Where Have All the New Shoes Gone?

Seen “Jarhead”? It doesn’t matter, but it’s a Gulf War pic, and in one scene someone is playing the Doors’ Break on Through. “That’s Vietnam music,” complains Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. “Can’t we have our own music?” I couldn’t have put it better. I don’t have beef with Air Force 1s, Dunks and Stan Smiths per se, but in 20 years our kids will complain that they’re not even rocking their own shoes. Hell, I’m sayin’ it today. Retros, once a small segment, have grown into the whole damn pie. Most kicks on your local Foot Locker shelves were first released 10 to 20 years ago, to say nothing about your cool-guy specialty retailers. So how’d it happen? And why? I blame the Beastie Boys. Whether by invention or instigation, the NYC trio brought the ol’ skool retro-kick aesthetic to the masses with their 1992 LP Check your Head. Cats started getting wise to Puma Clydes, adidas Shelltoes and late ‘70s/‘80s sleds, coinciding nicely with the Madchester era of Brit-pop, and its uniform of stripy shirts, baggy jeans and adidas Gazelles.

But by the ‘90s, sneakers seemed only to carry the regrettable parts of their brethren’s legacy: an over-reliance on technology to cover fundamental design flaws (a.k.a. ugly shoes). Let’s take a look at ’93: Jordan wins his third ‘chip in the Jordan IIXs; Adrock & co. own the ‘burbs. The Jordan IIX, if not one of the worst Jordans ever, is certainly the busiest: anti-inversion straps, terry-cloth logo and more colors than a pair of zubaz. Contrast that with the Beasties’ Puma State: clean, one-color suede upper with a stand-alone white Puma stripe. Is it any wonder retroism flourished? Ironically, Nike – who were instrumental in the advent of sneaker technology – also ended up transforming the retro movement completely. Though a pioneering stab at Retros in ’94 with the re-issuing of the first three Air Jordans fizzled (hard to believe now), the Nike Retro bum rush had begun. By 1998, Nike was killing in the retro segment, showcasing old Jordans, AF1s and Dunks, as well as not-so-old joints like the ’95 air max. The other sneaker companies followed suite, likely selling more retro product total that current. After technology fiascos like the Disc lacing system, Puma started concentrating on the re-marketing of its heritage. Nearly ten years later, it’s thriving in a way no one could have foreseen. Add in eBay, too. Now sneaker companies could quantify a desire, a market for those models from yesteryear – and take their share of the outrageous selling prices to boot. Cuz nothing pisses off a company more than someone else getting rich off they stuff. (Unless they want them to….)

So why Retro? Who knows. My guess: kicks were actually good in the ‘80s. This is opinion, true, but it’s also true that many classic sneakers were birthed then, from the first air max to Rod Laver’s to Waffle trainers to New Balance 576s to Trainer 1s to Jordans I thru IV to Air Force 1s to adidas Top 10s to Dunks.

Those joints resonate because they’re simple classics – staples, really. Despite the exponential advancements of technology in general, most people prefer not to have it exhibited in their sneakers. Witness the Converse Chuck Taylor, the same cardboard cushioning since ’23.

And a lot of cats, myself including, hungered for what they never had in high skool. Too poor for Jordan IVs in ’89, I got right when they came ‘round again in ‘98. Thank god Nike gives second chances.

The ironic thing is that during the first great wave of retro, a number of incredible shoes were released: the Jordan IX, Zoom Flight ‘95s, adidas Forum Supremes and Top 10s (millennium editions), air max ‘95s and ‘97s, the Foamposite family, et cetera. But few kicks since have captured the collective imagination.

Which also raises an interesting question — I mean, in my day, cats were wearing the Jordan IVs, Jordan Vs. In high skool you wore shoes that came out that year (not that there was a choice). Today’s kids are too busy stomping in AF1s to notice any actual new releases. But are having yesterday’s choices, as well as today’s, really all that bad?

And is it really their fault? After all, it’s the sneaker companies that are reissuing shoes ad naseum, not the kids. Or is the sneaker designers’ fault for creating uninspired shoes that don’t set off the collective consciousness? Or is it our fault after all, for clamoring for more and more classic rock at the expense of future prospects?

While no one may answer those questions, I like to think that equilibrium always works best. Yes, let’s celebrate the past – or just wear some classic, eternally stylish kicks. But let us also not lose sight of the present at the expense of what may lie ahead.

Today’s shoes aren’t all bad: technology like Shox has perhaps single-handedly kept modern product in circulation. And whether Lebron is the Chosen One or not, his signature shoes have already passed the test: LBJ2s and 3s are the best kicks of the millenium (in my opinion). Smaller companies like Gravis are offering new choices that pay homage to the past without blatantly ripping it off (et tu, skate companies?). So let’s try to capture some brilliance the first-time ‘round – cuz it is out there. Now it’s just harder to find.

Rick Kang

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One comment

  1. man, i never thought about it. i don’t buy new kicks. i just buy flavors that i see on sale. the only thing that sucks is that they want to charge $80 for a classic joint. but i never t hought about it. and now all kind of herbs can front like their cool

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