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Highsnobiety Commentary March, 21 2011

Commentary | Are Technical Sneakers Making a Comeback?

With technologically driven footwear back on the street, is the era of the classic over?

In 1989, I received my first pair of Chuck Taylors. My father explained that he’d own them in the 1960s. I hardly cared. My friends had them and they were cool.

I was 9 years old. The sneakers made sense.

It’s no secret that the Chuck Taylor is the most purchased shoe of all-time. Sales numbers are testament to both the sneakers sound design and the longevity of cultural association that give the All-Star multi-generational appeal.

Continue reading after the jump.

In the last decade, a number of other sneakers have emerged as “classics.” The Nike Dunk, Air Force 1, and a handful of Air Max models sit beside Adidas’ Originals collection and Puma’s archival line. We’ve collectively watched as the market between sports footwear and sportswear has widened.

Several things account for this market gap, not the least of which being a long lasting tide of nostalgia which began with throwback jerseys, waltzed with 8-bit video game inspired tees, and has entered a final stage with woodsmen inspire heritage.

The ramifications for sneakers within this longer trend of reminiscence extends to an onslaught of re-releases, remakes, and even mash-ups. Excitement for Jordan retros supersedes the fervor once held for new releases – we grasp for new stars with the same cache on and off court. In short, where we once all looked forward (to release dates, new designs, imaginative technology) we regularly walk with eyes peering over shoulder.

At the same time, as sneaker “culture” ceases clear progression, fashions are pushing consumers from technicolor to brown footwear.

This, and allow me to look back, ain’t new.

Just a few years after I purchased my first Chuck Taylors, major media outlets noted the rising sales of boots and “real” shoes like Doctor Marten’s.

Sneakers, as some suggested, certainly weren’t dead. In fact, a golden era of basketball and tennis shoes emerged from that short flirtation with more formal footwear. Many of the shoes we’re seeing again – the Air Max 95, Fila’s Grant Hill signature models, Jordans 7 – 11 – were born as sneaker companies attempted to gain clear footing.

Technology was king. And, we wonder if a similar moment is again with us. Nike Sportswear is steadily sneaking tech into classic models (updating in a way not totally dissimilar to how Converse played with the All-Star during Kentucky’s 1996 championship run or Adidas upgraded the Stan Smith with a “Millennium” edition). And, it seems too that style and sport are fusing naturally again. Nike at forefront, new runners are gaining street popularity.

Additionally, celebrity culture proves a niche exists for footwear like the Reebok Zig as sold through the inspired contracting of The Situation.

Tech is slowly finding way back on the feet of the average consumer. Slower still, is it making way back on the feet of the trendsetter.

With the Lunarwood, Nike allowed a tastemaker brand access to the first colorway of a new silhouette. Still, the majority of special makeups is driven by the old. We’re a little bored.

In Vegas, Pete and I attended the unveiling of the rebirth of Reebok classics. With street edge, these sneakers offer distinctly new looks… but not without a trip down memory lane. We recall Shawn Kemp, just as we remembered Andre Agassi in the brilliant Courtballistec 2.3 from Nike. The new is pushing through the old, but still not without fear that reference points are required to ignite interest.

What does the future hold? Will our new notion of classics – which extends far beyond just a handful of well designed trainers – hold strong? Or, will new models find favor among jaded consumers looking for a break from the grip of nostalgia and heritage?

– NS.

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