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Reebok Freestyle Forever!

Date: June 26 2013

By: DotDev Support

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The 80s were a notoriously fresh time for fashion. You’d see shoulder pads on lads and ladies alike and a tsunami of fluoro that puts today’s new-rave hipsters to shame. Tees and sweaters had their arms hacked off and thong-thin leotards teamed with tights, leg warmers and sweatbands really began to blur the sweaty crack between sport, dance and streetwear.

Aerobics fever hit the world harder than Cindy Crawford’s buns and was inspiring everything from film clips to flicks and of course, kicks. Until the dawn of the spandex era, femme footwear hadn’t really made a huge mark on society, which left few options for getting girly, other than patronising pink colourways and scaled-down versions of chunky men’s shoes. Until the Reebok Freestyle! Inspired by the aerobics craze, yet street enough to take you right from the gym floor to the nightclub door, the Freestyle was the battering ram that smashed open the pink curtains to create a new steez for high-stepping ladies. Peeps were practically doing Grapevines in the street and anybody who was anybody wanted to be hooked up.


The Freestyle
Until the dawn of the spandex era, sporty femme foot-wear hadn’t really made a huge mark on society, which left few options for getting girly, other than patronising pink/purple colourways and scaled down versions of chunky men’s shoes. Until the Reebok Freestyle. 

Inspired by the aerobics craze, yet street enough to take you right from the gym floor to the nightclub door, the Freestyle was the battering ram that smashed open the pink curtains to create a new steez for high-stepping ladies. Peeps were practically doing Grapevines in the street and anybody who was anybody wanted to be hooked up.

Ok, let’s break the sneak down. The Freestyle is basically a rounded toe kick with a slim-line shape working into a high ankle, and comes loaded with a double Velcro strap. It’s kinda techy, but kinda not, fits a pretty foot and like all classics that really hit tipping point, is pretty much inoffensive, but still has a certain zing that makes it pop. The factors that made this shoe ‘tip’ are so complex it could be the subject of an entire book!


Flashdance
For the first time, casual kicks could command higher price tags and street culture history was being written for a new gender. Madonna was getting all Material Girl and saucy scenes from Flashdance personified the iconic combination of sports and fashion. Lycra was also pretty new on the market and although the term ‘camel-toe’ hadn’t been coined yet, no doubt there was a gaggle of them flapping around. You also had celebrities left, right and centre releasing their own ‘Do it at home!’ video versions of aerobics, with Jane Fonda heading up the pack, posing on the cover of her fitness workout album bathed in glistening sweat. You don’t see Taibo taking the world by storm like that!

With its half-dance x half-gymnastics moves, aerobics required high-impact athleticism, but what made it so goddamn hot was the moronic repetitiveness of it all. Your average Joanne Blow with her two flabby left feet could master the Weave-step in a few minutes, so in essence, aerobics was giving the un-B-boys and un-B-girls of the suburbs a chance to show their shit. There was no need to get all ornery with your feet – straight up cyclic moves were the order of the day.

As noted, Reebok was the first footwear company to capitalise on the new craze, designing their new shoe specifically intended for aerobics. Released in ‘82, (same time as the Nike Air Force 1), the Freestyle broke new ground in so many ways it can be argued that it is the most influential sneaker ever made. The original was a low top in virginal white, distinctly characterised by the ‘Reebok’ name plate in baby blue lettering accompanied by a mini-British flag. It was the first shoe to really put the brand on the big screen, and from then on, Joe and Jeff Foster’s shoe company soared to success. By 1984, the shoe single-footedly accounted for more than half of Reebok’s sales. How ‘bout them candy apples?


Punky Abdul
The celebrity endorsement surrounding the Freestyle wasn’t the kind of bullshit you see rappers pull these days, it was far more legit than anything ‘incentivised’ by a wad of green in brown paper bags. This shoe was so cool, celebrities wanted to be linked with it. Indeed they probably had their managers beg Reebok to be associated with it! Everybody wanted a piece of the action. Cybill Shepherd rocked up to the ’85 Emmys wearing a killer black gown and a pair of bright orange Freestyles.

Reebok also sponsored the LA Lakers Cheerleaders and has subsequently been credited with boosting Paula Abdul’s fame, who was in the squad at the time. And who could forget the iconic Reebok Dance ads stating ‘Girls want to be in her shoes but she wants to be in ours.’ Later ads also starred supermodel Cindy Crawford, the equivalent in today’s terms to Kate Moss signing a deal to rep the Dunk. Damn hard to believe, but wouldn’t it be rad?

My personal fave Freestyle fad was coined by none other than the teen ‘80s queen herself, Ms Punky Brewster. Known for her crazy hats and out-there sense of style, Punks was the perfect poster-girl for the younger generation of Freestyle followers. She developed a trademark for wearing two different coloured Freestyles at once, mixing it up with a bit of yellow and red or orange and white. Eat your heart out Airwalk NTS!


New York City can also lay claim to originating the Freestyle’s underground code name. The gang-banging ‘5411’ handle came from the US $49.99 price tag plus tax which yup, you guessed it, rounded out at $54.11.

Initially they came in leather only, but as the years passed the designers experimented with nubuck, canvas, synthetic and patent varieties. When Reebok realised they’d really rocked the market, they kept producing more and more waves of colour as the demand grew. Red and navy came next after white, backed up by a move to hot pink, orange, turquoise and purple.
Over the years there have been a few Freestyle hybrids like the Reebok Princess followed by the Empress and Duchess as well as the Plie shoe. But none made a lovebite on the market quite as rampant as the OG Freestyle. Man-dudes weren’t totally forgotten either as Reebok released a macho Freestyle they called the Ex-O-Fit, which has been slated for re-release in 2009. Unsurprisingly, the Ex-O-Fit never really took off, leaving the Freestyle where it should be, women’s business.

Another notorious piece of Freestyle trivia can still be bought on eBay for a fat $20 if you know the right keywords. ‘All American Barbie’ was released in 1989 and came packed with two pairs of Reebok Freestyles and official branding on the box. That wouldn’t be blinked at today but in 1989 this was nuts – even Barbie wanted to Freestyle!


Over the years there have been a few Freestyle hybrids like the Reebok Princess followed by the Empress and Duchess as well as the Plie shoe. But none made a lovebite on the market quite as rampant as the OG Freestyle. Man-dudes weren’t totally forgotten either as Reebok released a macho Freestyle they called the Ex-O-Fit, which has been slated for re-release in 2009. Unsurprisingly, the Ex-O-Fit never really took off, leaving the Freestyle where it should be, women’s business.

Another notorious piece of Freestyle trivia can still be bought on eBay for a fat $20 if you know the right keywords. ‘All American Barbie’ was released in 1989 and came packed with two pairs of Reebok Freestyles and official branding on the box. That wouldn’t be blinked at today but in 1989 this was nuts – even Barbie wanted to Freestyle!

Copycats
Needless to say, Reebok’s rivals were green with envy thinking of that phat money spinner. Unfortunately for the footwear game, all is fair in love and war and every mega-successful design is copied to some degree. Sometimes it’s because of the inherent coolness of the design, but usually it’s the sound of the cash register ringing that does it. Some call it homage, others call it outright theft, and whilst shoe-lovers all loathe the practice, history is littered with diluted imitations and direct copies. No brand is immune.

To their eternal shame, Nike released the Aerofit in 1987. Let’s be blunt. The shoe is a Freestyle with a Swoosh slapped on the side. Shame on you! Publicly attributing its shape to a hybrid hi-top Cortez was a very long bow and few were impressed with Nike’s bullshit excuses for being a copy-cat. Conjecture says that the Aerofit fizzed and failed. Strange then that it has resurfaced again in 2008, just as the Freestyle returned to the (skin) fold!
adidas just couldn’t seem to get with the program and to my knowledge, never really produced a significant aerobic range. The exception is a model called Grace, which surprise, surprise, is also in the market right now! They also have the Concord, an OG ball shoe which they stripped down for female consumption by adding an ‘innovative’ ankle strap. Neither of these lightweights could go head-to-head with the Free’ in any fist fight.


LA Gear also did it circa 1988, calmly cutting out the Reebok nameplate and replacing it with a silver stitched LA Gear. The brazenly ‘original’ tag features a wannabe Jane Fonda perkily perched in her sweatband and leggings! Credit where it’s due, at least LA Gear had various models and substantial success in the girly category where Nike failed. This whole aerobics mess has probably been one of the few serious black eyes for the #1 sneaker giant. For whatever reason, Nike simply failed to capture the lucrative female market’s attention at this time and was caught completely offside by its enduring power, the memory of which still rankles senior Nikers to this day (and probably explains the Aerofit).

Reebok were still flying, so they probably couldn’t care less, and they continued to pump out new colourways, fabrics and threads in hope of keeping tight with the market. The ‘Double Bubble’ is my hands-down favourite Freestyle and features three velcro straps rather than the standard two straps, making your ankles look scarily similar to the Michelin Man! Despite the fact that the Freestyle had successfully crossed the line from fitness to fashion, the slow death of the aerobics era signalled a steady decline. As the ‘90s loomed, slimline gym get-up lost its fans to CK and hi-tech bulky gear. Nike fought back hard with its compelling Cross Trainer series and detours for the women into myriad categories such as cheerleading, walking, volleyball (Air Digs!) and a thousand models all desperate to catch the eye. Even Reebok struggled. After a decade of success, they couldn’t deal with the change in mood.

In a last-ditch attempt to regain the glory days of ’82, Reebok swallowed all its pride and produced a platform version of the Freestyle, complete with patent glitter finish. They had Spice Girls written all over them, but even the fake five wouldn’t wear the once original British icon. Yup, Reebok’s days as the hottest of hot were over and things remained dim with virtually no brand spankin’ Freestyle releases until last year, by which time the once mighty ‘Bok was now owned by adidas.


In the last year, the world’s fave femme sneaker has made the most malicious comeback. The 25th Anniversary series dusted off the original eighties baby for the actual babies of the ‘80s to have their turn sucking at the tittie. Birthdays ain’t birthdays without a massive party and Reebok threw the ultimate bash in NYC’s Culture Club hosted by Downtown Julie Brown and featuring none other than DJ Spinderella. With ‘Freestyle Forever’, Reebok was back in the big time and ready to regain the title.

The first releases included all-over prints like the 25 Candles, Dog Bone and Queen of Hearts and continued with contributions from friends like Rolland Berry and Basquiat. However, the sell-out for the birthday year came from a fresh line of fluoro neatly named the Reign-Bow, a limited run of yellow, green, orange, pink, purple and blue Freestyles. Uffie was snapped rocking them, the NY bitches were blogging about ‘em and the stores were selling out!

Then there was the World Tour Collection. Inspired by Tokyo, Paris and Madrid, Reebok teamed up with some fresh young faces in female fashion to launch the series. New lines have been rolling out in pastels, patent, suede, metallics, jewels and shiny gold with silk laces. Collabs with Married to the Mob/Collette and Alife merely sealed the deal!


Chin strokers the world over have prophesised for years now that fashion moves in circular motions, reviving the old and blagging it as the new, and this is exactly what we’re seeing. Everyone’s loving lycra, oversized tees and fluoro, but one pertinent aspect is missing – where is the rebirth of aerobics? Gen Y must be the most sporty looking generation of youngsters who actually do the least amount of exercise. Decked out head to toe in tights and trainers, they’re all ready to hit the couch and surf the net so as not to get their kicks unclean!

So there you have it. The Freestyle is one old-timer who created the stereotype, making history in ‘82 before rising to the top once again 25 years later. Freestyle forever ladeez!

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