When was the first time you fell head over heels for a sneaker?
Sometimes, it’s love at first sight. You bust open the shoebox and the smell of rubber, glue and leather floods your body with dopamine. You burrow your nose into the sneaker’s collar and fill your nostrils with the scent of something new, a fledgling romance that forms the beginning of a beautiful, lifelong commitment.
Other times, love is patient and imperceptible. Perhaps you’re lacing an old pair of beaters and slowly realise your sole mate was here all along – a companion at life’s dusty crossroads. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we hooked up with several industry figures to share their first experiences of true sneaker love.
Because, as we all know, you never forget your first.
Woody, Sneaker Freaker Editor-in-Chief
'Back in the early 90s, I was in New York City wandering around the Canal Street area when I found the gulliest-looking sneaker spot. When I walked inside, it was a revelation. Something like 30 different Air Force 1s graced the wall. With limited funds and an even smaller backpack, choosing a single pair of Uptowns to haul around on my travels was a sweat-inducing nightmare.
Several hours later I finally settled on black canvas with a maize Swoosh, still my all-time favourite combo. We did a lot of miles together but sadly, they went to sneaker heaven many years ago. The toes had come through, the rubber had worn away in the heel, the midsoles had yellowed, the canvas was faded like an old bummy’s whiskers and the original laces were now half their original length. They were still functional though! I regret binning those busted bad boys, even if they were totally junked. In a spooky coincidence, my sister gave me her own pair of the exact same edition when she cleaned out her closet a few years back. They’re perfect, even if they’re three sizes down. The Air Force 1 will always be the first shoe I look for when I enter a sneaker store.'
'I kept asking mum dukes to buy me some Pro-Keds; every kid who was down around the way wore them... I calmly walked around in them to make sure they fit, but of course I really wanted to jump for joy and scream. It was then routine for the salesman to ask if you wanted to wear the sneakers out the store ('Yes.'), and if you wanted him to put your old dogged pair in the box ('Nah, you can throw them out.').
I had graduated. I had Super Pro-Keds in blue canvas. I’ll never forget what that felt like. It was a coming of age. I literally walked out of the store, got to the sidewalk, and burst into an all-out sprint. I don’t even know why. My mom was half a block behind me in stitches.' – an excerpt from Bobbito Garcia's book: Where'd You Get Those? New York City's Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987.
Colm Dillane, KidSuper
'My first sneaker love had to be the adidas Samba. I am a huge soccer player and lover. I would wear them everywhere waiting for a soccer game. I wore them from the field to school. I loved seeing other people wear them. I thought, ‘they must be soccer players as well’, so we could play. But then they turned more into fashion accessory and I was mad people who wore them that weren't soccer players (it’s probably how skaters feel today with the SB Dunk!).
When I got more into fashion in high school I always wanted the Nike SB Dunk High ‘UNKLE’ (also known as the ‘DUNKLE’). What I loved about those shoes was that I didn't know who or what UNKLE was, but I had to research who they were and the shoes opened me up to new stories and information. Nowadays, I think brands are too worried about collaborating with the most famous person without really telling a story and creating good products.' – @kidsuper
James Barrett, Up There
'Picking one true love is too hard. There is something we love to do with every new pair of sneakers we get though, and that’s cracking open that box and giving them a bigggg ol’ sniff! The sneaker pheromones kick in and euphoria ensues, its addictive, all-inclusive, raw love. Happy Valentine's Day sneakers! We love you!' – @uptherestore
'The obvious answer is of course the Air Jordan 3. But allow me to dive deeper. The Nike Air Trainer SC 2 is my valentine. This was the follow-up to the Air Trainer SC and originally released in 1991. This bad boy was all about Bo Jackson and the infamous “Bo Knows” ad campaign. This shoe straddles the line of innovation and just plain fugly—which is my favourite kind of shoe. A removable midfoot strap? An inner bootie? A citron colourway? This should’ve never been approved, but I’m sure glad it did.' – @jeffstaple
'My first sneaker love is definitely the Nike Air Max Plus (TN), which we commonly call ‘requins’ (sharks) in France. This is the model that got me into sneakers. It came out when I was 14 years old, and I had never seen such a strong design or colourways. They became super popular in France the second they released them. The fact that they were Foot Locker-exclusive made them even cooler, because it added a rarity aspect to the model.
For instance, the closest Foot Locker location from my hometown was in Marseille, about two hours by train, which seemed like a very long trip when you are a teenager. The very few kids that were lucky enough to rock the pair were considered among the coolest ones in town, so you had to have them.
Last but not least, they were the most expensive sneakers I had ever seen (back then we were still using Francs, so it was about 1000 Francs, or 150 euros) so obviously it made the TNs even more desirable. These are definitely my favorite pair of sneakers to this day. I own so many different colorways.
The image is of me doing some graffiti on an abandoned train, wearing my first pair of TNs that I wore for at least 2-3 years until they were completely destroyed!' – @bleumode
Luca Benini, Slam Jam
'It was 1989 and I was in London. A pair of Air Jordan 4 ‘Fire Red’ caught my attention. They had just been released. I really liked the style and powerful colourway. The fact that you could see them both on courts and in the streets was extremely exciting. It was love at the first sight.' – @luca_benini_07
'My first sneaker love was the Air Jordan 1. When I was a kid, it was more of an unattainable dream shoe. When I was younger, I never thought it would be possible for me to own a pair one day – let alone all the Jordans that were to come after.
My first practical sneaker love was the OG FILA Grant Hill. All white with the navy trim. I played basketball in high school and they were my first ‘designer’ basketball shoe. There's a soft spot in my heart for them. I wish I had a photo for you (but I’m also happy I don’t. I was probably still rocking a unibrow).' – @melodyehsani
'I would have to say it’s the Nike Cortez for me. It’s silhouette, that streamline midsole and gorgeous toe box always stood out to me!' – @stephfmorris
Yoon Anh, AMBUSH
'My first sneaker love was 1st Air Max 180s. Slickness and futuristic vibe really appealed to me when I first saw them as a kid. When Nike approached me to do a collab with them, I use them as a base to make my own version of it as my first sneaker design ever.' – @yoon_ambush