One needs to look back almost half a decade, when Jay-Z first donned his pair of ato matsumotos and subsequently opened up the streetwear and hip-hop worlds to sneakers beyond the usual Gucci monogrammed joints and Prada America’s Cup. Since then, it seems not a yearly quarter goes by without a collaborative venture between a designer and a footwear brand. However, what has changed significantly in recent times has been the transition from pure lifestyle into more performance-based offerings that integrates function and form.
This concept isn’t exactly new as we’ve seen various sub-labels focus entirely around the juxtaposition of high fashion design and sportswear. Fashion and footwear are synonymous to one another and often there has been a recent desires from fashion to tap the wider networks of the more ubiquitous and accessible sportswear brands. PUMA has done an admirable job across the board with longstanding efforts with Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Mihara Yasuhiro, however rarely have these involved a strictly performance-based orientation. Looking back, almost every major footwear brand has had some aspect of high fashion injection such as UNDERCOVER and Nike, Missoni and Converse, adidas and Yohji Yamamoto/Porsche Design/Jeremy Scott, Surface to Air and ASICS among others I’m sure I’ve missed.
But as we move forwards in fashion, these seemingly divergent aspects of high fashion design and performance are coming closer and closer together. High fashion has long championed predominantly aesthetics and conversely, performance was based around practicality and function (not to say there haven’t been performance pieces such as Nike’s Flyknit that have fulfilled both). Just like the latest supercar represents both the ultimate in progressive visual design and performance, we’ve only seen this sparingly within fashion. That’s not to say there are labels here and there that have attempted to tackle this through various offerings whether it’s Outlier on the conservative end, moving along to visvim and White Mountaineering, and finally ending with ACRONYM on the experimental end. All these brands have looked to performance fabrics and specific features to help accentuate and improve the wearer’s experience. But what about footwear?
“Just like the latest supercar represents both the ultimate in progressive visual design and performance, we’ve only seen this sparingly within fashion.”
Understanding Form and Function
As the news hit recently regarding Rick Owens and adidas‘s (please note, the shoe above is not it nor do we think it’ll resemble anything like the final product) impending performance collaboration, this truly contextualized what was brewing for so long. An earlier adidas preview with Raf Simons seemed to represent the tip of the iceberg as it looks to hit critical mass. I’d like to think that during recessionary periods, menswear took a strong turn towards value. Hence why so-called heritage wear became so lauded. It provided hard-wearing and classical brands with degrees of technicality (waxed cotton and British Millerain anybody?) and a sense of revival and rejuvenation. But as we move away from the economical downfall that plagued the world over with more disposable income, the notion of value surely can’t be lost on a generation of menswear goers that have since come to know and understand the integration of form and function, albeit in a very classical form. Barbour, Mt. Rainer and Filson aren’t going anywhere, but they’ve done the unexpected job of opening up consumers to quality and functionality as one package in fashion.
Rick Owens? adidas?
So how does this relate to Rick Owens and adidas sneakers hitting the four to five bill mark? And is there actually “value” in a performance sneaker priced at this level? I’d prefer to take a stance like the aforementioned supercar comparison. We’ve yet to truly see this level of intersection between fashion and performance on a footwear level. Some may jump to the defense of GYAKUSOU which is almost universally respected, but with Owens behind the wheel, we’re talking about a totally different beast. We’ve got an avant-garde designer that has paved the way and essentially created his own little corner of dark, sportswear-driven fashion. His cult following amongst men and women have embraced his presentation, mystery, and at times unorthodox and flowing cuts, certainly not your typical embodiments of a commercial designer. This has provided new context to footwear on a level of conceptual thinking in design and performance.
As we try to wrap our heads around the notion of pounding the pavement in $500 performance running shoes, we’re better equipped now more than ever to understand its purpose and placement in the current landscape of fashion. A marketing play for sure with word of Y-3 shuttering its doors soon (editor’s note, please see below regarding adidas’ statement), but I’d like to maintain my romantic views of design and creativity in bringing something new and innovative to the mix. There are so many ingredients that have gone into this moment that have made people understand — maybe not agree with — how this collaboration works. Whether it was H&M opening up high fashion to the masses, or the continued integration of technology in fashion thanks to the likes of UNIQLO and Levi’s Commuter, these elements will form the foundation for consumer understanding and will undoubtedly carry forward. Bringing a name like Rick Owens to the mix for adidas is surely a risky one and ironic given Rick Owens’ first official sports-based collaboration wasn’t a basketball shoe or a Dunk. I can’t help but think the name outside educated fashion (and/or Kanye West/A$AP Mob) circles will leave many scratching their heads, but it also provides opportunity for one of the more interesting creative intersections of fashion in recent times.
“As we try to wrap our heads around the notion of pounding the pavement in $500 performance running shoes, we’re better equipped now more than ever to understand its purpose and placement in the current landscape of fashion.”
Progressing Footwear Design
We can’t deny the explosion of footwear in the last few years — the aforementioned luxury offerings, high street diffusion label ranges, and now streetwear labels are all creating their own footwear line. Despite perhaps designing the upper, the following route of fake-vulcanized cupsoles, utilizing generation-old Samba toolings, and point-and-choosing colors and materials should not be considered a true embodiment of footwear design. Much of the previously discussed footwear has been exactly that. When using a preexisting model as the template for design, there’s nothing innovative or progressive about it. I’ve heard people say that doing footwear is easy. It’s easy when it’s all cut and paste.
Let’s hope that Rick Owens will present a full-fledged piece of design encompassing all aspects — namely the tooling. Regardless of the outcome, it will continue the progression of footwear, combining the R&D that only big performance companies such as adidas can offer with a new angle of footwear conceptualization. The future of fashion and performance are merging each and every day through wearable accessories such as Nike’s FuelBand and the Jawbone UP, while tracking metrics through pods such as Nike+, Under Armour’s Armour39 and adidas miCoach are becoming more prevalent. This is paving the way for a segment of fashion and a way of thinking that will equally embrace both sides of design.
“Despite perhaps designing the upper, the following route of fake-vulcanized cupsoles, utilizing generation-old Samba toolings, and point-and-choosing colors and materials should not be considered a true embodiment of footwear design.”
Editor’s Note: It was stated that there was “word of Y-3 shuttering its doors soon,” within the original text. However adidas has notified us that Yohji Yamamoto has extended his contract until 2015 with hopes of continuing this long-term relationship.
Will We See More True Designer Performance Footwear?