Sneaker innovation was once propelled by the pursuit of peak performance. But that was before high-end fashion houses began dipping their pedicured toes into the market. By churning out rip-off designs with sky-high price tags, designer labels drove classic sneaker brands into unfamiliar territory. The phenomenon can be a little bamboozling for core sneakerheads, so we thought it was about time to give the top-end some shine.
Material Matters: Reservations On Elevation
Date: July 19 2017
By: Adam Jane
The recent release of the Supreme x Louis Vuitton colab flooded our social media feeds with eager resellers hoping to cash in on their urban camping adventures. Second-hand keyrings selling for $600 and $4,000 backpacks are ludicrous overpriced however you look at them – but the one that really gets us is the $2k-plus resale price on the Supreme x Louis Vuitton Sports Sneaker (otherwise known as the Patch Adams pro model). When did sneakerheads go from scrubbing their shoes clean with toothbrushes because they were too broke for a fresh pair, to dropping a month or two’s rent on what is objectively an outright ugly shoe?
During the 90s, commercial fashion reached new heights. The opulent 80s left cashed-up consumers with elevated tastes and booming brands bloated with capital. Gucci were already making low-key tennis shoes for the country club set – they were popular with hip hop fiends but hadn’t really captured Joe Public’s imagination. Fashion was becoming a little more subdued, snapping back from the previous years’ wild styles and turning towards clean, functional pieces (Cindy Crawford in a plain white shirt – need we say more?) It was time for luxury brands to get stuck into the sneaker game.
It’s no secret the regatta crowd enjoy the finer things in life, so when the 1997 America’s Cup rolled around, Prada had a light bulb moment. Often cited as the first high-fashion foray into the world of progressive sporting footwear, the Prada PS0906 was designed for the Luna Rossa team to wear in their bid for the Cup. Its design was more of an expression of style than an attempt to improve performance, so it will come as no surprise that the team didn’t stage their first serious Cup challenge for another three years. Nevertheless, fans of the brand flocked to the new design, enamoured with its patent leather and sleek silhouette.
A few years later, Martin Margiela proved that imagination isn’t a necessary part of sneaker design; the now-iconic Maison Margiela 22 Replica was basically a remake of a shoe that had been selling in European military surplus stores for decades – a shoe designed by a German sneaker brand. It’s unclear which Dassler brother actually came up with the design, but these days both PUMA and adidas claim credit for the OG. There wasn’t even any attempt to disguise the duplicity – the cheap-as-chips army trainer even appeared in a Margiela runway show in ‘98. But the high-low juxtaposition appealed to the brand-conscious folk of the time. Why pay 10 times the price for an identical piece? (Yeezy gets it: ‘What’s that jacket, Margiela?’)
Since luxury labels were succeeding in selling sneakers to the fashion kids, sneaker brands decided they’d have a crack at selling fashion to the sneaker kids. Nike were first to step up to the plate, enlisting Junya Watanabe to collaborate on the Zoom Haven in 1999. Not long after, adidas signed Jeremy Scott and Yohji Yamamoto. Where the Swoosh used a contemporary style as the base of their first colab, the Stripes picked up on some classic silhouettes, effectively blurring the lines between sneaker heritage and fashion excess.
In the mid ‘00s, it seems the world decided sneakers didn’t need to be particularly sporty, nor did they need to be original – hell! they didn’t even need to make sense. Crazy coloured BAPESTAS took over the streets, while wannabe start-up entrepreneurs were taking advantage of negative gearing to buy fresh Lanvin Cap Toes. On top of that, designer sneakers had become to fashion-conscious males what heels and handbags were to fashion-conscious women. Before long, Valentino’s studded-up Rock Runner took a heavy inspiration from the New Balance 574, Saint Laurent’s Court Classic wanted to be (almost exactly) like Mike, and Alexander McQueen pretty much just resoled and re-sold the Stan Smith.
And then, of course, came Kanye. The ‘Louis Vuitton Don’ represented the singer’s first colab and foretold of things to come. The small collection pretty much sealed the deal – sneakers had stepped out of the athletic sphere, off the fetishised feet of collectors, and out into the world as mainstream social currency. The 2009 releases were true luxury pieces, designed by a rapper and coveted by kids who up until then had been content with Air Max and Superstars.
In the years that followed, brands like Buscemi began popping up, catering solely to the newly defined market with golden accents and over-the-top detailing. NikeLAB tapped designers like Riccardo Tischi and Kim Jones; Raf Simons and Stella McCartney joined team Trefoil – the bonds between luxury fashion and the sneaker world were firmly fastened.
For anyone who’s recently stepped into the sneakersphere, a luxury brand price for a sneaker with a name is nothing out of the ordinary. There’s always something cheaper out there and let’s face it, we all know we’re going to spend as much as we can on shoes because that’s just what we do. Fingers crossed the resale bubble doesn’t burst any time soon, though, or there’s bound to be a few retirement plans down the drain.
These days, luxury fashion houses and sportswear brands are a perfectly normal combination. Yes, there are still brands like Golden Goose appropriating the sneaker style by selling $500 pre-distressed sneakers with faux masking tape repairs. But for the most part, blending the two worlds has been a blessing, as it brought fresh ideas to the old guard. We just hope $2k shoes aren’t the new norm – we’re kind of keen to stay fed.
Material Matters is our weekly tech section where we peek behind the mesh curtain and examine the building blocks of the industry. Recently, we’ve looked at New Balance Fresh Foam, Fables of The Forgotten and Sneakers of the Space Race.