Material Matters: The Archival Inspiration Behind DBZ x adidas
Each week, Material Matters draws us into a Matrix-like vision of the sneaker world. We could ramble endlessly about thematic elements of releases such as the adidas x Dragon Ball Z collection, but there’s so much of that kind of thing elsewhere, and we don’t trade in conjecture. Besides, if you’re reading this, then it’s likely you’re a thinker too. We’re here to talk about the cold hard tech behind the façade and the history behind the design, so keep on scrolling and you’ll see what we’re Saiyan.
The sneaker industry has always been subject to trends. We don’t mean ‘trend’ strictly in the fashion sense, but more so the patterns that develop from consumer demand. One such shift in the product offering has been prompted by the retooling of existing performance technology to produce ‘lifestyle’ shoes. In the past, you’d just rock an old runner – say, an Nike Air Max 90 or a New Balance 990 – all day, every day. But these days, brands are producing ‘everyday’ alternatives such as the Air Max 270 and 574 Sport.
We can attribute this kind of shift to sneakers’ booming and pervasive popularity globally – and the adidas x Dragon Ball Z collection illustrates the phenomenon perfectly. Adding the DBZ factor to their existing appeal, the Three Stripes are sure to win over a few new feet. And to ensure those fresh hordes of feet are kept happy, new-gen sneakers are bursting at the seams with obscure archival inspiration. The most prominent recent example is the Prophere.
From the first moment we laid eyes on the Prophere, it was obvious that the Stripes had eschewed all things athletic in favour of something wildly different. Although the shoe takes some design cues from runners of yesteryear, it’s not meant to go fast; it’s designed to be worn from dawn ‘til dusk and through the night. The architectural Stripes down the side double as branding and support – a technique that’s been around since day one at adidas. Most notably, you’ll spot it on styles from the mid-90s such as the Utopian and Equipment Stabil. The Prophere’s unapologetically angular sole packs in more foam for more cushion, and it doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to see how the hulking sole unit might have been inspired by adidas’ 90s Feet You Wear hiking division.
The Deerupt and Kamanda operate in much the same way, utilising elements of archival designs to achieve a balance of function and practicality. It’s hard to imagine a situation in which the high-rise sole of the Kamanda would have any practical purpose until you start looking at old driving or boxing styles, which needed to handle some unusual lateral footwork. So why put them on a lifestyle shoe? Well, it’s a rare occasion to walk a straight line through a food court or sidewalk. The diamond mesh Deerupt owes its netted sole to running styles such as the 1982 Atlanta, which pioneered a form of attaching EVA wedge soles using nylon mesh. This is known as the ‘Dellinger Web’ and is said to disperse impact and reduce runner fatigue by exploiting ‘a loophole in the third law of motion.’
Then, of course, there are the shoes that are blatant remakes of older styles. The Primeknit EQT Mid ADV is no more than an old Equipment Running Cushion funnelled through a filter of modern production tech. It comes out the other end with a lightweight, comfortable Primeknit upper, but retains the basic design of its 90s sole unit. The ZX 500 RM, on the other hand, makes the most of the brand’s contemporary BOOST sole tech, pairing it with fused panelling that’s been laid out in the exact same way as the original. Then there’s the Ultra Tech, the one retro design in the collection – I guess they had to throw something in for the old guys.
Now for the newest design in the collection, the Yung-1. If it weren’t for the name, which is quite clearly a modern moniker, you’d think it was a style from deep in the adidas archive. Which raises the question: why would they bother designing a new shoe to look like an old shoe when they have so many forgotten heritage styles? It seems like an odd use of time. But one thing that’s clear is that there’s no technological or performance advantage offered by any shoes in the pack. The more we think about it, the more we have to admit, the designs in the DBZ collection really have been geared exclusively towards style. There’s no way that the Dellinger Net could still be considered a reasonable cushioning system, and it’s almost impossible to explain the existence of the Yung-1 without looking for stylistic inspiration.
The Yung-1 is an example of thirst marketing, a watered-down version of the Yeezy Wave Runner to quench the masses. In many ways the Yung-1 resembles the clunky Kanye-endorsed style, and the sweeping lines of the panels have a much more modern edge than any Torsion, Equipment or Feet You Wear design from the olden days, but you just can’t shake the feeling that you’ve seen them before. Perhaps that's the sign of a job well done, or it could just be a second shot at the Temper Run from four years earlier.
As the adidas Dragon Ball Z collection drops through the course of the year, we’re sure that the lifestyle sneaker market will continue to swell – but what style will win? Will it be the oldies made new again or the modern designs that echo silhouettes of yesteryear? If adidas keep dropping killer collections like this, we’re not really too fussed.
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 How Nylon Changed the (Sneaker) World, Why Shoe Sizes Don't Make Sense and Nike React vs. adidas BOOST.