Designer Shigeyuki Mitsui's masterpiece was a game-changer when it debuted in 1990: the performance runner's split tongue and tri-density midsole were defining features from the outset, as was the shoe's tangy 'Citrus' colourway. It wasn't until the mid-00s, though, that the GEL-Lyte III truly hit its stride, returning from the ASICS archives and finding new life as the brand's go-to collaborative canvas.
Talking ASICS GEL-Lyte III with Hanon's Thomas Lindie
Date: November 18 2019
By: Sneaker Freaker
You already know how we at Sneaker Freaker feel about the GL3 – we did take on the retro classic for our very own 'Alvin Purple', 'Tiger Snake' and 'Neurotoxic' releases, after all. If there's anyone that loves the GEL-Lyte III as much – if not more – than Sneaker Freaker, though, it's Hanon.
Aberdeen's finest have been responsible for a couple of the best-ever GL3s so, with the 30th anniversary of the shoe upon us, Sneaker Freaker's own Morgan Weekes caught up with Hanon's Thomas Lindie for a talk on all things GL3.
Catch their entire convo below, and shop 2019's 30th anniversary GEL-Lyte III 'Citrus' retro now via Hanon while supplies last.
Thank you for having me in Aberdeen. It’s my first time visiting Hanon. We’ve known each other for a long time, and it’s been great to watch you progress over the years. For those that don’t know, can you tell us about your sneaker journey?
Currently, I’m the marketing manager at Hanon. But I’ve been into trainers and sneakers for the last 10 years or so. I’ve kind of always just wanted something different to everyone else, to be able to walk down the main street in your city and have something that not everyone else sees. Being lucky enough to live in Aberdeen, and growing up there, I’ve always had somewhere like Hanon to go into and speak to these guys and learn from these guys.
It’s a great avenue for good footwear, and then I really got into photography and taking pictures of trainers and things like that. Then just wanting it to turn into a full-time job was something I became passionate about. So I started helping out on the releases that Hanon had, and took some pictures for them and just sort of was around the store and tried to be present and be a face to the people who work there.
Eventually I got on board, started taking some of my lifestyle imagery for them, plus shoes, and then took over social media and things like that. And I’ve been working for them for four years now.
What’s the Scottish sneaker scene like? How would you describe it?
It’s great. Obviously it’s never going to be anything like London. I think London is on its own, on another level even compared to the rest of Europe, the rest of the world. But I think Scotland’s good. There’s a lot of good people involved, and there’s a lot of good stores around as well. There’s quite a good history there from people at Hanon as well.
Next year, we’re celebrating our 30th anniversary. For an independent sneaker store to be around for that long, I think it’s a testament to those guys and also the way the people of Scotland have supported us. And the people around the world who’ve kept buying from us and shopping with us.
You and I have always been quite tied to ASICS. We’ve been through that very hype colab stage to where it’s sort of levelled out now, and there’s true collectors who are into the brand, picking up shoes. One of the most important shoes this year for ASICS is the return of the GEL-Lyte III in its OG form. A lot of care and attention has been put into this, from the box being changed to a reshaped toe, which there had been a few complaints about. The GEL-Lyte III is quite important for Hanon because you guys have had two of the most successful GEL-Lyte III collaborative projects in the history of the shoe. Do you want to talk to me a little bit about those two, for the people that don’t know?
The first one that we did was the ‘Wildcats’ colourway, as it’s been nicknamed. It was released in 2011, so that was four years before I started working for Hanon. Obviously, I was shopping there. Actually, they did have a special preview evening on the Thursday before the release. I went down to that and it was great because it wasn’t that busy. There weren’t that many people there. Just sort of like friends of the store and some family, and I was obviously able to pick up the shoe the Thursday before. No hassle, nothing. Just chill, but that’s such a stark contrast. Imagine what that shoe would be like if you released it now.
So that one was inspired by a local Aberdeen running club. It was actually a colourway done by a colleague, David, and it’s sort of his claim to fame with SMUs. But I think they just sort of nailed ... We always start by colour-blocking, and I think the GEL-Lyte III lends itself to some pretty unique colour-blocking given the panels it has.
And that ties back to what we were talking about earlier with it being such a standout shoe because it’s so in your face.
It’s just a classic-looking sneaker. The options it has with panels just means you can put so many different materials on it, or find room for different colours. You can have it with the mesh and then the lining. The split tongue as well, which we can get into. But yeah, I think with the Wildcats, they nailed the colour-blocking first, which is something we still do today, actually, when approaching SMUs, is try to get the colour-blocking.
Do you ever think about the theme first, or is it always colour-blocking first, then theme if it’s needed?
At that time [with the Wildcats] you could have more license just to do a good colourway, and be really loose in the theme. Whereas now, it’s obviously a bit more about the theme.
If you think about it, the ASICS GEL-Lyte III has put a lot of stores and a lot of people on the map. A lot of independents that may not have had a collaboration project from some of the bigger brands, ASICS took a chance with, and that opened up doors to more collaborations. People could see they had the creativity to do something cool. They had a community behind the stores that would come and buy their product. So you can really say that shoe created quite a few careers, I’m guessing.
If you look at the list of stores that collaborate on the GEL-Lyte III, that is a massive list of stores, such a variety of stores and obviously a lot of people don’t manage to do more than one. And some have done heaps. A lot of them are quite unique as well. There’s been a lot of very unique takes on the GEL-Lyte III, whether [it be the ones] around in 2010, 11, 12, 13 or even the ones for the 25th anniversary. Some of them were just incredible shoes, and all quite different. And I think what’s special about the GEL-Lyte III is there’s so much you can do with it. Every store that does it, whether it’s 12 stores in a year, all offer a different take and a very different style.
So we’re on the 30th anniversary now, but five years ago was the 25th, and you did the ‘Solstice’ collaboration. That was one you actually played a part in, right?
We were lucky enough to be part of the 25th anniversary celebration for the GEL-Lyte III, which took place in 2015. Obviously they released 12 shoes with 12 partners – one each month over that year. That was pretty mental, and I think it was actually really good timing as well because I feel like the GEL-Lyte III had sort of… taken a little break and then came back quick with a bang for their 25th anniversary, and with some big names, and we were lucky enough to be part of that. Ours was released in November. We were the 11th shoe to get released. It was quite good.
They all leaked didn’t they? They all got leaked earlier in the year?
We actually managed to keep ours quiet. I don’t know how they managed to do it, but I remember managing to keep it fairly quiet. Obviously because it was 12 shoes, one for every month, people wanted to get the full set.
Then you pull out a banger of the pedigree of a ‘Wildcat’?
We followed the same colour-blocking effect: a nice blue at the top, and then a nice purple along the lower half of the shoe. It was called a ‘Solstice,’ inspired by the summer solstice and the skies in Scotland. We are obviously quite lucky up here, and get some really nice skies where it’s sort of like your Northern Lights. But yeah, that was actually released the month after I started working at Hanon, and it was the first SMU for Hanon that I worked on.
To this day, it’s still my favourite. I think it’s one of my favourite projects I’ve worked on. I came in and it was just a case of ‘how are we going to do the images, how are we going to do the imagery?’ I think we shot it two weeks before the release.
And we were super close to the bone with this, but we wanted to shoot it and get the sky in place. So I think for four days in a row every night, and then every morning of the next day, I went out to shoot the shoe with a good sky in the background, trying to capture sunset and sunrise every day for four days with the shoe in different locations. And we absolutely nailed the last one, but it was November. It was freezing.
Sometimes we’d go out again just to make sure we got all the shots. But we just knew we’d nailed it. The sky lit up and it was crazy. Then we sent out the press the week after, and everyone was super into it. I think even without the shots people would have been super into the shoe, but I just thought we nailed the whole thing. And then the release.
I knew people down in South London who journeyed up to Aberdeen to buy them. That’s next level. It’s pretty much like flying to another country really, to pick up a pet. So the dedication and that queue outside was mad, wasn’t it?
Yeah, we released that shoe on the Saturday, but I think maybe from that Tuesday people had come up from down south and had started queuing for that shoe. Obviously with their 25th anniversary there were 1990 pairs, and we had put our full allocation of stock in the store. We didn’t sell it anywhere else, and we’d made a special box for the shoes – a nice slide-out box with a solstice knot pattern on it. By the Saturday, it was just crazy. I think by the Friday night we had close to 200 people queuing up.
It was super chill. Everyone was getting on. Everyone got a pair. It was super smooth, and just crazy to have that volume of people outside the store for that length of time.
So we’ve got the OG in front of us now. Is the colourway known as ‘Citrus Lime?’
It’s just called ‘Citrus’. Well, the actual official colour in the box is White/Yellow but, it’s ‘Citrus’. That’s the OG colour.
You’ve sat down with Shigeyuki Mitsui, the creator of this shoe. What did he have to say about his work of art?
Yeah, we sat down with him in Paris in June. It was great. For those who don’t know, he started with ASICS in 1984, so that means he’s been with the brand for an incredible 35 years. He was just an absolute dream to speak to. To be able to get the opportunity to speak to someone who created such an iconic shoe was great.
Do you think he knew the impact it had?
No. This was one of the things we asked him. I think at the time when they were [first] making GEL-Lyte IIIs, and in the mid- to late-80s, they were [just] trying to make good running shoes. This is the thing I think we all forget about a lot of these: so many of these shoes were originally created for performance running.
We’re not going to use a GEL-Lyte III for performance running these days. We’re going to use it as a fashion shoe, as a casual shoe to wear. But this is what they were created for at the time. They were just trying to make good shoes.
They’ve got the triple-density sole unit and this was technology that they’d created to make comfort for running. Same with the split tongue and all the other details. And he just thought it was crazy that to this day people were still really into the shoe and buying his shoe, and that people and brands and stores and all that were still making their own colours on it. That’s one thing he said, actually: he was super into seeing other people give their takes on the shoe... by making their own colourways.
It must be crazy to have created a shoe that is still being produced to this day, and still selling units, selling out. It’s a huge achievement.
We asked him if he ever thought that the model that he created in 1990 would have stood the test of time and be as iconic as it is today. And, honestly speaking, he said he didn’t believe that they would live as long as they have. But yeah, like I said previously, [he] really appreciates it that he sees other designers and creators putting their own image and design aspect on the GEL-Lyte III.
Just talking on that, let’s break down the shoe to its tech level, basically. So, you always have the Tiger Stripes on the side, which were always meant to support the lateral movement of the shoe and just add a layer of strength to the outside, but it’s the GEL and the split tongue [that] stick in everyone’s heads, right?
I’ve always remembered it being the sole unit for me. And then there’s two things – it was always the GEL and always the split tongue. I think the GEL is tri-density on the sole and I always remember reading about how it was a very difficult technology, because there was foam sponge and then compression; it was difficult to control.
It was two densities, normally, which is what we have in a lot of brands, a dual-density form, and that’s easier to control. But then, with the tri-density that we get in the GEL-Lyte III, that was harder to control and harder to manufacture, but also really, really good from a performance standpoint. And then if you were running in the shoe, that actual density would drastically change the ride of that shoe, make it a smoother transition.
And then there’s the split tongue. From an aesthetic point of view, the split tongue is one of the most iconic and recognisable things about the shoe. I think a lot of people probably think that the split tongue belongs to the GEL-Lyte III, and this was something we spoke to Mitsui-San about. It wasn’t the first silhouette to feature that design element. He told us that the LD Racer was the first shoe to have the split tongue and that was created by Mitsui-San’s senior designer at the time.
It’s certainly the GEL-Lyte III that carried the gold on that one.
The GEL-Lyte III has definitely championed the split tongue.
And the reason behind the split tongue is to alleviate stress on the forefoot, right? To relieve that pressure?
I think they were [also] just trying to do something a little bit crazy, a little bit different at the time and evolve.
So one of the things that stands out for me is the colourway, right? When you put it on the shelf, there’s not much similar to this shoe.
No, I think the green with the citrus yellow against the clean white really stands out. We spoke to Mitsui-San about this… He made those colourways because the pine-toned colourways didn’t exist at the time, which is obviously pretty impressive. That’s why [ASICS are] bringing the OG back to celebrate the 30th anniversary and to honour the iconic silhouette as a brand and Mitsui-San, the designer, as well.
Well I just think, for us, it’s collectors and those interested in histories behind shoes. This is the 30th year. It’s coming back in its original form. It’s got a beautiful shape to the toe, which has been refined. So it’s nice to see the effort has been taken with this shoe. I think it’s a really good collector’s piece just to have in the collection.
Yeah, agreed. And I feel like the bringing back of this OG colourway, for me, for the 30th anniversary for the shoes, is even a bit more special. Being able to speak to Mitsui-San in Paris earlier in the year and hear and learn about when Mitsui-San and the team went against the odds to make the shoe happen originally, with the split tongue and everything else… it was super impressive. And iconic to see it back in its OG form.
That’s what I always say: There is no creativity without risk. If there wasn’t risk, nothing creative would ever get done. So fair play to Mitsui-San.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Image Credits: Morgan Weekes/Sneaker Freaker.