For the first release in their new Modern Collection, Converse takes inspiration from the All Star of the 1920s and reinvents it for today. Thanks to its rich basketball heritage and remarkable cultural legacy, the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star is unquestionably the most iconic sneaker of all time. From dirty rock’n’rollers to old high school ballers, Punky Bewsters and regular joes, just about everyone has owned a pair of All Stars at some point – but never like this!
Aside from the occasional cosmetic enhancement over the years, the All Star has largely remained unchanged since its retirement from the pro-basketball scene in the 1970s. Until last year that is, when Converse unveiled the Chuck II update. Tasked with the daunting job of overhauling their beloved veteran, the Converse design team managed to incorporate contemporary comfort while still retaining the Chuck’s loveable retro essence. For an icon that was previously deemed ‘too popular to change’, the Chuck II was a stunning make-over. The addition of Nike’s patented Lunarlon cushioning and a laser-focused approach to detailing brought the All Star thoroughly into the 21st century.
Inspired by that success, Converse is introducing the next evolution. Known as the All Star Modern, the famous profile was broken down to its core to create an ambitious, ultra-minimalist vision that utilises the very best materials and construction techniques available.
‘It was literally about ruthless simplicity,’ Bryan Cioffi, Converse’s VP of design and innovation, reveals during our visit to Converse’s top secret development lab. ‘Simply letting the materials be beautiful. We didn’t want to over-complicate things, we just wanted to let the form speak for itself.’
The All Star Modern’s one-piece upper is constructed using a new Converse-engineered breathable circular knit, while a foam lining maximises internal comfort. Key design features synonymous with the OG All Star – the traditional heel patch and metal eyelets – are replaced with Nike Hyperfuse overlays for a radical streamlined shape that's complemented by the TPU-fused toecap. Converse definitely stepped up the comfort with the micro-suede memory-foam tongue on the Chuck II, but for the All Star Modern, they added a neoprene section to the tongue to deliver an even cozier fit.
The most noticeable departure from the classic All Star is the one-piece Phylon sole unit which replaces the traditional vulcanised rubber sole. Nods to the rubber foxing tape and the iconic diamond- tread outsole from the original design are present on the otherwise minimal design, making the All Star Modern a instantly familiar shoe despite being such an evolutionary leap.
The All Star Modern actually takes cues from the simplicity of the 1920s version of the All Star, well before it became synonymous with Chuck Taylor. As Bryan notes, designing the All Star Modern was an opportunity to really upgrade performance through a reductive approach. ‘The reason there was a leather eye row with metal eyelets on the 1920s design is so that when you cinched the shoe down, the laces didn't rip out of the canvas. Now we can provide the same strength with just a hyper-thin piece of material fused on without stitching or glue. Same goes for the rubber toecap and heel patch.’ This level of refinement makes the All Star Modern the lightest All Star Converse has ever made.
‘We always talk about the Porsche 911 and its timeless design while discussing the All Star,’ Bryan says, after revealing his obsession with motorsport. It's a key inspiration for the project. ‘The styling cues always carry over for the 911. So if Chuck Taylor is the classic 911 from the 60s, the Chuck II is your souped- up, turbocharged version of that. And the All Star Modern is like the brand new 2016 GT3RS! You can still tell it comes from the same lineage, but it's a whole other beast entirely.’
From the length of the aglet to the surprisingly detailed EVA strobel that most people won’t even notice – every detail has been carefully considered. ‘There's all these little discovery elements on the All Star Modern you may miss. But they're there, and they're the highest quality available. I'm definitely a nuts and bolts guy – I love details – I'm a construction nerd!’ admits Bryan. ‘I actually think we are at the point where we can use any materials and technology we really want to use. The materials that we can’t use yet are the super science fiction ones, but we’re pushing to get there as well. For me, the most exciting thing about the All Star Modern is signalling to the consumer that you’re about to see something really different from Converse.’
Converse’s rich heritage will always be an intrinsic t part of their appeal, but it’s refreshing to witness a brand pushing the boundaries and embracing their roots in innovation once again. Judging from our preview at the Converse development lab, all we can say is that the All Star Modern is just a small taste of things to come.