Founder of the Soleseek website with Bennet Martin back in 2003, John Brolly has brought us some of the rarest vintage trainers ever to be seen online. More a cultural curator than a rabid catch-all collector, Brolly laid bare the fascinating world of vintage sneaker fiending in 2008 with his seminal Collective Disorder book. An instant sellout, this mythically rare tome was finally reprinted by Size? last year as part of their tenth anniversary celebrations. Brolly's love for sneakers has even seen him pen an academic dissertation on the vital role of sneakers in forming subcultural identity. Egad! We caught up with Brolly to kick some k-nowledge on his favourite subject and to drool over his die-for collection of vintage goodies.
PHOTOS BY ERROL.
Hey John, how's your collection going? How many are you sitting on right now?
The collection's got a lot smaller over the last few years – sold on a lot of my stuff – vintage runners mainly, so would say I have around 130 pairs at the moment. Still collecting but looking for the choice pairs.
Do you remember the first kicks you ever bought? What sucked you into the sneaker world?
Yeah first pair I ever bought were Puma G Vilas around 83/84 – still a classic – then Puma California and Puma Geneva. Sportswear was a big thing with teenage lads growing up in the 80s in the northwest of England and it had a big impact on the shaping of our identity. I suppose I was hooked up until 88/89 when music became a more important part of my life. I suppose this ties in with the changes in the design and form of trainers from the simple construction and shapes to the more complex and technical.
What is it about vintage Euro trainers that holds a special place in your heart?
Vintage shoes have a number of elements, firstly would be the simplicity of design – a real less is more aesthetic – basically no fuss. And the idea of searching for vintage because they are hard to find. A lot of the styles and models I’m really into I didn’t really see when I was growing up – so the Bluestars/Redstars, Bluebirds/Firebirds and the other models of a similar construction are what I’m really into.
What's your pride and joy, and what's still on your wish list?
Pride and joy would be one of the following: Puma Jeans, Puma Te-KU, Puma Hobby or Puma Delphin with the flat gum sole. Still plenty of vintage I’m after – would love to pick up a lot of the mid 70s Puma/Beconta Leisure range such as the Riveria; would love to find the adidas Munchen from 86, both in the blue/silver/yellow c/w and the silver/grey/red c/w which if I ever found as wearable would be my grail. And to be honest would be great to have the entire adidas City Series. So plenty of seeking yet to be done.
You take the game pretty seriously - we heard you even wrote an scholarly dissertation on trainers for you BA. What kind of academic angle did you spin on sneaker culture?
Yeah I did my dissertation when doing my BA – History of Design in 1993. I keep meaning to update it and maybe publish it somewhere, it’s an interesting read if not a little dated. It was a take on the idea of trainers being used in subcultures in a way in order to represent an identity. A lot of the writing was based around Dick Hebdige’s idea of Bricolage – where products are used in a different way from their original conception and usage. So training shoes that were designed for running were being worn as part of a look that solidified an identity.
Your pen also contributed to the coveted Collective Disorder book of 2008. For those who haven't stumbled across it fill us in on what made it so sought after.
Yeah Soleseek put out Collective Disorder in 2008. That was around two years in the making. It was basically a pictorial tome of vintage shoes from a number of worldwide collectors – UK, Europe, US. It was something like 350 odd pages and god knows how many actual models were in there. It was originally released as 100 copies and this run included a copy for all the contributors, so yeah they were hard to come by.
Size? brought it back as a limited release last year as part of their 10th anniversary shindig. Were there any juicy extras included in the updated version?
No added elements other than the size? branding – it just wouldn’t be true to add elements. Maybe there needs to be a CD 2......
Definitely! You've also been holding it down online with Soleseek for ages. Tell us a bit about how it came together and what it means to you.
Started Soleseek with Bennett Martin back in 2003. We were both into very similar vintage models and thought it would be good to sell vintage online but at a very reasonable price. In hindsight should have kept some of the vintage stock cause probably wont come across such gems again. We sold a few hundred pairs across a lot of the brands but trying to do this part time was a real struggle. We did feel that it had run it’s course so the book was the next logical step as we always talked about it. Soleseek is still going and will be back in the new year.
Got anything else new in the pipeline?
Yeah as mentioned some things in the new year. Got a few ideas kicking around with a number of people... just a case of getting some time, making the right decisions and going for it. Been working with Puma this year and this should follow on into 2011 – so keep yer eyes peeled. Also been invited to talk at a ‘Trainer Symposium’ as part of Northampton Shoe Musuem’s new exhibition.
Which of today's new models do you think might become the vintage grails of tomorrow?
To be honest – none of them. I’m very much a purist. Just my opinion. But I can see some of the better thought about releases retaining some value.
Do you feel that sneaker collecting is as fresh and exciting now as it ever was? Or have the glory days passed us by?
I must admit I lost the buzz a few years ago after the book came out but recently I've got the taste again. To be fair it’s a massive business today due to the vast gamut of buyers along with the flood of models, colourways, re-interpretations and co-labs on the market. However there is so much from the brands' back catalogues that I’d love to get my hands on so will always keep my eye in for great vintage trainers.