Sneakers
From the ground up
Highsnobiety / Nicolas Chalmeau

The ASICS archive is a repository of historically significant products and innovation, dating from just after the brand’s founding as Onitsuka Co. in 1949 to the present day —and Highsnobiety was recently treated to an exclusive tour of the facility.

Housed within ASICS’ global headquarters in Kobe, Japan, the archive is presided over by several dedicated curators, including former ASICS designer Toshikazu Kayano, whose name you might recognize from the GEL-Kayano footwear range.

A selection of the most sensitive and deterioration-prone products are stored in special airtight cabinets maintained at an even 50 percent humidity, including a range of Olympic-worn track spikes, boots designed for Arctic expeditions, driving shoes worn by former Formula One racer Mario Andretti, and even a one-of-one Tabi design worn in space by a Japanese astronaut, among other rarities from ASICS’ now-defunct Gold Tiger and Silver Tiger labels.

Consolidated around two years ago from various storage locations, the archive today encompasses a wide variety of footwear, sportswear, equipment, accessories, wholesale brochures, advertisements, and more, ranging across a variety of sports including athletics, baseball, rugby (Soviet Union long-sleeve jerseys), hunting, golf, skiing, tennis, football (a surprising range of ASICS jerseys from Italy’s Serie A), and more.

Curator Yoshimori Fukui walks us through the aisles while calling our attention to key items. “ASICS has kept all these products over the years,” he says. “We have an extensive selection of shoes worn during Olympics and marathon events.” He gestures toward several shoes, including one pair that was donated to ASICS by Kokichi Tsuburaya, who won bronze in the men’s marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Highsnobiety / Nicolas Chalmeau
Highsnobiety / Nicolas Chalmeau

ASICS designers visit the archive on a near daily basis, seeking references to inform contemporary ASICS products. One such designer is Yusuke Maegawa, who works in an internal division called the ASICS Future Team. He tells us he’s visiting the archive to look at old product catalogs, seeking inspiring graphics, logos, and print techniques for use in 2019. “Our roots are the most important for us,” he says. “Some of the items in here are old enough to be seen as new again.”

ASICS collaborators also frequent the archive, including Kiko Kostadinov, who has visited the archive twice to consult with his design team.

While comprehensive, the archive isn’t complete. Fukui brings us to a replica shoe that represents a momentous chapter in ASICS and sneaker history.

In 1964, Nike co-founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman founded Blue Ribbon Sports as a distributor for Onitsuka Tiger, the brand that was later renamed ASICS. When runner Kenny Moore broke his foot in 1965 while wearing an Onitsuka Tiger TG-22, Bowerman proposed a new, highly cushioned shoe. After some design negotiations with Onitsuka, the Cortez was born. ASICS currently possesses only a replica of the Onitsuka Tiger Cortez, but the brand has located an original and is in discussions with the owner about acquiring it.

Fukui shows us a 1971-72 Blue Ribbon Sports catalog that includes models such as the Road Runner and OG Cortez. As the story goes, relations between Blue Ribbon Sports and Onitsuka Tiger eventually soured, and Nike debuted its own Cortez in 1972 with a Swoosh in place of the Tiger stripes. ASICS still makes its own version of the shoe today under its Onitsuka Tiger retro line – only it’s now called the Corsair.

Naturally, the archive isn’t short on other vintage running models, ranging from old GEL-Lyte, GEL-Kayano, and GT silhouettes to more obscure models such as the GEL-Wasabi. For a time, ASICS also had licenses to distribute other clothing brands, including LA Gear from 1990 to 1995 and Moncler from 1976 until the late ’80s. A few of these products are still housed in the apparel archive, including a rare Moncler jacket featuring a vintage GORE-TEX tag.

Highsnobiety / Nicolas Chalmeau

Private collectors frequently offer items to ASICS from their own collections, but the brand often declines such offers, as negotiating terms and proper crediting of the collectors can be difficult. While the archive is only available for viewing by private appointment, ASICS will be hosting an exhibition during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where highlights from the archive will be open to the public.

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Vancouver-born, Berlin-based writer, photographer and editor with a steady hand on the keyboard.

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