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Highsnobiety / Volker Conradus

Athletics Footwear is at an important junction in the young sneaker brand’s evolution. The team behind Sneakerboy founder Chris Kyvetos and Areté’s Myles O’Meally are readying the launch of the Athletics ONE.2, which is billed as an advancement (both are quick to stress this is not an upgrade, per se) to the brand’s first sneaker, the Athletics ONE.

At first, it may seem counter-intuitive for a brand to release an updated version of an existing sneaker when their ethos is to create timeless design and reinvent what constitutes a classic sneaker in this day and age. Doesn’t that make the original redundant? Shouldn’t the original be given time to breathe and establish itself before it is replaced?

According to Kyvetos and O’Meally, the existence of the ONE.2 doesn’t make the ONE obsolete. If anything, it strengthens the sneaker’s stake to icon status. Of course, Athletics Footwear is still some way off landing a hit like Nike’s Air Force 1 or the adidas Stan Smith, but its founders believe it’s well on its way.

Both O’Meally and Kyvetos — in separate interviews — use the same example to explain it to me. “In a few years' time, after we develop the line plan for Athletics, the ONE will be seen as the retro car, if you like. The original 911,” explains O’Meally, referring to the Porsche 911’s reputation as the perfect sports car. “As you advance, you still see that relationship to the ONE, but you're going to see this slight evolution, season on season. It's about creating a product that will, like the 911, stand the test of time.”

Kyvetos agrees. “We actually hired an industrial designer for the ONE. We saw the first one as the basic object. It's what the lines of the product would be forever.” he explains. “I go back to some of Ferdinand Porsche's early work, even to the Beetle, which informs the 911 world forever.” Kyvetos owns a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle, making the comparison both apt and personal.

Another comparison Kyvetos likes to make is to Apple’s iPhone. “Most of Apple's products are a great example; the original iPhone was created, and then it's just a matter of advancing, and advancing, and advancing,” he says. “But it's always a version of the original object.”

The ONE.2 very much falls in line with that idea. The similarities to the ONE are clear: The original’s shape is still the shape of its predecessor. The overall structure has stayed largely the same — it’s in the details where differences begin to crop up. “The ONE was really about establishing the lines and the form language. And then the ONE.2 was really about, ‘How do we carry that forward? What new technologies can we use?’,” reveals O’Meally. “With the ONE.2, we really wanted to show off some of the technical details. The details of the molded ribbing, the combination of seamless construction and traditional stitching.”

“On the ONE.2 there are some new lines, but the biggest difference is the technology,” O’Meally continues. “Not so much new technology, because that’s quite similar to the ONE, but rather how we show it off in a subtle way.” The Athletics ONE and the ONE.2 share the same seamlessly-pressed upper, however, the ONE.2 features cut-out pockets in the upper to show off that technology. “So, on the ONE.2 you have multiple layers. You have these deep, pressed, very sharp, clean lines around those edges, and there's no stitching there,” says O’Meally. “The ONE was built in a similar way, but it was all hidden underneath that top layer. We're really allowing the application technology on the ONE.2 to sing by just showing it off, not hiding it.”

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Highsnobiety / Volker Conradus
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Highsnobiety / Volker Conradus

Of course, every technological advancement brings an object further and further from the original and risks obsoletion. “The next biggest challenge is making sure whatever technology or performance technology you're using to create the next iteration isn't obsolete by the time the shoe hits the shelf,” says Kyvetos. “And this is where I believe the design team was amazing. [The new design details] are all taken from very timeless objects but applied with modern materials and construction methods.”

Those references that O’Meally and Kyvetos mention range from Dieter Rams’ iconic Braun radio to the Apple iMac G3. These are two objects one might not immediately associate with a sneaker, but the Athletics Footwear team’s subtle reinterpretation of existing (and most importantly proven) design, makes it work.

“The Rams radio informed the cleanness of the design. The radio has perforations where the speaker is, which is the reference for the perforations that we have near the toe box,” details O’Meally. “The handle of the radio is referenced [on the quarter panel] here, with the cord [on the heel]. On some of the colorways, the handle reference is a different color to the base, allowing it to stand out more. Our favorite Apple product is the iMac G3, with that shape and the translucent back. That was a reference on the use of plastic, transparent and harder materials, within the rest of the body of the shoe, and then also the color-popping elements.”

Clearly, timeless design inspires a new generation of timeless design. The approach makes sense, as trends that are no more than a flash in the pan can’t possibly build foundations that are — if all goes well — meant to last decades. Creating classic sneakers also requires a methodical approach, one that doesn’t try to rush through the process and gives ideas and the final design enough time to breath.

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Highsnobiety / Volker Conradus
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Highsnobiety / Volker Conradus

“One of the biggest challenges is blocking out noise. Because you can get so overwhelmed by ‘this is happening,’ ‘this is new,’ ‘this is cool,’ ‘this does this.’” says Kyvetos. “You run the risk of coming out of your lane very quickly. So, this is a great exercise in discipline, a great exercise in design, in collaboration, and we're really enjoying it.”

The ONE.2 is clear proof that Athletics Footwear has stayed in its lane, and that that has been a key factor in its successful advancement of the original ONE. For those lucky enough to hold both versions of the shoe side-by-side, the design language — and the advancement of it — is clear as day. The lines and the shape both O’Meally and Kyvetos speak of is well on its way of establishing itself, with much more surely to come from the Athletics Footwear team.

The Athletics ONE.2 will be available exclusively on Highsnobiety Shop starting January 28.

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