Kunichi Nomura and the TRIPSTER x Vans Authentic for Hypebeast's Sole Mates

The creative polymath discusses his lifelong love of Vans, what makes the Authentic an ideal everyday style and what collaborating on it was like.

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“Man of many hats” may be an oft-overused term, but it’s particularly apt when describing Kunichi Nomura. His Wikipedia page lists him as a “writer, actor, radio personality, book editor, interior designer, creative director and DJ.” He’s even appeared in Lost in Translation, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs. Yes, Nomura’s lived quite a life, and he’s walked through it all in his beloved Authentic from Vans.

Nomura has worn Vans since he was a child who thought they’d make him a better skater and BMXer, and notes that the Authentic has been his “everyday” for the last 15 years. He’s also done consulting work for Vans and has several friends at the company, so it seems only right that he’d eventually get a Vans collaboration. In 2023, Nomura’s TRIPSTER — an interior design company he co-founded in 2004 — worked with Vans on a three-pack of Authentics that was a full-circle moment for the creative polymath. “Honestly, I feel like I could have not changed them at all,” he laughs.

But change them he did, with small details that nod to everything from work site shoes to his love of ’70s and ’80s running shoes. In a freewheeling Sole Mates conversation, Kunichi Nomura discusses his affection for the Authentic, his collaborative process, and why discovering ComfyCush was such a revelation for him.

When did you get your first pair of Vans?

Back in the mid-’80s. I was about 10 years old, and riding a lot of BMX. I went to a store called Wildcat in Kichijoji [neighborhood in Tokyo] that had BMX sneakers, and I got a pair of the Slip-Ons. They were about ¥14,000, because the dollar was strong then.

Were you actively interested in sneakers at that point?

I think I was a bit too young — I’d say that my main interest in sneakers at the time came from me thinking that I’d be better at BMX if I had the right ones [laughs].

But after that first pair, you always stuck with them. What are some other Vans memories you have growing up?

I went to Los Angeles during my first year of junior high, and there was a Vans store in Huntington Beach. This is back when you could still order a fully custom pair at one of Vans’ stores, and the shoes were made in America. I got my first Sk8-Hi there, I believe they were mismatched.

You were skating a lot at the time too. Vans were your skate shoes of choice, I’m assuming?

Yes. Personally, I liked silhouettes that were a little less bulky and Vans had plenty of those. Even the more rugged shoes, like Steve Caballero’s [Cab] were still pretty trim. Everyone around me would skate in Vans too, sometimes the Air Jordan 1 or Converse as well.

You named the Vans Authentic as your Sole Mates selection. What about it makes it your favorite Vans silhouette?

It’s just been my everyday for the last 15 years or so. I really appreciate the simplicity, and how it’s never overdecorated. It’s cheap, widely accessible and looks great. It’s the flannel shirt, white t-shirt or Levi’s 501 of shoes, meaning it goes great with literally anything.

Do you think that “essential” nature is part of Vans’ unique appeal?

In a way, yes. To me, a pair of black Authentics is like a white t-shirt from Hanes. You can’t go wrong, and if you wear it out, you can go get another one anywhere. Especially since Vans started selling at ABC-MART [a large chain of Japanese footwear stores], they’re even cheaper. It’s like buying Dickies at [Japanese clothing store] Jeans Mate. Before ABC-MART picked them up and they were a little more expensive, and we’d wear through them quickly doing ollies and flip tricks on our skateboards. I’d always put duct tape on my pairs, and didn’t realize that the professional skaters we looked up to got as many free pairs as they needed.

It seems as if you’re not a purist who only wants vintage Vans.

I love and appreciate the vintage pairs, but at the end of the day convenience wins for me. The bottom line is that shoes are consumables. I do agree that the older pairs have sharper lasts and are a bit better, but seeing as I like to wear Authentics every day I’m not really in a position to be choosy.

How many pairs do you buy a year?

About three. I’ll wear them hard, and know it’s time for a fresh pair when there’s a hole in the sole. That’s what happens when you walk around drunk every day and spill your alchohol [laughs].

It seems like the TRIPSTER x Vans collaboration was only a matter of time. How did that come about?

I’m good friends with the guys that did Vans Syndicate and Vault by Vans, and I used to help with some projects in the Syndicate days as well. I’ve been working with Vans in some capacity since the ’00s, and even helped make connections with collaborators like Shawn Stussy. I figured my own first collab would have to be an Authentic, because it’s the shoe I always wear.

In 2019, I pitched them on the idea of making an Authentic in Japan, but since I wanted to do an American model, they said “let’s do the collab in the US.” Samples were supposed to be produced by the spring of 2020, but the coronavirus messed everything up. The sample came in late, and it didn’t adhere to the specs I wanted at all, so I asked for another one to be made. By this point it was around 2021, and Vans moved their Asian headquarters from Hong Kong to Shanghai, which made a lot of people I was in touch with quit and further slowed the process. The next sample arrived about six months after that, and it still wasn’t where I wanted it to be, so we kept going. It took about three and a half years in total to get to this point, so it’s crazy to think we were originally planning on dropping the collab sometime in the winter of 2020.

Talk us through some of the details. How did you make sure your personality and the TRIPSTER ethos came through on the collab?

My favorite thing about the Authentic is how easy it is to wear, so I really wanted to hone in on that. Honestly, I like it so much I could have just not changed it at all [laughs]. However, I made a few considered upgrades inspired by a good pair of work shoes. Suede is less likely to get scuffed and can withstand water, so I chose a suede toebox. Since I’ve always liked running shoes from the ’70s and ’80s I went with nylon uppers, an external heel counter with extra color and curved tongues as well. I didn’t want to add any unnecessary graphics, so I kept the extra branding pretty minimal — but I did want to evoke some Los Angeles vibes, so the back says “Ask the Dust,” which is the title of my favorite novel that’s based in LA.

The other major thing would be the measuring tape-inspired details on the shoelaces. That came from a T-shirt I did in the past, with a measuring tape graphic that was the exact “average length” of Japanese men according to a study conducted by a certain manufacturer [raucous laughter]. The shoelaces have inch measurements on one side and centimeter measurements on the other. It’s convienient if you need to measure something, although it’s a pain to take them out of the shoes, of course.

Your Authentic collaborations use ComfyCush as well. Do you prefer that feeling over a standard Authentic cushioning setup?

I became aware of ComfyCush by accident, honestly. I went into a friend’s shoe store one day to grab a pair of black Authentics, and the clerk let me know that they were all out of the originals, but that they had a new version of the Authentic. I was shocked at how light it was when I picked it up, and I loved the feeling immediately when I put them on, so I replaced all my regular Authentics with their ComfyCush versions. Shortly after, I went to LA, and my friends at Vans were telling me that they were having a hard time selling the ComfyCush because it looked the same as the original but was more expensive. I suggested putting a “Pick Me!” tag on them, and then it seemed like everyone over 40 started wearing them [laughs]. It’s perfect, because it looks identical but is just upgraded. It’s like an old Land Cruiser that has original everything except for a new engine and suspension.

How did you decide on the three colors?

It’s boring to make a plain black shoe, but it was necessary because that’s what I wear the most. I also wear a lot of white, so white shoes were a must as well. For the third one, I thought it was important to offer something a bit more vibrant so I went with red. I was thinking of other colors like light blue as well, but I knew that if another sample was necessary that the release date would be delayed again, so I just stuck with what I had.

Most people would want their collab sold through Vault accounts, but you insisted that your shoes be available at everyman stores like ABC Mart. What informed that decision?

I thought it was important for this collab to be an everyman style. I thought it would honestly be more interesting if it was available at regular ABC Mart stores, and if a shoe is supposed to be an everyday shoe it should be available at everyday stores. I even demanded plain shoeboxes so the price wouldn’t go up!


This installment of Sole Mates is a condensed transcription and translation of an original article from Hypebeast Japan, which was first written in Japanese and was translated using Google Translate.

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