For some vintage sneaker collectors, it’s all about colour. For others it’s simply a moment in time. For London based Bennet Martin, it’s the simplicity and ‘the juxtaposition of awkward shapes’ that first drew him to the Puma brand. While others were spending big time on the big cat’s rivals, the Hackney hoarder was scooping up his beloved Pumas by the dozen – never before has one man been so turned by lush deep-pile suede! And don’t even get him started on the midsole stitching. We grilled Bennett to find out exactly how his heart was won by Puma trainers...
How do you define vintage in relation to sneakers?
Always a tricky question this one, invariably it leads to the standard deadstock debate. I like to keep a simple view on both topics to be honest – vintage or deadstock does not automatically mean it is rare, collectable or worth lots in my opinion. Vintage can be anything up to the late eighties and deadstock are trainers that have not sold at the time they were merchandised and are still in new condition, even if the materials have degraded.
I have come to near blows on three or more occasions when out hunting for shoes. Picture a family-run sports store. The son has worked there since his school days plying his trade, learning all he can from his father, who has since passed away and left the family business in his hands. In bounces me asking foolishly if there is any deadstock? Now, this question to me is innocent and I feel I am doing the guy a favour by offering to buy up shoes gathering dust or taking up space. To him though, I have just sweepingly insulted both him and his father’s selling attributes! Deadstock = no sale of shoe. No sale of shoe = shit salesman. And I’m out the door, not by choice too!
Is your footwear fetish influenced by sentimental memories from your childhood?
Absolutely and anyone who tells you different is just too young! Hazy days of dressing for school discos in Pringle sweaters, jumbo cords, Puma Dallas or adidas Houston, circa 1986. The overwhelming factor back then was ‘style’. Where I grew up, cultures collided and we took influence from all over the place, most of the fellas were into B-Boying and hip hop, but we dressed more in line with the burgeoning Casual movement – though slightly more select or elitist – not a Samba or Bamba in sight! (Although many good people I have got to know over the years who were the pinnacle in the Casual days would slate me saying so.)
A good friend of mine introduced me to Puma in the form of the ‘Jopper’, only available in kid’s sizes... I only found this out years later when I was tracking some down. They were the most understated piece of design I had seen at a time when my point of reference was Shimano pedals, Tioga headsets and mushroom grips. I thought I was right up on aesthetics and had a pretty good eye. These just blew me away! The juxtaposition of awkward shapes and the suede layers all sitting on that chunky hovercraft of a PU midsole is heaven.
How did you start collecting? As you said, you are very particular.
I began buying trainers to wear, not just to collect and store. So for many years my buying was in fits and starts and I rotated the pairs that were under the bed in the bottom of the wardrobe and along the wall. Loads I didn’t keep as I didn’t have the foresight. I just was doing my stuff buying up rare funk, hip hop, electro and UK electronica for years and years along with sale rack trainers. This was way before I knew anything about eBay. Hip hop jams were always the place to spot other people with vintage trainers but that is just part and parcel of the culture, there was always a more silent appreciation rather than the standard conversation openers of today. Saying that though, I’ve met some great people through offshoots of today’s trainer scene and we wouldn’t get near to any decent re-issues if there had not been a developing sneaker culture chugging away in the media.
You’ve got a thing for Puma, what is it about the brand that you like – or is it simply the shoes?
Puma for me personifies memories of music and fashion all rolled into one, through footwear. I daren’t get into apparel for fear of space and a divorce! I was hooked as a youngster, with an obsession about keeping them clean and also having more and more. I’ll never forget one teenage buying spree, bringing home two pairs of red and two pairs of green Suedes only to find my dad in the garden 15 mins later with a pair of the greens on his feet mowing the lawn – they were trashed! Generations change though, my son is as fixated now with clean trainers as I am!
Back to the Pooms (Puma) though – I think somehow by aesthetic fluke or commercial decision, they mastered the art of simplicity. It is that attention to minimal detail that I am a huge fan of. For instance, the lime green suede on a gum sole with a royal blue stripeform (Henycke’s Comet) came decades before any of the multitude of modern Clyde and suede colour mixes. Genius or accident, it should be applauded and revered especially as in those days, trainers were being built for sport related function primarily.
Do you enjoy the underdog aspect to the brand?
I think the buying public and Puma are nervous to experiment – adidas and Nike seem to have solid confidence in the market which in turn sends out a subliminal message of reliability. Sometimes it can be a regional thing, one collector I know plainly said ‘we don’t buy Puma in Manchester’. I love the perceived underdog aspect as it keeps vintage prices low. Don’t get me wrong, competition can be fierce when it comes to places like the Bay, and you quickly get to know who is really into their Puma and who just buys the odd shoe. I think others would be more into vintage Puma if they knew what was produced in earlier years. Sublime is not the word for some of the ranges believe me, but hey, I’m not about to let everyone know what they are missing! I am lucky to have some very good sources for my stuff, Quote from Berlin, Kerso, Glenn Kitson and JB from Soleseek to name a few, not to mention the shops I’ve pillaged over the years. One shop I cleared out took me eight rammed carloads to get home – mayhem I tell you. One shop that JB and me got into had the best deadstock I’ve ever seen, the oldest, oldest Pumas... they came in cotton bags and had the Dassler badge on rows of them. We just couldn’t nail it, I spent hours on the guy (who could talk a merry story for real), and he was having none of it unless we stumped up 50K for the whole stock and lease. Gutted to this day!
Do you think there’s something inherently German about Puma’s design sensibility?
If I had the time I would love to track down the design teams and ask them why about a million times for each trainer! To get hold of some of the original briefs they received would be amazing. The thing that appeals to me is the subtle attention to design detail mixed with the overall functionality, the juxtaposition of the material textures and cuts, and how on some models it looks like they have thrown everything at it but it works. There is something German about complex design that can look so simple and right in the blink of an eye.
Tell me about the Super Team – what is it about that shoe that makes you go crazy?
Ahhh man, they pretty much include all my favourite elements of a trainer. Mesh, lush deep-pile suede with a strong red pigment, the iD of the shoe is shouted out on the side tab with a gold stamp. And the gum sole with a white stitch just kills it, normally sole unit stitching is made to blend in. Plus it has a unique toe piece that I’ve not seen on any other brand ever. Developed as part of the ‘Spezial’ portfolio for hand-ball players in ’82, they were just mad lucky back then.
And the Hard Court?
It’s a 1976 leather tennis shoe for hard court play. Puma’s tennis range from the seventies is second to none in design simplicity, and they never strayed too far from the profile. I love all the Puma tennis ranges but the green form on these is what makes it, just nestling there on top of quality leather. Magic!
Any other models?
Dallas are the tiptop for me just about, they whirl up memories like landing my first kick flip. From the seventies through to 1989, so many exquisite runners were put out it’s hard to say, there are only a few I don’t like to be honest. A few highlights would be Helsinki, Denver, Pacific, RX827, Light Soft & Meiles. But that’s just today. You know how it is, tomorrow will be different.
As you said, Puma’s most coveted shoes are pretty simple... do you wish they’d kept pursuing a more advanced design edge?
Most only know the 90681-Suede-Clyde profile to be fair, but they did pursue brilliant design with sport functionality through the mid to late eighties. Just look at shoes like the Lab 1 and Strider, RX827, Meteor Balance and the Pacific runners – nothing more really is needed, unless you’re into ‘Air Structure-ville’ that is. Shoes like the adidas Nite Jogger for instance, with its ghilly D-ring lace system, cream base with day-glo orange stripes and reflector material... the 1983 Puma alternative was a plain black lightweight sleek runner called Nite Rider with a fully reflective form that just looked silver by day.
Many may say the adi approach is a more advanced design, I would say that they were maybe a bit more aware of overkill and also left the higher tiered shoes to have the extra design elements, a bold move in the face of competition from Nike. It all fell off I think in the nineties, all the Trinomic and Disc stuff just leaves me cold. Shame as I’ve got 200 odd pairs of the damn things in the cellar from one hunting trip! What I do wish is that they would introduce some of the colours from the seventies suedes into the runners like the Meile, that would be a great project.
Are you able to wear your old Pumas? Most of the shoes from the eighties are made from foams and rubbers that eat themselves... how do you approach this vexed issue?
Unlike adidas for instance, who had a vast tennis shoe portfolio and went PU (polyurethane) mad in the eighties, Puma didn’t use the solid PU sole units for many of their shoes, so a load of stuff is still fully wearable. Again more luck than future planning though! I don’t buy PU based shoes, they never stand up for long, if at all, and I’d rather get something else I can wear, simple as that.
Is there a specific Puma model you’d like to see resurrected? You know they’ll probably read this. now’s your chance!
I’d love to see a really good version of the suede Dallas with real integrity to the original. The Blue Star and Red Star seventies models would push the simplicity of design and colour that is inherent in Puma vintage.
And finally, would you like to see Puma go back to the classic green box they used to use?
Only for select releases that warrant them, such as the Dallas. It would upset me to see floods of the green and white on shelves with modern day trainers inside. There needs to be a differentiation to accommodate the new markets that Puma are aiming for, and also for the different generations that buy trainers. Not everyone would know or even be bothered about the history of the box colour and design. For instance the boxes released in America at the time that Beconta distributed PUMA USA were more of a blue green, with the copy on the side ‘In all 5 continents’ replacing the standard German and French text on the European releases of the time. I mean who would care about that except freaks huh?