Much as we all love our old sneaks, there comes a time when even the most militant retro-fundamentalists have to wonder whether it’s time to move on. But where to? With performance shoes looking more and more extreme and less and less amenable to casual life, we seem perpetually entrenched in the past... Til now...
Meet Remko and Remco from ASICS Europe, who have put their two formidable minds (and near identical names) together to create a new project called Runovation. In a nutshell, what they’ve done is apply the uppers from the most technical ASICS running shoes to vintage classics such as the Gel Lyte III and GTII. The results are striking and should provoke a strong reaction. Will kids really go for it? It was time to hit the far canals of Amsterdam and find out some more about these two Dutch Masters.
You guys have the same name. What’s up with that?
Remco: Basically I just had a bunch of new business cards printed right before I got promoted, so we started looking for a Remco to replace me. Remko (with a K) was pretty close, so we decided to hire him. No that’s a lie, actually I was always under the presumption that Remco was a unique name until Remko told me that it’s not. He will probably tell you though that Remko is more unique than Remco. These arguments can go on for days; don’t even start about the cars we drive! But come to think of it, I do know a lot of Remcos. It even happened that one of our customers sent an order for ASICS shoes to Remco from the Dutch brand Ontour. Our names are confusing, but we strive to become a famous duo, like Starsky & Hutch or even better Viktor & Rolf.
Remko: No way man, we are more like Tom & Jerry, always fighting haha!
I also get confused between Patta and Parra. Can you help them out as well?
Remko: I don’t think it is necessary, both are already world famous. The most important thing to know is that they are both from The Netherlands.
Anyway, let’s talk shoes. What are you both wearing right now?
Remco: At the moment we are both really into original stuff or more innovative sneakers. I am really into our new project, Runovation and Remko is getting into the Mexico ‘66 again.
Remko: Definitely true, I love wearing a pair of Onitsuka Tiger Mexico ‘66s, I can also wear a really nice pair of ASICS DS-Trainers, they’re a great performance sneaker. But the Runovation project is definitely one of my favourites right now.
Before we go any further, can you explain the difference between ASICS and Onitsuka Tiger?
Remko: Onitsuka Tiger, ASICS Tiger and ASICS just stand for different time eras. Kihachiro Onitsuka established Onitsuka Tiger in 1949 and in 1977 the name was changed to ASICS, which is still the name of the company. In 1981, ASICS Tiger was established as a new base for market development in the US and for some years ASICS brought out models under the ASICS Tiger flag.
Remco: Right now Onitsuka Tiger is our heritage brand and ASICS our performance brand with the exception of the lifestyle line that is brought out under the ASICS flag. This means that everything that came out after 1977 will carry the name ASICS and everything that was made before that time under the Onitsuka Tiger flag.
Ok, glad we cleared that up... Amsterdam is known as one of Europe’s biggest hangouts for sneaker fanciers. Add to that the famous Patta and 290 SQM stores.... How do you see the Netherlands fitting into the rest of Europe as far as sneaker style goes?
Remco: A unique thing about the Dutch sneaker style has always been the massive popularity of the Air Max. Concerning ASICS, you might say that for Europe, the Gel Lyte III and GT II hype started in The Netherlands. Even before the first Patta collab these silhouettes were gaining interest from sneaker kids.
I’m always reminded how ‘fruity’ Europe can be for fashion, especially when I’ve been in the US where it’s more about basketball. How does ASICS, which has such a strong Japanese identity, fit into the euro-puzzle?
Remco: Our core product is running and we are known as the number one running brand in the world. Europe is more retro running orientated and that’s where our Japanese brand fits into the euro-puzzle.
Remko: Japan also stands for authenticity, being subtle and keeping it credible. We keep this in mind when we think of concepts. So no poker, perfume or heavy metal packs for us! We prefer series based on our Japanese or sport heritage. Let’s hope the kids will start understanding this and will look further than the obvious.
Ok, let’s talk about the Runovation project. I heard that you guys were in Sweden and you saw kids rocking performance ASICS under their jeans. Is that right?
Remco: Most of them were wearing the Gel Nimbus or Gel Kayano. I saw it both in Copenhagen and Stockholm and was pleasantly surprised about it. They weren’t sneaker kids, they were into high fashion.
I see. Was that because they thought it was cool or are they completely mental?
Remco: They were all completely mental and I tried to talk them out of it, but didn’t succeed! No seriously, they thought it was cool to combine high fashion with core performance.
I’ve been a big advocate of performance stuff myself. I’ve even been wearing the ASICS Busselton and the Noosa. People stare at your feet alright but they’re not thinking you’re ‘ahead of the game’. Have you tried such a thing?
Remko: Definitely! It’s much nicer to discover something new than to keep wearing the same retros.Coincidentally, I found a pair of Gel Busseltons in our sample shop and got great reactions while wearing them. Some people really thought they looked cool, so maybe there is a bright future for performance sneakers.
I know it signals modern high-tech, but why do new running shoes need all that Spiderman mesh and silver strapping? Is that really what runners want?
Remco: For runners, the functionality is more important than the look. It is important to communicate the technology and that’s why they have this high-tech look.
So why is it cool to put the modern performance upper materials on a vintage shoe? Is there a message about the origins of sneakers?
Remko: From time to time we have these intimate dinners, called the ‘tapas sessions’, which we have with a small group of ASICS like-minds. One time we were talking about future trends. We already knew that our performance shoes were getting more and more popular in Scandinavia, but we also knew that it was way too early for sneaker heads to adapt this look, so I came up with the idea to keep the retro styles and make a performance translation...
...The samples came out really strong so we decided to continue the project. We think it’s time for some changes. I mean, when we were young kids it was all about innovation right? We loved Air, Disc Turn, Torsion, Pump and Gel. It’s time to show these kids that there is more to life than retro sneakers. So let’s hope they will get interested.
Fair enough. They do look good! My favourite is the black and yellow honeycomb Gel Lyte III. Take us through the inspiration for that one...
Remko: Great to hear that’s your favourite. It’s the most extreme one, so you’ll either love it or hate it. That’s actually the reason why we chose it. We copied the original colourways of the Gel Nimbus 10 and used the same materials.
The GT II in gold looks familiar. Do you find dudes who like the GT II also dig the Gel Lyte III or do they have different audiences?
Remko: I think they both have the same audience. We were a bit afraid that the GT II wouldn’t be so popular because of the success of the Gel Lyte III, but luckily it has held its own.
I’m probably not as sold on the Gel-Lyte Speed...
Remko: I think you need to give the Gel Lyte Speed a chance. Do we have to bribe you by sending you a free pair? Trust me, I know how to convince a crazy Aussie! I do think that it is an interesting shoe and it is a full brother of the Gel Lyte III. The Gel Lyte Speed is a bit lighter and was developed for the more experienced runner. Personally, I like the fact that you can play around with a lot of different parts on the Gel Lyte Speed. It’s great for colour blocking and for using all kinds of materials.
Was it tempting to fiddle with the colours and materials to make the end result a bit softer?
Remco: The retro silhouettes are less extreme than the performance ones, which already makes it a bit softer. The first Runovation samples had the original striping pattern, which did not give the shoes the high-tech appearance we were looking for. So we decided to apply the stripes that are being used on the Gel Cumulus 10 and Gel Nimbus 10. However, one of the designers at ASICS Europe warned us that using these stripes might tamper with the original shoe design. Since we did not want to insult anyone, we contacted the original designer of the Gel Lyte III and asked for his approval. Luckily he liked the idea and gave his approval. The end result looks perfect! Even though it is a challenging project, we still wanted to bring something fresh and new. Collaborations are nice, but as a brand you have to release your own concepts!
Sounds very interesting. Any last minute thoughts?
Remco: Yeah, we especially would like to thank our colleague Marc Dinsbach who came up with the name Runovation when we were really lost. He mentioned that it is similar to renovating a house, so that’s how the name Runovation was born.