London’s Soho has undergone some rapid and significant changes over the past few years. Famed once as a murky area of strip clubs, drinking dens, porn shops and queer bars, it also has another life and reputation—one as a center of London fashion and home to some of the city’s most skilled tailors. In more recent years, it is this sartorial aspect of Soho that has been on the come up, with the area firmly establishing itself as a Mecca of sorts for the streetwear community (and then London’s official fashion week following on its heels in 2015). Now, head down one of the district’s many intersecting streets on drop day and you’ll see a line snaking outside the area’s famous skate shops, or kids with some impressive kicks hanging outside Footpatrol.
It is this area and Footpatrol that forms the creative core of Converse’s latest One Star collaboration, nicknamed the 'Jewels of Soho'. Some 40 years old, the One Star has reappeared over the years in various communities and subcultures around the world. Originally a sports shoe designed for basketball, it then gained life as the footwear of choice for alt-style aficionados in 1980s Tokyo, before finding its way back into America in the early '90s on the feet of skaters and in the Grunge rock scene. Now, the sneaker is a core piece of skate and streetwear culture. Perhaps its simple design, combining suede, vulcanized rubber, and subtle branding, gave these various subcultures and communities a starting point to then stamp their own identity on to it.
Like the One Star, Soho owes its heritage and energy to the many different communities that have made it their own and this phenomenon is something the guys at Footpatrol took to the next level. For their 'Jewels of Soho' collab (the name referencing the British crown jewels held across town in the Tower of London), Footpatrol's John Brotherhood and Asheeba Charles led the design of the sneaker, literally stamping the identity of Soho and Footpatrol across a 1974 edition of the One Star to pay homage to the area the store calls home. To elevate the tribute, they've then picked five places that inspire them and who, in their eyes, give the London district its uniqueness.
"Like us, they're just some of many characters and personalities from the wider community of Soho that make the area what it is," explains Brotherhood. "They’ve either been woven into the fabric of the area for years, or they’re somewhat more recent additions to Soho. But either way, they’re our 'Jewels of Soho' – intrinsic to the neighborhood, almost the lifeblood running through its veins or cobbled streets!"
Bar Bruno, a mix between a greasy spoon (for American readers, think city center diner) and an Italian cafe, is a Soho institution. Consequently, this was the first Jewel for Footpatrol to include. Soho has been famed for its markets, and the collab’s next Jewel honors that history (as well as nodding to the area’s streetwear credentials). Milo Harley and Ned Membrey's Duke’s Cupboard, one of Soho’s best spots for cutting edge garms, started life as a market stall in 2012. Harley and Membrey's hobby-turned-business is the second jewel. A natural compliment to that is the third: Jac Hui Tailoring of Berwick Street reflect’s Soho’s longstanding association with impeccable tailoring and fashion.
In the '60s, Hendrix was buying threads from the area's thrift stores while The Rolling Stones were getting suits cut from Carnaby Street. Reckless Records, Footpatrol's fourth Jewel lies a few doors down from Jac Hui on Berwick, with its inclusion giving a nod to Soho's contribution to music. Opened in 1984, the store is the longest standing record shop on the street, making the place an institution in its own right. Finally, the illusive Frith Street Tattoo studio, simultaneously one of the hardest to find and most sought after locations in Soho, is the fifth. Located in a Soho basement, Frith Street Tattoo is one of the capital's leading studios with resident artists Stefano C, Emiliano Liberatori, Jordan Teear, Oliver Macintosh, Miles Better, Jordan Baxter and Bradley Tompkins commanding one of the longest appointment waiting lists in the city.
As for the shoe itself, subtle design flourishes hint at deeper meaning: the One Star's famous single lateral star has been transformed into an actual jewel, the laces are embossed with 'The Devil Is In The Detail', while a mysterious mark appears on the sneaker's suede upper.
"One of the features on our One Star is actually taken from the street – there’s a little marking on the front of the shoe which we took from the curbstones around Soho," explains Brotherhood. "All the curbstones around Soho Square have got stonemasons’ markings. We basically took influence from that – the stuff that’s kind of engrained in Soho, that you can never really scrub away."
"For us, there’s often a bunch of stuff going through our head, and it’s a case of shouting out things until we agree on something," adds Charles. "We were trying to think of a way of elevating the shoe without it being too obvious or garish. The star is the focal point of the shoe, we just wanted to heighten that in a sense. So we thought of doing it as a jewel, like you’d see on an Air Force One."
Of course, Soho, like much of London, and like any city, is in a constant state of change. "It has been pretty mental. Back when Hideout and Bond International were here there was almost like a village vibe I suppose – there was a community of stores that were all connected with each other. But then that changed massively and a lot of the older, independent stores closed down, including us in 2008. We were lucky enough to have the backing to re-open," says Brotherhood. Now restaurants and galleries have replaced older businesses, but while some have remained, the new additions are contributing to a revived and refreshed Soho vibe. "Everyone respects each other and kind of feeds off each other," says Charles.
The 'Jewels of Soho' collab not only honors Footpatrol's friends, it honors Soho’s place in modern streetwear, and, in turn, the One Star's place within it. The Converse x FootPatrol One Star drops today at Converse.com for €90.
Next, read the inside story of Converse One Star's collaboration with colette and Club 75.