Vintage Sneakers - Kerso (UK Casuals)
Kerso is well known in vintage trainer circles as a knowledgeable participant in the UK’s most enduring style movement, simply known as the Casuals. With a love of football only matched by a penchant for obscure trainers and Euro sports fashion, the Casual persona defined a peculiar English sense of fashion and tradition which is still influential today. Regarding himself as a ‘trainer wearer’ rather than a collector, Kerso may be in his own words an ‘anally retentive sad bastard’, but at least he still cares! Let’s rewind the clock as Kerso gives us a tour through this most enigmatic phenomenon that is a total mystery to the sneaker scene today.
Hey Kerso - where and when did you grow up?
Some would say I haven’t grown up yet but I was born in 1966 in a town called Bellshill which is ten miles from Glasgow in the west of Scotland.
How do you define vintage when it comes to trainers?
I’m sure it means different things to different people. When I talk about vintage, I’m referring to shoes introduced as a new model during the seventies and eighties. It has to be remembered that back then, trainers were mainly manufactured for function as opposed to fashion and as such, when better technology or updated design ideas made a model obsolete, it ceased to be produced. Of course, lots were also dropped because they just didn’t sell! For me, when a first generation trainer ceases to be produced, it could be said to have become vintage. Others would no doubt argue that a shoe has to be a certain age before being described as vintage – but who decides what that age is?
Exactly. How are things different from back in your day as a lad?
Without wishing to sound like an embittered old man, before the internet, satellite television, global mass media and most importantly, the power of the sportswear giants, trends were set by those who, for want of better words, were ‘style leaders’, most obviously the Casuals in the UK but also B-Boys in New York and the Paninari* in Italy. In the heyday of the Casual era, the trends changed at a frightening rate, some lasting only a matter of weeks.
How did you decide which trainers were cool back then?
It was almost like a continuous chain-reaction. Lads would travel to different areas of the country, more often than not for football, and would pick up on what their counterparts were wearing. In addition, you had those who preferred to innovate rather than copy – bringing back previously unseen models from trips to other European countries. Put the two together and there was never a shortage of ‘must-have’ trainers. Additionally, there were occasional letters to magazines like Sounds (a music broadsheet bizarrely enough) and The Face where casuals would deride what those in other areas were wearing, whilst detailing what they were sporting.
The influence of this era is still present in British culture. Can you explain quickly how football and fashion became intertwined during your era?
Casual culture is without doubt the largest, most enduring style movement ever. Yet it is also the least documented and there is no definitive history, only recollections of those who were involved. Even the term provokes debate – lads called themselves Dressers and Trendies – Casual is just the label which stuck. It was taking place all over Britain from the mid-late seventies onwards when football supporters stopped wearing colours (team scarves) to matches. Initially it was to make it easier to infiltrate certain areas of away grounds and make it harder for the police to identify them when trouble broke out. Most were just wearing what was the street fashion of the time such as MA-1 jackets, Harringtons, Levis etc. The story most commonly used is that it was young Scousers (kids from Liverpool) who began going to matches in small groups wearing different, local styles like snorkel jackets, tight jeans and adidas Samba for example. They then became identifiable because of the way they looked, even though they hadn’t deliberately set out to create a style movement. That particular look wasn’t copied by others but they can certainly be regarded as the first organised group of Dressers. Articles by Robert Elms, Gavin Hills, Kevin Sampson and Phil Thornton’s Casuals book go into it in greater depth.
A lot of the shoes from this era are very, very similar. And yet for the connoisseur, the small differences can mean a lot. What’s your take on that?
Probably best illustrated with an example – adidas Jeans and adidas Cord from 1979. With the exception of the colour and name (adidas very kindly advising us what style of trouser they were to be worn with), these are exactly the same mould, sole unit and materials. Nothing to get overly excited about. Except that somewhere down the line, something happened which is where the connoisseur mentality kicks in...
The adidas Jeans became a very successful model, spawning another two updated variations and additional colourways and also a shockingly bad adidas Originals re-issue of the Mk2 model. As for the Cord... for years I doubted their existence. The catalogue image aside, I had never laid eyes on a pair or come across another picture. A few people said they had owned them but unfortunately were unable to substantiate the claim and this only added to the mystique. Then the impossible happened. I received an e-mail from someone claiming to have a pair in my size. To cut a long story short, I got them for the equivalent of £20 in a swap deal and subsequently found out that they had originally come from eBay a few weeks previous for £1 due to a mislisted title!
So, proof that they did actually exist. Since then I am aware of only two other pairs which have surfaced. Noel Gallagher (from the band Oasis) has a pair and a friend of mine, Jay Montessori also has them. All three are size UK 7 as far as I know. Now it would be ridiculous of me to even consider claiming that these are the only pairs in existence, but thanks to the internet trainer forums and websites, the vintage market we operate within is pretty small and any heads I know wouldn’t be shy in letting the world know if they were aware of any others.
Which begs the question, are there others? If so, where are they? The Mk1 Jeans, desirable and sought after though they are, can be found without much difficulty. But is there a warehouse of deadstock Cord sitting somewhere waiting to be discovered? No one but connoisseurs give a shit. That’s what makes people connoisseurs. Or anally retentive sad bastards depending on your viewpoint! And that’s why small differences are actually a big deal.
Well said. You’ve got a soft spot for adidas in particular, is it the brand or simply the shoes?
Purely down to logistics and a bit of favoritism borne out of my first love. For every pair of Diadora, Gola, Hi-Tech, Patrick or other brands at the time there were 10 or 20 adidas models to choose from. Only Puma had a decent range to rival adidas and even then they didn’t approach the adi-domination. Remember this was before Nike had begun to make a dent in the UK. The favoritism comes from the shoe that kick-started my passion in 1978, a pair of blue suede adidas Jogger. These were the first trainers I purchased without sport in mind. Prior to that I’d only worn the likes of adidas Kick or Samba to play football in.
Tell me about the fabled adidas ‘Leisure’ shoe... I must admit you’ve got me on that one!
Ah, the Leisure Shoe range! As with any style movement it needs to evolve and mutate otherwise people lose interest and it stagnates and dies. At various times during the eighties you would see lads attending matches dressed for all the world like they were tennis pros, geography teachers and country gents with lots of other variations. One style of footwear which was popular for a time was the Leisure Shoe range. At this point I have to admit to being unable to present an unbiased opinion as I thought they were horrendous – more at home on geriatrics than stylish football lads. Others however, thought they were the dogs bollocks and to this day there are those who will pay serious money for some of the rarer models like Korsika or Palermo.
OK, gimme your Top Five?
Ask me for my Top Five on five separate occasions and you’ll get a different answer every time. What I can do is give you examples of what I would class to be at the very top of various vintage styles over the years..
#1. Diadora Borg Elite
#2. adidas Trimm Trab
#3. Nike Internationalist
#4. adidas Rom
#5. adidas Jeans Mk2
Is there still one shoe from your era that you would sell a kidney for?
No. I can sound like a broken record sometimes but as far as I’m concerned I’m NOT a trainer collector, I’m a trainer wearer. My idea of a collector is someone who will go to ridiculous levels and pay silly amounts of money for trainers which may not even fit. Collectors don’t wear their shoes, they are more like pieces of art to be admired, not used, which I find very difficult to get my head round. Don’t get me wrong, Casual culture is all about one-upmanship and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a buzz from showing off a newly acquired pair of beautiful vintage shoes to those of a similar disposition. But I can honestly say there’s not a single pair that I covet. What I do know for a fact is that tomorrow or next week I’ll come across an amazing pair I didn’t know existed and if they fit me and are reasonably priced, I’ll buy them.
Would you be happy if a brand brought back a long lost trainer? Or are you sometimes better off to leave it in the grave as it were?
Isn’t that what adidas have been doing (badly) since they began their Originals range? I’m not their target market so my opinion doesn’t really matter. Current manufacturing economics make it an impossibility for them to re-create the classic shoes made in Europe during the seventies/eighties in their current factories. What is disappointing is the laziness in not taking the time to get simple details right – basic shape, original colours, even things like not using the same fonts or size of lettering on the model names. I can’t think of any re-issue which compares favorably with an original model.
Why are you guys so stuck on the past? Wouldn’t you ever like to wear something totally new?
If I am ‘stuck in the past’ it’s only because I won’t compromise and wear new trainers which don’t come anywhere near the quality or aesthetic beauty of the originals. Why settle for a poor substitute when the best version can still be found and worn? I’d love to find a new design that I’d be happy to wear. Why is it that when they know there is a market for classically styled shoes, a company like adidas haven’t commissioned their designers to take key elements from the best of their back catalogue and incorporate them in the design of a new, yet unmistakably retro-influenced model? Again, to me it smacks of laziness.
This article appeared in Issue 12 of Sneaker Freaker. Buy it here