Recalling a favorite childhood sneaker is easy for most people. Whether it’s an Air Jordan XIV or Airwalk skate shoe, there’s always one nostalgic cop buried away in the recesses of the mind that overshadows the rest. It’s a fact that brands are only all too aware of, and you could easily write a tome on the relationship between footwear consumerism and nostalgia. Regardless, even if you’ve grown weary of the oversaturated retro market in recent times, every so often a project comes along that just feels right.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that chunky and nonconventional sneakers are everywhere right now. From Balenciaga’s Triple S to Kanye West’s latest YEEZY “Wave” runner, gaudy silhouettes have completely infiltrated high-fashion circles. Further down the food chain, sports brands have also got in on the act, with the likes of FILA and New Balance enjoying success with atypically bulbous silhouettes. Nike, of course, hasn’t missed the wave either, dusting down its flamboyant ’90s catalog and bringing back chunky basketball styles like the Air Shake Ndestrukt and Air More Uptempo.
If the omnipresent Air Max 97 has proved a knockout success, the decision to revive the Air More Uptempo has proven more divisive. Sure, the collaboration with Supreme may have sold out (that was never in doubt though, let’s be honest), but many sneakerheads interpreted the finished article as a missed opportunity. In-house releases, meanwhile, have proved less popular, with most colorways (the OG black-and-white model an exception) left sitting on shelves. Rather than the Uptempo, if Nike absolutely had to ring back a loud and attention-demanding model to correspond with the zeitgeist, they had a nuclear option just waiting to be utilized.
Released as the world crossed the millennial frontier 17 years ago, here was a sneaker that looked nothing like anything that had come before it. As TV news channels packed their schedules with talk of Y2K, the Shox seemed like the perfect embodiment of the times: exciting, even intimidating to look at. As a 10-year-old kid, I still remember seeing those spring-like columns for the first time and thinking, “What are those.” Sure, the Foamposite had already been around for a few years at this point — a bonkers looking kick in itself — but this was something else entirely; this was some next-level, Inspector Gadget shit.
It was Sergio Lozano, designer of the Air Max 95, who played a key role in coming up with the shoe’s hollowed-out rear design. A first of its kind, the Shox system — inspired by Formula 1 cars — absorbed heel impact before springing back, allowing the wearer to channel additional power into their next stride. With the current dominance of Boost, it’s easy to take such technology for granted, but Nike described the development as “revolutionary” at the time, and it wasn’t long before they started rolling out the weird-looking tubes across the board. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, U.S. basketball star Vince Carter became the official poster boy of the Shox, debuting them before starring in this highly unsettling, MDMA-inflected commercial.
But for all Nike’s bravado, the public remained less convinced, and the springs once hailed as revolutionary quickly became novelty. By the mid-’00s, as ‘heads began to favor lighter, more streamlined designs, the only people still wearing shocks were bros, Dr. House and Jerry Seinfeld. Inevitably, Nike gave up the ghost and gradually phased out the Shox, instead turning its attention to technologies such as Flyknit and Lunarfoam. By 2009, the revolution was well and truly over, with the once-hallowed kicks appearing in retail outlets across the country for as little as $29.99.
Today, the idea of Shox spring cushioning gets grouped together with other failed or retrospectively ill-advised sneaker technologies that still strike a nostalgic chord, like Reebok’s Pump tech, then Nike’s responding design, the Air Pressure, and even the PUMA RS Computer Shoe, as an extreme example.
But 17 years on, and the sneaker landscape is markedly different. In 2014, Shox did re-emerge briefly as a blip on the radar, but perhaps Nike was a few years too early (who would bet against these selling out if released today)? At New York Fashion Week SS18 in September, our intrepid street style photographers spotted more than just one pair of Shox in the streets of Manhattan, while in July, Sean Wotherspoon, currently working with Nike on his own retro project, uploaded a screenshot of the shoes on NikeiD along with the caption, “2017 Shox are coming back, just like middle school days!”
Wotherspoon’s quote would prove prophetic as Michael Spillane, Nike’s president of product and categories, confirmed last month: “We’re bringing back the Shox, a model with unmatched propulsive feel and a striking aesthetic.” For “striking” aesthetic, see also: “batshit crazy”.
In 2017, the year where it’s once again cool to wear Von Dutch hats and Sketchers, what other sneaker evokes memories of the mid-00s more vividly than the Nike Shox? All we need next are flip phones and velour tracksuits.
Can you buy a celeb’s influence? No, but you can buy their sneakers.