Sneaker nerds can be like vultures. Upon hearing news of a retro release, they circle footwear brands on forums and social media, ready to pounce. The proceeding visual scrutiny is akin to performing an autopsy – stopping short of physically slicing the shoes apart to compare with an original pair.
However, it’s time to take off the rose-tinted glasses, because they’re probably as foggy as Nike Air units from the 90s. In reality, it’s actually a blessing that retros exist. And we should all be grateful.
For starters, the reissue is objectively more likely to survive the wear and tear of daily use than the OG. Secondly, brands are now listening more to their customers to improve archival product. And finally, retro releases allow old-school sneakerheads to relive their childhood, while the new generation is introduced to a bygone era.
As history and nostalgia dictates, wizened sneakerheads tend to covet kicks from their youth in the 80s and 90s – even 2000s (yes, it’s 2019). Most styles from those eras now contain dried-out foam, superfluous plastic inserts, or brittle Air bags that could crumble at any moment. Some older midsoles teeter on the fine line of being barely wearable, as hairline cracks grow into flaking chasms. The enjoyment of wearing OGs is laced with anxiety, constantly dreading the last step that breaks the camel’s polyurethane back.
Enter the retro sneaker. They’re here, fresh off the production line – at least much newer than the 20-year-old predecessor. These retro sneakers can be worn with complete confidence, perhaps even disregard. They’re ready to take a beating, the midsoles pliable and shock absorbing, and are far more likely to still be in one piece once taken off. Modern production is a science, replacing dated (and sometimes hazardous) compounds with safer, more stable materials.
For a long time, the quality of retro sneakers was at the mercy of a brand’s attention to detail. Shortcuts were taken. There was panelling that didn’t match the OGs. Wrong colours in the wrong places. Worst yet, some had downright poor quality control, including crack-prone paint. People eventually voted with their wallets, hurting the brands that were playing with retro fire.
Fortunately, some brands listened to the minutiae feedback from their most ardent supporters. One example was New Balance. The iconic grey 997 returned in 2014 to raucous fanfare from NB nerds worldwide, but it was ever so slightly off according to stringent trainerspotters. The response came shortly after, with the newly designated 997GY2. Tweaking the midsole colour has appeased the toughest critics – for the time being. This is living proof that brands have removed their heads from the sand.
Kudos also goes to Nike for unexpectedly remaking runners like the Air Ghost Racer, earning its deserved ‘Remastered’ label. The revived ZX and SPZL lines meant adidas received similar praise for their efforts in meeting connoisseur consumer demand. With product people like Gary Aspden representing the fanatical sneaker community, retros have improved considerably. Of course, brands still have a long way to go to get certain sneaker shapes, proportions and colours right, but at least they’re thinking to bring back old styles in the first place.
However, the jury seems to still be out about the pre-vintaged look. The likes of John Varvatos and Junya Watanabe may have got the ball rolling with that aesthetic in the 2000s, then we got the yellow-brown midsole smearing on the AJKO retro and a whole Air Max pack. Even the recent ZX 8000 OG 'Aqua' retro came out of the box with 30 years of artificial shelf-wear. They still sold out though.
For older sneakerheads, who were around the first time legendary sneakers released, surely it would be devastating if those memory-filled childhood shoes never came back. Thankfully, Air Jordan retros don’t look like they’re stopping any time soon, so reliving Michael Jordan’s legendary six rings can be done on repeat.
Speaking of MJ, he was already long retired when today’s 13-year-old sneakerhead was born. These kids never watched him play live, but know who he is thanks to shelves and shelves of Air Jordan retros at the local sneaker store. Silhouettes like the Air Jordan 1, 3 to 6, and 11 will likely be reissued ad infinitum, and MJ’s legacy will live on forever – even if it’s just his name on a shoe. If you’re reading this in 2085: Michael Jordan is still the greatest basketball player of all time. And, the 2008 CDP retro of the ‘Bred’ AJ4 wasn’t that bad…
At time of writing, the 2019 retro of the 'Bred' Air Jordan 11 is due to drop within days. It's funny, newer generations of sneakerheads will call it the 'Bred' because of the black and red portmanteau. While self-proclaimed OGs prefer to call them the 'Playoffs' because Jordan wore them during the 1996 NBA Playoffs. These same sneakerheads since before the 90s will also likely complain about the height of the patent mudguard on the new retro, because it'll never replicate the original release. So what? At least the 2019 pair won't fall apart mid-step.
Nostalgic ponderings and sporting legacies aside, there’s no doubt that when it comes to the footwear industry: money talks. Nike’s and adidas’ stock would plummet if not for the millions of pairs of Air Force 1s and Superstars that are sold each and every year – decades after the initial release of each silhouette. Nevermind if today’s youth don’t know why they’re called Uptowns and Shelltoes respectively – that’s a conversation for another time.
So, before a pristine pair of 90s deadstock is reduced to dust from their first and only wear, see if a retro exists. It’ll save you a lot of grief, preserve the memory of an earlier time, and be the next best thing to acquiring a time machine and legitimately living in that rose-tinted bygone era.