The new Foothills project by the UK’s own Crooked Tongues and éS has ruffled a few feathers. Far from embezzling a pantone-athon as yet another colab, both parties agreed to build a trainer from the ground up, brick by brick. It’s quite an accomplishment, not to mention an investment in time and money, but as Gary Warnett from Crooked says, ‘it’s time to ante up!’- that means a bamix of outdoors and skate puréed with a side order of mid-nineties sneaker-smarts. The end result is a mélange a trois which fronts as neither trad-skate nor typical trail runner and is unsuited to both tasks. Confused? Hell yeah! we liked it even more after Gary explained why it rolls like it does.
Set me straight... ÈS and outdoors? Is there a history there that I don't know about?
Looking back through the archives of ÈS since it launched in 1995, it seemed a lot more experimental and exciting than its rivals at the time. The new breed of skaters in the mid-nineties such as Mr. Koston plus the likes of Muska were blatant shoe fiends, and it showed in many of their pro models. This was a boom time for shoe design with the AM95, Jordan 11, Humaras and Zoom Air tech bolstering classics like the Citizen, Zoom Flight 95 and the Footscape, plus adi had the 'Feet You Wear' stuff with A3 cushioning. Happy days. That spirit of innovation was very much embedded in ÈS too. It was far, far more than 'vulcanized... canvas... black upper... done!' We wanted to celebrate that period of creativity. Look at the Koston1? Koston K4? Koston 5, S-L-B? Solist? Ezio? Accel? The Contour? Sick. If we wanted to pay tribute to classic runners and basketball shoes, no one questions functionality any more. With skating it's more controversial.
Agreed. It's really refreshing to have a new shoe to talk about. I take it that aspect was initiated by you guys?
It was a mutual decision between Charlie, Tom Henshaw (SoleTech) and myself. In early 2007, collaborations were getting dull. The process was fun, but trying to get someone to break out a new last or push the envelope was a non-starter. We wanted to create something from our own fevered imaginations and we knew from the onset that it wouldn't be a skate shoe. We've all dabbled with a skateboard, love the culture and Tom knows way more than us, but there's more to skate shoe design than functionality. We wanted to amplify that. I guess at this juncture it's worth noting that this isn't a skate shoe, and in all honesty, while we jacked elements
of outdoors-wear left, right and centre, as far as footwear, we just plundered the aesthetics for our branding. It's really a defiantly 'sneaker' design, rather than pretending to be a formal shoe, or copping out and aping Keds and Converse.
Why make life hard for yourselves? (laughs)
Hard? It was fun. Our initial ideas were put on paper by our friends Ajoy from RADDISHMe (who had a hand in the original Prada Sport footwear and appreciates an avant-garde design) and Greg, who's big in the bespoke football boot game. We knew what we wanted, but our sketching skills are rudimentary. Sitting in front of a CAD screen with Rick Marmolijo (ÈS footwear designer) altering the profile, removing panels... it was crazy. Rick is a monster behind the monitor and deserves as much credit as any of us. Pierre Andre, Don Brown, Matt Sharkey and Brenda also went beyond the call-of-duty on this project. Mr. Seb Palmer is a good friend and a gentleman too. Even before the designs went Stateside, Ajoy and Greg did us proud, plus huge props to our colleague Anthony Morgan for the logos and fantastic packaging.
Were you worried about how it would be perceived? Things are so conservative these days. You get shat on pretty quick if you make a leftfield move.
It's been a little more nerve-wracking than a mere colour-up, but whatever. I think, for the most part, things have gone so safe it's sickening. I'm not quite enough of a clown to think these are some kind of saviour of creativity - bear in mind they're riddled with '90s nostalgia - but I enjoyed the initial reception. It's been a love-hate thing. Fuck the middle ground! Crooked was founded on features about the Seismic and Kukini, easily two of the most polarizing designs of all time. We're built on mental shoe design! And it was a compliment to see messageboard hate and rumours claiming this was a prototype Koston shoe.
Yes, I did see that. Funny how rumours are spread. The spiel claims you wanted to 'up the ante'. Surely you guys can't be sick of the same retros over and over and over?
Honestly? Firstly, I like the word 'ante' because of my MOP fanaticism as in 'Ante Up'! And yes, while I'll never tire of the AF1 in clean colours, Half Cabs - I'll spare you the list - there's a lot of shoes and colourways that should be constant in the same way that the Big Window Max has been in production since day one. I love some hybrids and updates. There's also some great performance pieces from all the brands that people don't get sufficient exposure to. But honestly, can anyone claim that things are as exciting as they were when the Alpha Project was underway? Or when the Zoom prefix meant wearable lunacy? I'm all about the wearable lunacy. But I don't think consumers, even the most diehard shoe fiends, are as brave as they once were when it comes to shoes.
True. I've heard rumours of what it costs for moulds and the sampling... was it a hard sell?
Strangely not. We get on well with Pierre Andre (owner of Sole Technology) and he's shown us a lot of love. Charlie and I were prepped to counter any 'umms' and 'aaaahs' during presentation stage, but they never happened. A completely new midsole was the sole - pun intended - compromise. They cost bucks my friend. But Rick and the team showed us a ton of upcoming units that could be modified. It's all good.
How have they been changed to meet the technical requirements of outdoorsing?
Good question. On the apparel and accessory side, there's ripstop and ballistic nylons and on the footwear side, well quite honestly, in our lust to capture the heavy mesh quota to evoke old running favourites like the LDV1000, it's not the most off-road design. John Roskelley rocked that model on K2, so we wanted to pay a kind of homage. This was before the anniversary shindigs for ACG were underway. Youíll also get a comfort fit, System 02 airbag and other fine STI technologies, plus moisture wicking, but the more overtly hiker inspired makeup in brown, black and orange is a little more rugged and better for damper conditions.
Can you explain how the tongue wraps around? It looks pretty cool from above...
We were intent on this Foothills concept being its own technology. Charlie, Tom and I aren't scientists but we figured a mode of ensuring a comfort fit with the asymmetrical design could be the 'gimmick', except it works and hugs the foot nicely and takes the notion of a 'Crooked Tongue' to the limit.
I noticed the sole definitely doesn't have a traditional trail look about it. There's no nobbly bits or lugs....
was that a design compromise?
We never actually needed to make too many compromises beyond the existing sole unit. It was inevitable that with our love of all things off-road, we'd try to shoehorn that in. Obviously we could have chucked in some tech fabrics for the sake of it on the shoes, but it wouldn't have worked. Or taped some seams, but there's not a lot to tape on the shoe!
And is Dri-Lex the same as GORE-TEX?
No sir. Dri-Lex is a moisture management system to stop your feet getting clammy, whereas GORE-TEX's modus operandi would be to keep things waterproof and breathable. I think it's more comparable to an Outlast lining. Charlie and I weren't so naive we tried to pitch a shoe with GORE-TEX. Love it, but it's expensive and requires approval from the brand, which is time-consuming too.
There's also a hat/jacket/backpack combo to go with your shoes... This is way more involved than a pantone attack using Illustrator.
This was always intended as a capsule collection. We like jackets so we wanted to make one. Simple as that! There was originally a plan for denim and a correlating jacket, rucksack and hat for EACH makeup. That was excessive. We noticed that Sole Technology has a ton of expertise making all three to an extremely high standard for ÈS, etnies, Emerica and Altamont, so we knew they went faaaar beyond just shoes. In the end the brown shoe gets a hat, purple gets the jacket and pink and grey gets the pack. Everything is linked by a nylon webbing tape for a spot of extra cohesion. I've always been a fan of that kind of coordination.
You guys aren't afraid of pink are you?
No way! Pinks, pastels - we don't fear them! James Spader wore them when he was a professional jerk in teen movies and UK televisual playboy Ken Masters in 'Howard's Way' proved they had wooing properties. Killa Cam legitimised pink again circa '02. But seriously, pop colour has always allowed a degree of flamboyance if it's offset with something more neutral or dour.
There is something about outdoor colour combos isn't there? Why is purple and pink so common for example?
One of the reasons we chose to play with running and hiking iconography is for the boundary-free colours. Outdoor clothing, like the old Steep Techs has some batshit approaches to combinations but I assume it's so you remain highly visible in case of emergency. At street-level, people want to be noticed for a less dramatic reason. Going back to old runners and cross trainers, the neon pop was king. I miss those days. Skate shoes and apparel has never shied from those colours either. Purple is a great compromise and goes with dark colours well - pink's stigma means everyone wants to break free and find an excuse to wear it.
With ACG's revival and the adidas Ransom project amongst others, do you think we might be seeing a revival of the urban trooper swagger?
I think it's that time. We're always down for the urban trooper swagger. At Crooked we've chatted to ACG and the Ransom project at length and it makes us feel happier that we're all feeling drawn towards similar source material. The current surge of interest in vintage workwear and outdoor wear is good too. The three of us, especially with Tom being a Northerner (trust me, in the North of England, many people are extremely choosy about their clothes) have discussed these topics with such passion that it must have concerned passers-by.
Any final words?
At present I don't know if people want a straight-forward reproduction of old-time shoes along those lines in line with a new conservatism when it comes to shoes, or whether they're open to something completely offbeat. I guess we'll find out...