Vintage Collector Gabriella (La Gear)
Tell us about this obsession with L.A. Gear?
I got into L.A. Gear in the mid-eighties. I was in sixth grade and I really liked the silhouettes, the colors and the fact that they were made for and marketed to girls. I grew up on Long Island, New York, and L.A. Gear, though marketing the L.A. lifestyle, fitted in with the Long Island aesthetic in the eighties. You know, scrunchy socks (sometimes two to three pairs!), scrunchies for hair, acid-wash, aerobics-craze, neon colors – it was perfect for me at the time. As I got older, my love for the L.A. Gear died down, and it wasn’t until my friend Liz Baca of The Goods! (a vintage dealer) found me a deadstock pair that my quest to find vintage L.A. Gear started up. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep any of my pairs from childhood.
What’s the extent of the collection?
I have a bunch of vintage shoes, some Nike, some British Knights but I’ve been focusing in on my collection of L.A. Gear, which counts to about nine pairs. Most of them come to me via my friends who are in the vintage business: Liz Baca (www.gottagetthegoods.com) and Alice Adams (www.rockitretro.com). Whenever they find a pair of LA Gear they hold them for me. I tend to go for styles that are girly and remind me of how I used to dress back in the day on Strong Island.
Did you ever cop the Michael Jackson Gears? Those were the holy grail when I was a kid.
Haha, no I didn’t, though I loved Michael Jackson back then. We didn’t have a ton of money growing up so I couldn’t get all the sneakers I wanted. Sneakers were something we wore on our feet when we were playing, not something that I could collect. I think that’s why I feel like I should get them now that I can. I’m trying to compensate for what I couldn’t get as a kid.
What is your earliest memory of sneakers and which shoe sparked the desire?
Growing up I was a girly girl and I was far more concerned with my Barbie dolls. I always had sneakers but they were my ‘play shoes’. It wasn’t until L.A. Gear launched in the mid-eighties when I was in Sixth grade that I identified with a brand of sneaker. Then I went into a really simple white Keds, then a rainbow of Converse chucks. I always lived in sneakers but it wasn’t until about 1996 that I fell back in love with sneakers. Then I started buying a lot more adidas, Puma and Nikes.
What is the fascination with brands that were popular for a nano-second, then disappeared only to taste success over two decades later?
Fashion is cyclical, so it’s only natural that people will be looking to retro brands that made a splash back in the day. Since the original L.A. Gears are no longer in production and harder to find, they instantly become more sought after and valuable. L.A. Gear is now licensed and unfortunately, instead of re-issuing the styles they became famous for, they’re more like a Skecher now. It’s so sad.
What sort of reaction do you get in your L.A. Gears?
I know it’s really bad but I don’t wear most of the shoes I own, especially the vintage ones. They’re really delicate so I try to keep them as pristine as possible. When people find out that I have a little stash of them they bug out and think it’s really funny and it takes them back to their youth.
Wasn’t it uncool at a time to be rocking L.A. Gear? Why is it so neck-breaking these days?
Yeah, the L.A. Gear days came and went by pretty quickly and if you weren’t in on it at the start you may have lost the window of opportunity to rock the really fly ones! I think it comes back to the fact that now you have to search out shoes that have not been in production for almost 20 years. It’s very similar to the appeal of vintage clothing. People want to look different and not wear the same stuff as the girl next to them. If you have vintage pairs, you’ll be rocking something that other people don’t have and you’ll stand out in the crowd.
It all comes down to exclusivity and it doesn’t get more exclusive than having to hunt down a pair – and in your size!
The Paula Abdul model was the biggest seller for L.A Gear... speaking of which, what is it with dodgy comebacks? How important are the originals?
The originals are sooo important and this can’t be more clear than with L.A. Gear today. Whoever licensed the brand did it a huge disservice by not looking at the archives and the state of fashion today. Instead, they followed the lead of Skechers and are just making generic, uninspired knock-offs of other shoes in the market today. On the other hand, I think Pony is a good example of keeping true to their aesthetic. They made a bit of a comeback about four to five years ago and it was more in line with their history, rather than a departure.
The same can be said for Kangaroos. If a retro-brand is going to come out the gates again, it should bring what the people want – the originals they found success with. Fashion is finicky and nothing stays popular forever. Some companies ride out the bumps in the road and continue to evolve their brand. Others can’t handle the financial strain and fall off. It’s the natural business cycle. With L.A. Gear, the answer all comes down to licensing. The original people behind the brand have given someone else the right to design and produce the shoes. With that variable thrown into the equation you sometimes see a departure from the brand’s original values and aesthetic. It’s unfortunate but true and I think that’s why L.A. Gear may not have the following it once did. I think that if they took a different route and went back to their history they might be able to take-off again.
How long do you think this obsession with vintage sports wear will last?
People always look to the past for inspiration. Then when you throw in the hunt, exclusivity, and the history behind the piece, I think there will always be people who are fascinated with vintage sportswear. Vintage has become especially popular these days. I remember being in college and shopping in vintage stores because I had no money. Now, everyone has jumped on the vintage train. I think vintage sportswear will always have its place but I think its popularity may be cyclical and linked to the popularity of what’s in the current marketplace. If people can’t find things that satisfy them in the market today, they’re going to look to the past. The grass is always greener...
This article appeared in Issue 12 of Sneaker Freaker. Buy it here