26 August 2018

The Roadman Favourite: Air Max 95

Solar Red

A shoe I have never been able to make my mind up about - the Air Max 95.

The Air Max 95 is a cult classic. For years it was the most worn shoe by criminals in the UK, as determined by footprints left at crime scenes (overtaken by the Reebok Classic in 2010, although I am not sure what the current crowd favourite is). It was the sneaker behind what police at the time called the first ever recorded case of targeted shoe robbery in Japan. And it is the first ever shoe that I remember knowing by sight the exact brand and model name. In fact when it comes to clothing in general, it was the first time I knew the name of a product, could identify it on the street, and knew exactly how much it cost. And that had nothing to do with advertising, or because certain celebrities wore it, but purely thanks to word on the street. To put it into perspective for international readers, Nike Air Max are as popular and culturally relevant in Europe as Jordan brand is in America, and arguably nowhere more so than in London. Although they initially released at a price of £99, the Air Max 95s were soon retailing for £110, which is why to this day many still refer to them as the "110s".

The design of the shoe was inspired by human anatomy. The lacing system and those long eyelet loops that start down at the midsole represent the rib cage. The breathable mesh panelling either side of the eyelets are supposed to represent the lungs, while the layered suede panels seek to evoke layers of muscular tissue. The heel of the shoe has a relatively rigid 3M panel that represents the neck or spine. The original design sketch did not actually feature the Swoosh at all, but rather was meant to be a totally clean sneaker. Even with the Jordan 2 in their roster, removing the Swoosh was just not done at Nike. The colour choice behind the original Neon colourway, which is the same as the shoe photographed, but with neon yellow instead of solar red, was also contentious. Many did not think that consumers would buy black and grey shoes, fearing they looked dirty. Even having visible air units towards the front of the sole was quite a departure from previous designs. You hear about it here and there, but I actually remember seeing someone get jumped on the street near my school once purely so that the attacker could stab and puncture the air units on the victims shoes. Needless to say, it provided us with a talking point for months to come.

Indeed as a child this is the shoe that I remember more than any other, and more than the shoe itself, I remember the reputation. To put it simply, they were the drug dealer's shoe, and if you had a pair - you were the man. The area I grew up in was not the most salubrious, and so the older relatives of a sizeable number of my classmates in school made their money on the road. The functional requirements for such endeavours are shoes that are comfortable to stand in all day, but that would also work when making a quick getaway on foot; while the social requirements boil down to something expensive and exclusive enough to mark you out from the crowd. The Air Max 95 checked every box, and thus they were both status symbol and a surprisingly practical choice. The colourway I most remember is actually the OG neon, but soon you could see any number of colourways on the street. I would have been five or six years old when I saw my first pair, but even at that age, I knew that they meant something. Everyone seemed to know that they meant something. If you were wearing them, people would treat you with respect, or at the very least, a wary politeness. Of course that was context specific, because within a few years I remember children at school owning pairs, but even then, those shoes put them at the top rung of the social ladder.

As large a part as the Air Max 95 plays in my memories of childhood, I have never actually been able to decided whether I like them or not. It is one of the only pieces that I can think of that I have gone back and forth between time and time again. And so when I found out that the OG Solar Red colourway would be coming out this year, I knew that I had to get a pair to satisfy my curiosity. The truth is that I until I got this pair, I had never actually tried a pair on before. Nostalgia is a tricky business, and so when they arrived from Nike, and I pulled them out for the first time, it took me right the way back to being a little kid in school. I had not held a pair in over twenty years, and sitting there with them in my hands gave rise to an interesting mix of emotions. If I think about my interest and love of fashion and dress, then that pair of shoes that I sat there holding was arguably the first step that would define the direction of my life. I had never really thought about it in those terms before, but sitting there I realised that they were literally my earliest memory of having an awareness of the social and cultural value of a piece of dress. I remember the design, I remember the value, I remember the reputation, I remember the meaning, I remember everything that can surround a piece of dress to make it more than simply something you wear.

But like I said, nostalgia is tricky business, and the moment I put them on and saw myself in the mirror, I knew they had to go back. I usually look for garments where the meaning outweighs the design (i.e. I want clothes that mean something more to me than simply looking cool), but in this case, that skew was so heavily in the corner of meaning over design, it felt as if they were simply not for me. They felt comfortable on my feet, they looked pretty cool in the mirror, but I felt like I was wearing someone else's shoes. I think that the social and cultural meaning they hold in my mind are so great, that I feel as if I am wearing a piece of costume when I put them on. It is a difficult feeling for me to explain, but they belong to a life that I saw played out in front me, but thankfully not a life that I have ever lived. It is the same reason that I do not think that I could ever wear a pair of the patent leather America's Cup Prada sneakers. Some things are better left to those who lived it, or those who have no knowledge of it. I still think that they are a fascinating shoe, but they are just not for me. Even so, it was pretty cool to try on a pair for the first time - somewhere in my mind a five year old version of me had his jaw on the floor.


2 August 2018

Fusion Dance: Don C x Jordan Legacy 312

Don C x Jordan Legacy 312
These new colourways release on August 11th
(product images via Hypebeast)

Many call it a travesty, but I can't help but love this shoe.

This year has been one of dramatic change and self-discovery for me. My personal relationship with fashion and dress over the past few months has most certainly been influenced by this, and so I find that my year in dress thus far has been about nostalgia. I have been trying to reconnect with the things that made me fall in love with clothing in the first place, and just follow my interests in a more organic fashion to focus on the things that truly excite me and make me feel happy. It has been an interesting journey, and I plan on sharing some of it here on the blog in the near future. I have been revisiting pieces and ideas that hold a personal connection for me, ostensibly in a methodological manner (it started off that way), but to be honest, I have been having so much fun with it, that I have simply been following where my gut takes me. Indeed one of the areas that I have really been reconnecting with and enjoying is sneaker culture. Sneakers were the gateway to fashion for me as a youngster, and continue to be my weakness. However this year has been the first time in a number of years that I have been following release dates, watching and reading reviews, and just getting a general feel for where things are now and how the culture continues to shift and change. To be honest it has been interesting from a more academic viewpoint as well, and, as I have shared before, I think that there really is so much that needs to be written about and studied when it comes to sneaker culture. And I do believe that it is a perfect time for researchers, because of the massive availability of data thanks to social media.

But today is not about statistical data or sociological perspectives, it is about a childhood fascination with sneakers. The Legacy 312 is the latest collaboration by Don C with Jordan brand, celebrating his hometown of Chicago, and the history of the Jordan sneaker line. It is essentially a fusion shoe, with an Air Jordan 1 upper, Air Jordan 3 sole, and the strap detailing taken from the Alpha Force Low, which Michael Jordan did actually wear between the Air Jordan 2 and Air Jordan 3. The 312 name is a reference to the downtown Chicago telephone area code. Don C wanted to pay homage to Chicago and the history of Jordan brand, and so took two of the most important sneakers from the line. The Air Jordan 1 can essentially be credited with transforming sneaker culture from an underground subculture, into a commodified "upperground" (to use Yuniya Kawamura's term) cultural phenomenon. However it was not until the Air Jordan 3 that Jordans in and of themselves gained the beginnings of the cultural cachet the brand enjoys today. Indeed it was the first Jordan sneaker to be designed by Tinker Hatfield, at a time where Michael Jordan was considering leaving Nike. They are perhaps most memorable for the fact that they were worn in advertisements by Spike Lee's character from She's Gotta Have It - Mars Blackmon. Whereas the Air Jordan 1 started brand Jordan, the Air Jordan 3 made the line a household name. And so it makes sense that Don C would pay respect to these two styles, which I think resulted in a really nice shoe.

I find it odd how protective Jordan fans get over the line, as if ignoring the fact that hideous sneakers like the Jordan 15 and 17 exist. A brand cannot survive on retro re-releases alone, and so I like the fact that they are willing to take risks and try something different. I suppose it is a generational thing more than anything else, because no doubt those who grew up watching Michael Jordan play, and remember getting the original releases, feel protective over their childhood memories. But even so, I do not see this sneaker as disrespecting that memory, I see it as a celebration, and as something entirely new. I do find it interesting seeing the generational differences in sneaker culture though, because to read accounts by collectors from the pre-Jordan era, many of them saw the Jordan as heralding the end of the golden age. This was no doubt due to the shift from underground to upperground. I guess each generation of fans see themselves as the truest fan, and so when changes happen, perhaps intended to cater for a newer audience, they see it as a threat to their emotional attachment. You see this in culture everywhere, from original Star Wars fans to early Rick Owens fans, where they are resistant to a newer audience and any perceived changes to what they believe to be the core identity of the brand or product.

For me personally, because I did not grow up watching basketball, Jordans were never a concrete object for me, but an idea. I have written about this in a post before, but essentially the brand name and general style of the shoes held more meaning to me as a child than the specific design details of the shoe. Of course later on I would come to learn more about each design and appreciate them from that perspective, but even so, it is obviously not the same thing as seeing them and wearing them as they came out. It is for that reason that I guess I love this sneaker, because removing the fact that it has Jordan branding, I think it is a cool looking basketball shoe, that reminds me of my childhood. It seems like something I would have seen Will Smith wearing on Fresh Prince, or something you would have seen on Saved By The Bell. My gut reaction to the shoe is purely aesthetic, and on that level I really enjoy it. But then to see the design language and recognise the references, it actually makes me appreciate it more on a historical and cultural level. I think that the Air Jordan 1 is the most important sneaker in history, and that the Air Jordan 3 is perhaps the most important for the brand, and so that fusion really is a celebration that I enjoy seeing. If you had asked me as a child what a basketball shoe should look like, this is pretty much what I would have imagined.

As seems to be the case these days, people absolutely hated this shoe and went in on it online, but on release day they sold out. I hope the people who bought them were fans, but no doubt the majority were resellers (no judgement here, I have flipped the occasional piece too). I do find it odd to consider the sneaker market as of late though, because hype sells, but it no longer seems to matter whether that hype is positive or negative. Now we could go deep into it and say that social media has cultivated an audience that thrives on extremes, because that is the only way to stand out in the torrential deluge of information on social feeds, but I think that it has always been the case in fashion. And then there is the fact that I really do like this shoe, and I am sure that there are many others who do too. With all the popularity of "ugly" sneakers these days, I think it would be very hard to release a shoe with such extreme styling that would not sell well, provided you made it a limited release. Fusions seem to be the name of the game lately, whether it be adding Vapormax soles to 90s Nike models, or Boost soles to whichever Adidas model. I guess it is a way of bringing older styles back into the market and reorienting it towards newer consumers who are too young to really remember, or have been able to enjoy, the originals. If that sounds familiar, it is because it is the cycle of fashion in a nutshell, and that is what these sneakers are - a fashion shoe, not a basketball shoe.


7 July 2018

Buying New Glasses: Bloobloom

I hate glasses shopping, but thankfully Instagram came to my rescue.

I have never really enjoyed the glasses shopping experience. I have worn glasses since I was about eleven or twelve, and because I am short sighted, they are the first thing I put on when I get up in the morning, and the last thing I take off when I go to sleep at night. I make sure to go for my eye test every two years, and invariably the optician tells me that I should buy new frames each time because my prescription has changed just enough that it would make a noticeable difference. They walk me over reverentially to the glasses display like it was a jewellery vault and they are selling me a diamond tiara. Of course the reality is that they simply walk me back to the front of the shop to shelves packed, row after row, with glasses that manage to look at once identical and yet increasingly hideous as your eyes move along. They then encourage me to try a pair on, which means taking off my glasses, along with which goes my gift of sight. So I try on a random pair, and then have to squint at my face a few inches from a mirror, under what I must assume is lighting designed to make you look as ugly as possible. The false lenses in the display pair are ridiculously reflective, and because they do not contain my prescription, they make my eyes look weirdly proportioned, and way too close together. The optician hovers over my shoulder like a crazed salesman telling me how brilliant I look, despite the fact that the frames are clearly designed for any face shape but my own, and I have a sneaking suspicion the other shoppers are giving me the confused Nick Young meme face. And so, either I get too anxious to speak up and end up buying a pair of glasses I know I will never wear, or hastily make an excuse and get out of there as quickly as I possibly can.

Thankfully the Internet came along, and for the past few years I have been buying glasses online. It has made my life easier because I get to try on several pairs from the comfort of my own home, take a few photographs, and see what feels right without the pressure of a sales floor. You can get opinions from other people, look at your face under normal lighting conditions, and generally have a more relaxed experience. Then again, I usually get a box with a few pairs in them, and can dismiss most the second I put them on, which means you end up with a lot of back and forth with various home trials. That was my experience with my previous pair of glasses from Cubitts, where I went through about four home trials to find the pair that I liked, and in the colour that I liked. And so I immediately went to Cubitts this time around to try and find a new pair of glasses, but unfortunately it appears as if it is only the one style of theirs that suits my face and head shape (the Herbrand for those curious). While they do come in multiple colours, some of which I liked, I wanted a slightly different shape, and so decided that I would have to look elsewhere. I was not really sure where to look, and so ended up on Google trying to find any and every shop based in the UK that offered a free home trial. There are a ton of options out there for those buying glasses online, but obviously the quality and pricing varies wildly, so it can be rather hit and miss.

I spent a few weeks going through various home trials, but could not seem to find anything that worked for me. Then one day I was scrolling through Instagram and a targeted advert came up for a glasses brand I had never heard of - Bloobloom. Just to be clear, I am the type of person who runs an adblocker on their web browser, and tries to block just about every ad I come across in mobile settings as well, because they are usually entirely irrelevant. But whatever user profiling and character analysis Instagram happens to use, worked its magic, and I saw a sponsored post in my feed that I was happy to click on to learn more. I saw a company based in the UK, who donate a pair of glasses to charity for each pair they sell, and offered free home trials. So I selected a few pairs that caught my eye, and they arrived promptly the next day. I tried on the various pairs and actually found two different styles that I liked, as opposed to a box full of duds, like I had been getting up to that point, which took me by surprise. That evening I settled on the style above, took a photograph of my prescription, and bought them. I posted the home trail back for free the next day. I ordered the glasses on a Thursday evening, and they arrived with my prescription that Saturday morning. Never in my life have I seen that quick a turnaround for a pair of prescription glasses, and so for that alone I have to recommend them. I have been wearing them for some weeks now, and have to say that the quality is great for the price. Both the frame and the prescription were comfortable right out of the box, and thankfully they come with anti-scratch and anti-reflection lenses, which they will replace for free within a year if you do happen to scratch them somehow.

Full disclosure: I bought these with my own money, had never heard of Bloobloom before, have had no contact with them outside of email confirmation of my order, and they had no idea that I was going to write this. Overall I would have to say it was the quickest and easiest glasses buying experience I ever had, and the fact that they also list a full breakdown of their pricing, as well as donate a pair to charity for each pair sold, means that I would be happy to go back and buy another pair from them in the future. So yeah, if you are UK-based and looking for a new pair of glasses, I would definitely recommend giving them a look.


23 June 2018

Interviews by the River: Kiko Kostadinov SS19

Spring/Summer 2019

This collection was easily the best that I have seen from Kiko Kostadinov. 

They say that a person's home has a distinct smell apparent to everyone else except for the people living there. I think that it extends to people as well, in that I can know a person by their smell, even if they change the perfume they are wearing. Perhaps the same can be said for different cultures. Indeed to truly understand the full complexity of our own culture, it requires looking with outside (objective) eyes. But of course this process requires a comparison to be made to alternatives, which is to say that we come to know ourselves and our culture in relation to others. Fashion is perfectly poised to explore this dynamic, because references are often diverse and varied, marrying cultures and subcultures to create a new narrative and suggest new ideas.

With such a connected world as we now find ourselves in, I think that this process is more interesting than ever. This is because the vast majority of us are Internet citizens, which allows us exposure to a greater array of diversity than we may otherwise be able to encounter in the physical world. And yet, at the same time, information overload is a reality, and it is not hard to find designers who simply treat the catwalk like a Tumblr feed. Access to knowledge and access to ideas is easier than ever, and so I think that we are at an exciting juncture in terms of fashion and design, where creators are able to discover and experience a wider array of references and inspirations than ever before. I think that this collection was one such example of that, because it was so varied in inspiration, yet came together in what I thought was a rather beautiful and harmonious way.

Kostadinov was inspired by the German artist Martin Kippenberger, whose work ‘The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s “Amerika”’ (which, as the name suggests was an interpretation of Kafka's work), led him to consider men in an imaginary Bengal town on the River Ganges in different stages of job hunting. This Bengal inspiration was taken primarily from filmmaker Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy of films, which are some of the most important and iconic films in Indian cinematic history. The narrative of the trilogy, which serves as a coming-of-age story for the character of Apu, was mirrored by Kostadinov's collection with looks displaying various points in the job interview and job interviewee process. What I particularly enjoyed was that, even with an ostensible clash of diverse references, the collection never seemed heavy-handed in its inspiration. Because of my own background I responded primarily to the South Asian references, and yet these played alongside other references and inspirations to create something uniquely suited to the Kostadinov customer, wherever in the world they may happen to be.

I really liked the styling of the trousers in many of the looks, with what seemed to be an interpretation of a kurta pyjama, alongside a version of what was essentially a dhoti worn over trousers. Look in particular at the first look I have posted, where you see that wrapped dhoti-style hem, with the white kurta pyjama-style trousers underneath, or else the check materials that reminded me of the fabric you would see used for a lungi. I enjoyed the fact that the clothes for me looked at once foreign and homely. There were references I responded to strongly, whereas others would no doubt respond to others, such as the use of a motif taken from traditional Bulgarian carpets, with neither overpowering the looks in either direction. I think that fashion these days almost has to cater to a global audience where possible to thrive, and I think that this collection did exactly that. And even though the inspirations were a long way from those of his Autumn/Winter 2018 collection, I thought that the consistency in explorations of cut and construction, allowed for a nice development. Last season was about getting back to hobbies, and in much the same way you see that here with the film references, but married to the idea of work uniforms that Kostadinov has also previously explored.

I was excited to see a continuation of the Asics collaboration, with a new model removing the signature stripes and becoming the first Asics sneaker with a full Gel sole. While I think the clothes were the strong point of the collection, I enjoy the way Kostadinov collaborates with brands such as Asics and Camper to create footwear that compliments each collection, showing a strength of design ability that is highly promising for future collections. Overall as I wrote in the opening of the post, this is my favourite collection from Kostadinov, and I am excited to see the pieces in person when they hit the stores.