Coming up in a time when trainers weren’t affordable enough to buy in multiple pairs, one thing set Bryan LaRoche apart from the usual scrum of toddler sneaker heads. He had a rad Dad that was a major sneaker nut and sports crazy enough to hand down his obsession with looking freshly dipped in every race he ran. This kick-started an extreme love affair that has lasted decades with the LaRoches stockpiling a museum of neck-breaking heat between them. We caught up with the vintage vulcan as he shows us the best of his sneaker porn collection!
Can you put a year on vintage?
That’s a tough one. Vintage I would say is at least a decade back from the present date, but for me, relating sneakers to my life, I would say eighties and before.
What’s your history with old sneakers?
I honestly don’t remember life without sneakers. I got my first pair of Nikes on my third birthday from my Pops back in 1981 along with a Nike tee and I still have them both. It was a special day and started my life’s passion. What most sneaker people don’t have is a father who has a strong love for his running shoes; he was a heavy influence on me. Once I started running road races, it was very important for me to know everything about my shoes and I would read magazines and keep them under my mattress like it was an adult magazine! As long as I took care of them, my father would do whatever he could to get me a new pair of running shoes, which started a new aspect to my passion and that was cleaning my shoes after each run to help keep them in their original form. Of course I did this with all my non-running shoes as well. So long before all this sneaker culture, myself and my pops cleaned and kept our shoes neat. The most important thing I own in my life is my sneakers, other than my home of course – but only because my shoes need a home. I could go on forever with my history.
What makes you so obsessed–is it pure nostalgia?
Well of course I would never say I’m obsessed with sneakers. But, I have been told that many times in my life. It’s just a way of life to me like running or breathing. It’s part nostalgia. There are so many shoes I couldn’t afford or were before my time. Slipping on a pair of shoes that I’ve never tried before or spotting a new brand, or trying out a new technology is like a piece of history. Sneakers do it all for me, they give me comfort, support, function, fashion, they make you feel good and excited, as well as motivate you to go for a run and kick ass in a race.
Does it piss you off that many can’t be worn?
Actually this is something that I believe separates me from most collectors. I wear my vintage sneakers. I still wear them today no matter what the value is or how much I’ve paid for them. I’ve spent some serious, serious money for some of my shoes. I actually ran in an original pair of 1983 Nike American Eagles this morning. They are still as functional as the day they were made. Now of course, there are shoes you just can’t wear. I’ve had pairs fall apart on my feet. But to me, it’s more painful to not wear them. I gotta know what the first Nike Air shoe feels like, which was the Tailwind from 1979.
How do you feel when brands retro trainers?
I have mixed feelings. It’s great to bring back a shoe, but please get it right or as close as you can to the original. I would also very much like them to bring back the original box with the original shoe.
I know you have a HUGE collection – can you define it in any way we could understand?
My collection is very diverse. It’s not just Jordan, Dunks, Air Forces and Air Maxes. I have a whole history of running, basketball, tennis, track spikes, cleats, everyday sneakers, crosstrainers, outdoors – all from the sixties to the present date. Most of my collection is my size or close, so I can actually wear them or at least slip them on. I do have smaller sizes if they’re very rare or I’m not sure I will ever find them in my size. I also have original pairs from back in 1981 when my feet stopped growing.
They make me think of the first Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit, back in 1984, she was one of the elite runners that shoe was made for. The yellow colorway had just two buckle clips to tighten the shoe and I believe it is the first Nike running shoe without laces. (I just thought of the Nike Journal that had straps instead of laces but I’m not sure if it was a casual shoe or a walker.) Sock Trainers follow the Racers, which was made in one version without laces until 1987 when they put laces on them for the last model which was called Air Sock. The Air Sock is more like the Air Flow and Air Current.
I do have a pair but I never wore them when they came out. The shoe is actually inspired by one of their protype shoes from BRS days for one of Bowerman’s runners, Geoff Hollister and his steeplechase shoe.
Air Flow versus Air Current?
Both these shoes are very similar. Air Flow came out first in 1988-90 and then the Current followed in 1990. Both of them have the same midsole and outsole, it’s just the upper which is a little different cosmetically. Air Flow and Air Current had a lot thicker stretch material and were more fitting to the foot than the Sock Racer. The Nike Air Huarache is the real deal and the final cut of the neoprene upper in 1991.
They’re unusual – Were they any good for running?
They were revolutionary and very different from any other shoe out there, still to this day. They really were running shoes but they were designed for the serious racer, meaning a lightweight and efficient runner who had neutral footstrike. They are really great for multi-purpose sports like triathlon and a good shoe for a quick transition, helping you to quickly start your run after the swim or bike part.
Foot Diggs? Those volleyball shoes were nuts!
I do have a pair of these dope and crazy shoes. I don’t know exactly where they are? Maybe in Montana with my in-laws... I never had them when they came out, I had to track them down later in life.
Will today’s shoes become the vintage of tomorrow?
I think they will for certain people who appreciate shoes that aren’t simply retros, or appreciate the new technology. There are so many people who just want to buy retros instead of a new design. Of course, you can consider any shoe to be vintage after it has been around for so many years, but I think the general sneaker mass is into retros of any kind, instead of what’s breaking new ground in the industry.