Why Milan Fell in Love with the Air Max 97 ‘Le Silver’
The Nike Air Max 97 ‘Silver Bullet’ tore through Milan during the late 1990s. Modelled on Japanese bullet trains, the metallic, iridescent silhouette was shaped like industrialised liquid, firing up the dreams of Italian futurism, and forging deep connections to a variety of the country’s subcultures. Drug dealers, DJs, rich kids, poor kids, models, footballers and gabbers all laced the shoe affectionately dubbed ‘Le Silver’. Beneath Milan, the graffiti group ‘Lords of Vetra’ bombed the city’s entrails, lighting up the underground with the Air Max 97’s polyurethane midsoles and supersonic 3M reflective speed trails. We linked up with Sha Ribeiro, a photographer and former member of the Lords of Vetra, to find out how the ‘Silver Bullet’ managed to emblazon a whole city.
Why did you pursue graffiti?
In 1994, I got into graffiti through some guys at school. I did it constantly for over 15 years. Back then, graffiti really took over my life. It wasn’t just about being cool, it was a way to get to know people. It was something new.
Can you tell us about the ‘Lords of Vetra’?
Lords of Vetra were one of the biggest graffiti groups in Milan. Vetra is the name of the park in Milan we hung out at. The place is called Casa Vetra; it’s a garden in the middle of the city. Those years were crazy. It was like a fucking religion. My life was dedicated to graffiti 24/7 – painting; tagging; bombing; drinking; stealing.
What was it about the lifestyle that was so appealing?
It was about being together and doing what we loved – bombing, bombing, bombing. We didn’t have car licenses, so we were always taking the subway – tagging the subway. We always had spray paint with us to throw up tags, no matter where we went. Subways were the main one, they gave me the most adrenaline. I’d rather have 15 minutes to paint a panel on the subway instead of driving outside of Milan and do a train yard for an hour. You get bored.
What sneakers were you wearing in those days?
I was a Nike guy. My father was a flight supervisor. When he was on flights to New York, I would go with him so I could shop sneakers. We didn’t have many Nikes in Europe at the time.
'Those years were crazy. It was like a fucking religion. My life was dedicated to graffiti 24/7 – painting; tagging; bombing; drinking; stealing.'
Do you remember first seeing the Air Max 97 ‘Silver Bullet’?
That shoe was crazy. They came out just before Christmas in 1997. They cost around 150 euro, which was a shitload of money at the time. Everyone in Lords of Vetra already had the ‘Silver Bullets’. My birthday was around Christmas time too, so I asked my mum if I could have them for birthday and Christmas. We went into the store and they didn’t have my size. I ended up wearing a size lower and my feet hurt like a motherfucker for an entire week. After that they stretched and it was fine.
Was there something special about the sneaker?
They looked like they were from another planet. I mean, wearing them, you look like a fucking alien from another planet entirely. It was completely silver. When you were out at night and hit by the lights they would shine. These days, we’re in the post-genre generation. But back then, Milan was split into groups. Whether you were hip hop, alternative rock, tacky, graffiti – people would stick to their groups. There was no interaction between the kids of different subcultures. Rich kids were wearing Stan Smiths. Tacky kids were wearing Buffalo shoes in the club. A lot of graffiti kids were wearing PUMA or adidas. When the Air Max 97 ‘Silver Bullet’ dropped, everyone was wearing them. Drug dealers, fancy kids, rich people, tacky people, graffiti people. It was the first time I ever really saw that. Before the Air Max 97, people were defining themselves in a very specific way.
'They looked like they were from another planet. I mean, wearing them, you look like a fucking alien from another planet entirely.'
Were they a problem when you were bombing subways? Didn’t the ‘Silver Bullet’ make you easier to see?
Yeah, you’re right. But at the time, we were just living in the moment. We didn’t really care. Sometimes, things just happened spontaneously. I wasn’t going to go home and change my shoes before hitting a subway.
When did things start to slow down in the graffiti scene?
You can’t lead that type of life forever: Bombing all night in subways, tunnels and trains. Sleeping all day. Stealing things and getting drunk. You grow up. You put your energy into other things. By chance one day, one of my best friends, who was also a member of Lords of Vetra, got me into photography. I never went to photography school. This guy taught me how to use light and everything. Graffiti gradually faded out. I was more into photography and less into graffiti. I mean, I had to open the studio at 9.00am, so I couldn’t stay out until 5.00am like I used to.
You never kept any of your old sneakers?
No, I’ve never been like that. I love shoes, but I never thought I’d keep them forever. I always used them until the end – right until the soles fell off.