bastards! There was a whole lot of drama about that. Thank you, Australia.
Your first ASICS was major hype, it really put that model on the map too.
Yeah, it sure was. ASICS have a lot of good silhouettes, especially runners, and since our region is really big on runners, whether it’s adidas, Nike, New Balance or ASICS, they’re always very popular. The Gel Lyte was a shoe that we always liked, but we never really thought it would get that big!
It went nuts. Did that also cause problems?
Yeah. We couldn’t win. We made 250 pairs and we had 120 in Holland, which we thought was a great number for that shoe. I mean, we had to pick a sensible number because we were like, “Oh fuck, how the hell are we going to sell 120 pairs?’ We were scared to death. And then everybody wanted to have it, so I wish we could have seen that one coming, I would have made 300 pairs. I don’t want to have people bummed outside on the street waiting for a shoe.
Did that happen with the Yeezy?
Yeah, of course. The Yeezy was a good concept from Nike and it really fits Kanye too. But man, it caused a headache. The distribution was a tough cookie because there were so much people that really wanted to have them.
Have those negative experiences made you reconsider your role? Seems like stores take the heat for this imbalance between supply and demand?
Well, we say to the brands what we think, but it isn’t listened to always. We are there to keep customers happy and put out relevant and good sneakers. We are in the forefront of a whole scene and it’s a big responsibility and everybody should put in his two cents to make it better for all of us. We should learn from mistakes. You know, sometimes the element of surprise, for instance, it’s not really there anymore.
Let me guess. Are you talking about the internet?
Yeah! It’s great and I love it but it’s also good to just walk into a store and buy a shoe. When you see whole lookbooks online for instance, I don’t really appreciate it. Information helps, that’s for sure, reading about the concept or why a certain collaboration happened is great, but don’t ruin the surprise. Let’s wait a little bit, I think it will be better for everybody.
One thing I worry about is that going to Tokyo used to mean you’d bring back some mad shit, not anymore.
Yeah, I feel it as well, I think you’re right with that one. Japan just needs to have that… that Japanese heat. But now it’s been watered down so far I’m not sure anymore. Same for New York. I really loved the period when Courier in Paris had his own exclusive ACGs. I still think that Size does a good job with their super dope exclusives.
Are you still happy with the overall quality coming through?
It’s the same as it’s ever been I think. It’s just that you have to do a lot more filtering. Take hip hop. Back in the ‘90s, there were say 100 albums and 90 were good. Now it’s like maybe 10,000 albums and still 90 are good. Finding that 90 is why you have to work harder. This stuff is not easy, but I don’t really mind. There’s still a lot of good stuff!
Do you order ‘new’ styles even if they aren’t what kids are about?
Definitely. Of course the store has to make money, but I’m always thinking that if you stick to one thing, at a certain point people will get tired of it, so you always have to look out for the edge. Put your personal taste in there. That’s why we started in the first place. When we opened up we just bought what we liked. Then we noticed that doesn’t work either! In the end, I think the responsibility of a good sneaker store is to try new things.
So who have you been trying?
Well, we’re always trying to check out brands with heritage like Pro Keds, but also new stuff like Gourmet and Keep. The Nike innovation stuff is cool. I liked Rejuvenate, the new ACG line, NSW jackets, all that stuff. I love it. I’ve fallen in love with that stuff. It’s boring to only look back at the past reissues. Those shoes are good and they should be in the marketplace, but we should create our new classics so we can go on.
And Nike Tier Zero? Where do you see it right now?
You know what? I think product-wise, Tier Zero is pretty good now actually. I like the hybrids, not all of them but I think they touched a very good idea of mixing the old and the new. The Fragment stuff is pretty good as well. Product-wise I am happy. What I like even more is NSW. The clothing is ridiculous, really dope pieces that are well priced and with Nike Japan in the forefront, there are a lot of desirable pieces that are JP only. Hats off for Jarrett Reynolds (Nike Apparel Designer). Our only point of frustration is the most boring to talk about and that’s distribution, so there is always room for improvement especially if you’re a perfectionist. (laughs)
Amen! The Patta Converse seemed to be right on the money with the burgundy corduroy, not to mention the jacket.
Yeah. Thank you. It was really exciting to work with Converse and with Parra’s band Le Le and tying in the music connection. The project was a true collaboration – Peter’s artwork, our shoe design then the music and the event took everything further than just making a shoe and selling it. It took time to make it, but I’m proud of that shoe.
The next Patta up is the original Reebok Pump… how is it?
We were proud to be part of the project. It’s always good to get recognition from your peers, especially in this business. You have to have respect for the people that have been part of this culture for a while which is one of the reasons why I try to do my best and put a lot of effort in. I owe it to them and to Amsterdam to keep the standard high. Working on a project like this big with Reebok is an honour. I’m happy with our Pump. It’s traditional, I mean it’s now 20 years old so it deserves its shine but it’s going to be a tough shoe for this market, that’s my honest opinion.
Are you talking about the hugeness?
Yeah! In that perspective it was a challenge but that’s why we did it. With our design, we looked at it more how you would work on a boot, Timberland-style. The colour team is brownish, like earth colours, just because of the size and the way the shoe looks. I think it’s dope.
And now you have some smoking Air Max on the way as well. Tell us about the shoes?
We originally pitched the idea to Pim Dikker our Nike rep over here. We wanted to give the shoes an eighties vibe and use acid-wash denim. Unfortunately we couldn’t source the right denim so we went back to the lab and basically looked at it and decided that the aesthetic of the shoe is at it strongest in the original colorblocking. We made small changes in materials, included the baby Swoosh and the insole is our way to honor the original Air Max and Tinker Hatfield’s design. The first two are all about aesthetic but the latter two Air Maxes are more intricate in material usage.
Does it actually make business sense to spend so much time on these projects?
Oh, that’s a tough one! Obviously you are promoting your brand, but it can only go to a certain extent. I think at this moment, these things should change. Collaborations should be a win-win situation – brands working to accelerate what they are both doing and make something exceptional. In order to keep that element, I think it should be harder to collaborate and get the reward.
I know what you mean but that’s a complicated rule book to enforce.
It’s always the thin line you walk on. I’m not like a money-wolf! I’ve always wanted to do a Chuck Taylor so it was done with love and with pleasure. But to just keep doing it like it’s been done before, you’ll never move forward. In fact we are now saying no to any footwear collaborations for the next year.
Really? Why is that?
We’ve just done a lot this year, which was cool and a good learning process but now we just want to focus on getting our own clothing label built from the ground up. These colab projects need your full attention, so rather than doing them at half strength, we choose one and really go for it fully. Never say never though!
That’s a cop out Gee! After 5 years, do you still love sneakers?
I can act tough now and say I don’t care anymore, ‘cause that’s a trend this minute, but stop crying! I’ve been working hard to get to this point and now you want to tell me that the stuff is played out and that nothing’s tough enough? No, you just have to bring out some good stuff and shut everybody down. That’s what I’m there for. I want to make good stuff. I want to be…
A legend! (laughs)
Good luck Gee!