Would you cross the Atlantic just to buy a rare pair of trainers? Emily Phillips talks hallowed collaborations and long-haul trips with the new tribe of sports-shoe worshippers
Designers show them on the catwalks, celebrities wear them down the red carpet, rappers name-check the freshest pairs and then create their own. Ever since they first walked off the sports field and on to the streets in the Sixties and Seventies, trainers have been a perennial favourite for British men’s casualwear. But now, kids eyeing up each other’s scuffed Sambas during a playground kickabout have grown into a tribe of men in pursuit of the Holy Grail of footwear.
And with blogs, fan-run e-tailers and luxury books such as the upcoming Sneakers: The Complete Limited Editions Guide charting the rarest and most desirable releases, men are more obsessed than ever.
Brands, for their part, have responded by creating countless super-stylised collaborations and limited-run special-editions of old favourites including Air Max and Jordans, geo-specific models to get collectors in a tangle, and reissued classic retro gems (see the upcoming revival of the iconic Stan Smith for 2014) for the vintage lovers averse to shouty colourways and techy ad-ons.
“The whole queuing for ‘hype’ shoes phenomenon took its lead from Tokyo and started over here about 10 to 12 years ago,” explains Gary Aspden, creative consultant to Adidas. “We are now on the third generation of ‘hype’ customers. Men like to collect, and while many are buying to own the shoes, there is a significant number who are only buying to re-sell online.”
It is this appreciation in value of box-fresh, small-batch kicks that drives the prices into the thousands, as the hordes compete for a clutch of pairs the collectors have ‘on ice’.
But there’s more to it than a temperature-controlled stock-pile: the style you wear is a statement of identity. That search for individuality has driven sales of niche brands including Saucony, New Balance and even Asics, with their amped up colour-clash designs and low-key appeal. Meanwhile, a separate big-brand committed group hark back to the hardy leather and suede styles of yesteryear – nostalgia-heads rummaging on eBay for unsullied Beastie Boys-era Adidas Gazelles or Puma States. Then there are the guys splashing cash on trans-Atlantic airfares to fill their suitcases with high-end collaborations from New York limited-edition havens such as Flight Club. “When you think about buying a pair of trainers, they might be £100 or £200 but then when you add a flight on
to it you’re looking at £800. But they definitely gain value,” notes Nike-hunter Jamie Kneale.
So what is it that they’re all geeking out over? We asked the UK’s most committed collectors to lift the shoebox lid on their most hallowed styles.
THE ULTRA-LIMITED AIR MAX
Pick: Burgundy Parra x Patta x Nike Air Max, 2005
Jamie Kneale, designer, had to rent a lock-up for his collection of hundreds of pairs of limited-run Nike Air Maxes:
“Ninety-nine per cent of my collection is Air Max – they’ve got the bubbles, so they’re futuristic and more innovative with materials. For one pair, I told the guy in the store in New York to hold them for me while I booked a flight. Some of them I buy to sell later, but the main driving force is buying trainers that nobody else has got. My personal favourites are a Dutch exclusive collaboration – Parra x Patta x Nike – only 250 pairs were made. I’ve got two.”
Pick: Black/white Nike Air Jordan VI and XI Defining Moments, 2006
James Delves, account manager, has cultivated a small but perfectly-formed collection of super-exclusive high-end trainers:
“I’ve queued for two pairs of Jordans – queuing for the Jordan IV Green Glows was a dreadful experience that I would never want to relive. But I always want to be part of the crowd that queues or pays over the odds just to get them. One of my favourites is the Jordan VI and XI Defining Moments pack. You get two pairs and they come in two layers. They have gold touches – they’re super-nice.”
THE STRIPPED-BACK SUEDES
Pick: Mustard suede adidas Jamaica, 1974
Errol, photographer and founder of eatmoreshoes.com, has built up a collection of vintage adidas and Pumas in the past six years:
“I’m a photographer, and off the back of an Adidas anniversary series, I started documenting collectors and that’s what reopened my eyes to trainers. Before then I was like everyone else, I bought a pair, hammered them to death and moved on. I’m more into vintage, because I find the quality was a lot better. It’s hard to narrow it down to one shoe, but I was introduced to the Adidas Jamaica by a collector. It’s a suede model – mustard with black stripes and out between 1974 and ’84. I’ve never ever seen another pair.”
KANYE’S MODERN CLASSIC
Pick: Black and solar red Nike Air Yeezy II, 2012
Adrian Dixon, DJ and designer, is a “super nerd” for aesthetic detail and loves the latest Nike special editions:
“My favourite trainer is one I never got my hands on: the Nike Air Yeezy II. I managed to get through to the shopping cart when they re-released them during the Super Bowl. They were about £300, then the whole website crashed. They now sell for £5,000. I figured out why the black and pink colourway resonated with me – I used to love wrestling and Bret The Hitman Hart when I was a kid. His whole outfit was black and pink, so when that turned up, the inner little Adrian lit up. Air Hitmans.”
THE UNDERRATED NINETIES STAPLE
Pick: Hyper blue Nike Air Max+, 1999
Streetwear brand owner Chris Aylen has more than 400 pairs and runs thedropdate.com where he charts the releases of special-edition trainers:
“I got my first pair of Nikes when I was eight. Having a Swoosh on the side of the shoe made them stand out. Nike Air Max+ was a big shoe for me. It got lumped with chav culture, but was huge in the garage scene. I thought the design was really daring. I like the first colour, hyper blue, which somebody described to me as shark’s skin. I’ve always liked the more experimental shoes.”
THE EIGHTIES ICON
Pick: Red adidas Forum High, 1984
Kish Kash, Itch FM DJ and streetwear connoisseur, has a collection numbering in the thousands:
“My favourite shoe is the one I’m wearing on the day. It’s like choosing your favourite kid. If I were to narrow it down, I’d say the Adidas Forum High – when it came out in the Eighties, they were the most advanced basketball shoe on the court. I saw rappers wearing them. It was the aggressive asymmetrical styling of the shoe that was amazing. Out of this world. A red pair with white accents is one of my favourites. I don’t think I’m obsessive, I just never threw anything away.”
THE RETRO-FUTURIST FITNESS AID
Pick: Adidas silver Micro Pacer, 1984
Keith Wildman, writer, became interested in trainers while playing football and listening to hip-hop at school, and has 100 pairs of retro Adidas:
“I like a trainer to sit neatly under a jean or cord flare – start putting pumps and air bubbles on them and it just looks fussy, to my mind. I remember the Beastie Boys wearing Adidas Campus on the cover of Check Your Head. They were relatively cheap trainers at the time, quite basic, but they did the job. My favourite pair are some rare original silver Micro Pacers from 1984. They have a little computer in the tongue and a sensor in the sole that works out how far you’ve run.”
Sneakers: The Complete Limited Editions Guide by UDOX is on sale 17 February, £16.95 (Thames & Hudson)