The demand for color is seemingly deeply rooted in the Bathing Ape brand. Well aware of the cult popularity of AF1s, brand owner Nigo ingeniously took Nike’s classic and reinvented it, most recently with insanely bright patent releases. The most amazing thing about this once obscure Japanese brand is that they actually got away with bootlegging Nike’s bread and butter, while charging kids $300 and making millions. But that’s another story.
But can I really place the blame on them for initiating this crazy trend? Didn’t adidas also bring out the technicolor Oddities? It’s only colour right? Why get so hung up on it? For my own peace of mind I had to investigate and it made sense to seek wisdom from a couple of experts – a sneaker head, store owner, designer and product line director and get their takes on exactly what the future holds.
My first stop was the Kendo Store in Los Angeles, the female sneaker boutique or as I refer to it, my own personal wet dream. Here’s what owner Arsen had to say, “Bathing Ape just took the most popular silhouette and did what kids wanted. They dropped in small numbers and freaked the colors to make them pop. They created hype and kids fed into it.” Small numbers, high prices? It worked for Manolos and it worked for sneakers as well! While he would rather see a shoe with less, Arsen will be the first to admit that there’s nothing wrong with using a profuse amount of colors if that’s what the kids want. Retail logic – if it sells, it’s good. That is, until you can’t remember the last time you wore a plain jane sneaker and feeling rather uncool when you do.
So is it safe to say that Bape started the rage of randomness? Mike Parker of Brand Jordan seems to think so. “Bape had a lot to do with the color craze. They shocked consumers out of their comfort zones and made conservative cats at big corporations uncomfortable.” Indeed, uncomfortable enough that many companies started biting the company that made their business biting Nike. All the way from the streets of Tokyo to Fordham Ave… knocking off the knock offs is indeed the greatest form of flattery.
Follow the Leader
Having received some sort of confirmation, I’m feeling pretty good about my assumption that Bape started the color jump. But what then are the responsibilities of the sneaker companies in this phenomenon? Are they playing into Bape’s hands or are they just giving the public what they want?
To further examine this question, I met up with Dan Jebbia at the Clientele store in NYC. Not only is he one of the owners, he’s also the brother of Stussy/Supreme mogul James Jebbia and an extremely wise man (sharing many of the same theories as I do). “From the moment Jordan broke color barriers with his red hi-tops to the present Bape pandemonium, color is at its pinnacle in the game. But there’s overkill – look at rappers like Little Wayne. Kids don’t get excited by simple blue and white any more and companies like Nike and Reebok are exploiting hungry kids with pairs of outrageous patents in purple, green, pink and whatever. Look at the amount of patents Nike has been doing since Bathing Ape blew up.”
Who is Following Who?
Are sneaker companies losing their grasp on the true sneaker connoisseur and destroying rhyme and reason by creating for shock value? Steven (aka Gotti), founder of the website denimandsole.com doesn’t seem to think so. He believes the color leap has been good for the industry. “Color is only random to a certain extent, but it’s the designer’s job to keep a story that will lend itself to something consumers can actually wear. The major players are being more creative, which has really paved the way for a diverse marketplace.”
All right, I hear you! But are they truly being more creative or just lazy? As Arsen puts it, “a hot shoe is not something that has been simply thrown together. You have to look for subtle details that make shoes unique. Materials and design is what makes a shoe stand out. It’s easy to drop a different color on every panel of a shoe, but that’s not always going to translate to a hot shoe.”
However if you catch a designer on any given day, they’ll be quick to tell you that there’s reasoning behind everything they construct. Companies are just being bolder in the palettes they use. As a designer with a keen product eye, Matthew Ting of Reebok views the color trend started by the Bathing Ape brand as giving companies like Reebok and Nike a point of difference on how shoes can be colored, while still being supported with extraordinary stories. “Nike has the World Cup theme and Reebok will have a Shanghai theme, which makes the liberal use of color justified. There’s a story to back up everything, you can’t just throw fuchsia and mango together for the sake of throwing colors together.” Spoken like a true product man.
While my view leans towards the notion that most colorways presently appear meaningless, many of the major players at sneaker companies stand firm in their beliefs that there’s sensibility behind everything they do. Just ask Mike Parker who’s worked for every sneaker brand under the umbrella, “the trick for the sneaker companies is to make it look random without it being random. No matter how crazy the combinations, they still have to complement each other and where and how the color is placed must be right as well. There was also a time when you could say guys would only rock navy, black, red and the women would only rock pink and purples but now there are no rules. Consumers are wearing whatever.” I sort of get it. Perhaps sneaker companies aren’t really following but rather their eyes became more astute to the products they made because of what Bathing Ape was able to accomplish right in front of their very eyes.
The Future-Back to basics
With the internet playing such a crucial role in dispersing information, what does the future hold? Steven feels that, “things go in cycles. The crazy colors and free forms of expression will continue but after some time people will get sick of it and then the next craze will set in.”
Arsen is quick to share Steven’s views, “things are only going to keep getting crazier until it’s oversaturated and completely played out. People are going to get sick of all of the color overplay and go with an all white pair of sneakers or maybe even start wearing their sneakers until they’re dirty and scuffed to hell to just be different and say fuck you to everyone!” So imagine this if you can, a not so crisp white on white kick with customized dirt stains and bubble gum (literally) soles, now dirt stains – that’s something I’d like to see sneaker heads customizing.
While the experts and I may have different points of views on the current color explosion, there is common ground that the explosion of color has been beneficial to the industry, opening the eyes of huge corporates while paving the way for more creativity and innovations. However, as I see it, just throwing a mash up together for shock value causes sneakers to lose the connection or originality they once had to the original product.
The trick now is for the players to find the balance between an intelligent and ingenious shoe and one that will live beyond the hype of the color phenomenon. Or maybe it’s merely time to bring back the basics. Did you hear me? Can someone please get me a pair of white on whites?
:: CHRISTINE SU
This article appeared in Issue 8 of Sneaker Freaker. Buy it here!