The ASICS GEL-Lyte 3 is one of the most widely appreciated and globally collected sneakers.
Legions of fans from all around the world have embraced the shoe's near-countless iterations created by influential collaborators and partners, making the GEL-Lyte 3 one of the single most important examples of footwear design in the ASICS canon. To coincide with the sneaker's 30th anniversary, we spoke with the designer of the shoe, Shigeyuki Mitsui.
After co-designing the ASICS GEL-Lyte 2, Mitsui-san was solely tasked with the shoe's successor, which was intended to serve as a lightweight training shoe. "ASICS told me that they are looking for a unique design," Mitsui-san tells Highsnobiety, "because at that time, many ASICS running shoes were traditional and conservative – clean but simple. Our American and European consumers were looking for new and exciting designs."
Arguably, the shoe's defining characteristic is the split-tongue design, and while this detail originally came from a functional place, it is now an aesthetic hallmark of the shoe, setting it apart from what many would consider the other most-collectible GEL-Lyte sneaker, the 5 (there was never a GEL-Lyte 4 to bridge the gap between the two shoes, as four is considered an unlucky number in Japan). "The split-tongue has a very functional significance to the shoe," Mitsui-san explains. "The human foot tends to [pronate] outward when you’re running, which naturally makes a normal tongue to slide outward."
While the sneaker debuted in 1990, it trully gained took on relevance with sneakerheads in the mid-2000s. Amsterdam’s Patta, Berlin’s Solebox, and Ronnie Fieg for David Z - to name a few - re-imagined the GEL-Lyte 3 as limited edition collectibles. While conversations about ASICS today revolve more around the brand's partnerships with designers like Kiko Kostadinov and Angelo Baque from AWAKE, the GEL-Lyte 3 collaborations haven't stopped altogether, with retailers like Afew, Hanon, and BAIT recently reworking the silhouette. Aside from admitting he likes the look of the OG "Fresh Citrus/Dark Green" colorway, Mitsui-san stubbornly refuses to name favorites when it comes to collaborations or hues. He sees this wide variety of collabs as a huge strength for the silhouette, noting, "Maybe the reason why [sneakerheads] collect a lot of pairs is that many designers tried many different designs with different colors and different materials. So maybe the consumers want to pick it up each time a different design comes out. They could be waiting for ASICS to announce the next new design to collect."
Since its release three decades ago, Mitsui-san has developed a very personal way of thinking about the GEL-Lyte 3. "For me, GEL-Lyte 3 is my daughter. Not my son, but my daughter. That is because in Japan, we tend to take more care of daughters than sons. I designed the GEL-Lyte 3 with so much care, as if I’m taking care of my own daughter. In that sense, the consumer who choses GEL-Lyte 3 is my daughter’s boyfriend."
Mitsui-san is one of several ASICS designers who are industry pillars in their own right. Toshikazu Kayano, namesake of the Kayano range, and Mitsui-san are both notably humble about the legacies they have created for themselves and for ASICS; as Gary Warnett noted in his 2015 profile of Mitsui-san, "In Japan, creativity is a communal process. You’ll hear a lot of 'we' but few of the possessive 'I's." Mitsui-san, however, maintains that he and Kayano-san are cut from a different cloth. "Kayano-san and I are actually very different," the designer proposes. "He excels at designing the full shoe including precise details, cosmetic-wise. Meanwhile, I’m good at designing a unique fundamental structure that can be applied to different types of shoes. I don’t consider him my rival – we’re more like comrades with different abilities and tastes. Kayano-san is more on the accurate, standard side, while I’m more on the unique, outlaw side."
While Mitsui-san is perhaps best known for his GEL-Lyte 3 design, he is also responsible for ASICS sneakers like the GEL-Ds Trainer, GT-Quick, GT-Cool Xpress, and the GEL-Mai, the latter of which is exceptionally different and more experimental than the GEL-Lyte 3, at first glance. "Style is one of the significant aspects to consider when designing. However, in my case, I don’t stick with one style," Mitsui-san notes. "I want to try something out of the ordinary and try new styles. In [the] case of the GEL-Mai, the concept I received from our marketing team was to 'create a shoe with the ultimate fitting experience.'"
As younger generations are ushered into today's sneaker culture, we tend to place those that came before us on a pedestal, and for Mitsui-san, it's for good reason. When I suggest that many would consider the designer of the GEL-Lyte 3 an OG in the culture, he seems amused by the proposition. "I’m simply happy that our fans consider myself as OG," says Mitsui-san. "I think that I merely created the original canvas where many artists gathered to paint their own GEL-Lyte 3 and that’s why it has become so popular among many consumers. It’s not just my doing that GEL-Lyte 3 exists today. When I created GEL-Lyte 3 30 years ago, I’d never [have] thought that it would become so popular 30 years later, among [the] younger generation. It’s possible that I was born 30 years too early."
Mitsui-san's message for anyone who has ever owned and loved the ASICS GEL-Lyte 3? "Please take care of her, treat her well, and enjoy going out on a date with her."