“Shoes are just shoes, until someone wears them” is one of the many iconic phrases quoted in the movie “Air“ about the birth of the Air Jordan phenomenon, one of the best-selling shoe models in history.
Was it the launch of that red and black basketball that decreed the increasingly irrepressible growth of the sneaker world? Hard to say.
It certainly contributed to the expansion of a phenomenon that has brought the sports shoe to populate our daily lives no longer only during running, but also at the office, at parties, and to the point of clearing the rubber sole and comfortable fit even for ceremonies. The sneaker has thus become an integral part of our cultural habitus.
There remains a very marked difference between court sneakers with a box sole (see Stan Smith, Air Force 1, Air Jordan) and running sneakers with a contoured, thick sole, with a toe spoiler going up the upper and a notched tread.
Among the courts, however, we also see the return of models that abandon the box sole in favor of more contoured profiles: think of the 1990s Diadora or the Italian Valsport, with an already aged white sole.
The world of vintage-flavored runners alternates between proposals with a low milled sole and nylon upper with a long lacing (like New Balance and Onitsuka Tiger) and knit proposals with a more complex construction: TPU details, high-frequency bulges, UV and sublimation prints are added to the upper. Not to mention uppers that mix knit with embroidery.
Of course, the many runner proposals with oversize proportions should be mentioned. Monoblocs made of rubber and printed traditionally. They play with different densities and monochrome and with details that simulate 3D printing.
Versions designed for luxury implement wrap workings, see Givenchy or Gucci: a film of fabric covers the entire shoe as if it were in a vacuum. In the case of Officine Creative, the effect is achieved by using leather to wrap the model.
And if luxury sneakers still rely on leather, the distinctive element is entrusted to sustainable content. In these models the highest possible number of components and materials must tell a story of sustainability. Not only the upper, but also the insole, laces, linings, unseen reinforcement materials…
For vulcanized sneakers (Converse and Vans, to understand) either go back to originals or alternatives renew silhouettes as long as they are easily identifiable.
The most alternative brand at the moment? ON.
The Cloud model from a few years ago is now better looking, performing, and has won the feet of many for both running and lifestyle. As is the case with Apple products, you immediately identify them even if you notice from afar.
WHO INNOVATES STYLE
The movements described just above take a snapshot of the current market situation. What emerges is a sneaker sector that continues to sail determinedly along already charted paths and is disinclined to decisive and exploratory turns.
Of course, it is not correct to generalize, so let’s try to understand who is putting their nose out of the comfort zone to sniff out new possibilities.
In the beginning we point out a site that may be interesting for those who want to poke around the sneaker world with particular attention: hypebeast.com is for you.
One brand that is pushing hard to bring the spirit of hiking to the streets is ROA.
Its super technical style is combined with a very interesting runway attitude.
Roa presents a high level of sneakers that matches the sights of another brand: NORDA. Inspired by the Canadian wilderness and made to fill a gap that the founders found in the trail running world, they are now highly valued even by those who have no claim to breaking records in the mountains.
Is it possible to talk about innovation by looking at market quotes?
Usually yes, but it seems more difficult to do so outside the financial world and talking about shoes. There is one way. You can dive into the re-selling market, for example by browsing through the pages of stockx.com where the quotations of so many models are a good index of reference regarding the designs considered most interesting.
Browsing such a site it is easy to realize how much the sneaker world is now a prisoner of Collab. It seems that one only observes churning out ‘novelties’ if one focuses on limited editions and drops, forgoing real style research. The last real, major taste revolution in memory is the exaggeration of volumes introduced by Balenciaga a few years ago.
That Collab is not the right way to renew the sneaker is also proved by some flops.
Let us mention, just as an example, the fuss raised by the Tiffany x Nike that was liked less, but much less than the similar project that Nike had developed in complete solitude.
So, if Collab will not be the ones to reignite sneakers, who will?
The gaming world is likely to do it. More generally, the approach that will interpret the sneaker no longer as a sports-derived model and no longer as a tool for co-branding operations, but as a canvas on which to pour creativity aimed at entertainment, will be a winner.
The sneaker as a form of cultural entertainment may prove to be the winning weapon for its ramifications to spread as Groot.
This is demonstrated by the amazing and astounding (in the true sense of the word) experience of MSCHF (mschf.com).
Artists/designers/marketing experts, a Brooklyn-based collective that in recent years has gotten quite a bit of attention for its releases always hovering on the line between provocation and undeniable business flair.
Between a critique of the pervasiveness of mass culture and one of U.S. hypocrisy, its products manage to sell out every time.
Theirs could be the right recipe for sneakers. Not least because they have already made quite a few sneakers.
NEW SNEAKERS TECHNOLOGIES
What should we expect, however, at the level of new materials or production processes?
There is still a lot of research being done on the subject of soles made with 3D printers, from honeycomb structures that ensure a good level of cushioning, but also a good return thrust. Structures are being invented whose compression in the stance phase is well controlled and then returns energy in the thrust phase.
Structures that are impossible to make with traditional molds and that, among other things, ensure attractive aesthetics.
If you’re looking for a reference, look to the adidas 4D whose 3D printed midsole ensures a smooth transition and an even faster stride.
Its Primeknit upper, which ensures a technical fit that provides flexibility and freedom of movement, also tells us a few things about another well-established trend: the development of knitted uppers.
Another element to consider carefully is the evolution of foams. Materials that are going to renew the proposal of insoles, but not only. Already on the market are sneakers with Strobel processing but soft thanks to a cushioned insole. Increasingly popular insoles that go to fill the lack of cushioning of some constructions that rely on low soles and, therefore, with little rebounce.
Beware, however, the new foams go further and do not just inhabit the inside of the shoe with ergonomic intent. They can even draw its lines. It already happens with the adifoam Q also from adidas.
Featuring a striking exoskeleton, inspired by the brand’s archives (there’s that look to the past again!) to travel into the future. The sturdy upper is made of foam and features openings that hint at the wraparound internal structure. It is made of at least 50 percent recycled materials (another theme hardly worth mentioning anymore).
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