Like most aspects of fashion, and fads in general, the chunky sneaker trend annoys me. It just feels so arbitrary and shallow: rather than attempting to elevate aesthetic benchmarks and create better pieces of design, designers that have actively chosen to reject beauty come across as banally contrarian in my view, and I can’t help but roll my eyes when I see people that have actually spent money on Balenciaga’s Triple S. But, you know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as my brother reminded me recently when he told me that my Air Max 97s look like orthopaedic shoes. My mother agreed with him: they’re hideous, she said.
These disses landed like a sucker punch: I regard myself as someone with impeccable, if minimalistic, taste. But of course I’d say that. And I realise that taste is a purely subjective idea, yet when you spend as much time making snide comments about other people’s tastes as I do, being mocked for your own always comes as a bit of a shock. Although it did make me view my 97s in a different light: I suppose there is something a bit ugly about them.
I can very specifically explain why I think the Air Max 97 is an incredible piece of design, but that doesn’t naturally mean they’re an objectively beautiful object. The Air Max range is widely adored, but their appeal is shaped by factors unrelated to their appearance. To people without the schematic references that I have, people like my mum or brother for example, they’re quite evidently less appealing than they are to me.
And maybe I don’t like them for their visual qualities as much as I think. But the more I think about them, especially within the context of my own aversion to the ugly footwear that’s so en vogue at the moment, the more I see links between the two. Having taken the time to think about this, I’ve started to believe that the chunky sneaker trend started with Nike, and that the Air Max range is the Ozweego of twenty years ago.
Now I don’t know how the AM97 was received on its very first drop day, considering that I was eight years old and more interested in aliens than shoes, but looking at their sole I can see why the average human being would regard it as ugly. The heel protrudes like a tumour. It looks like it has veins running through it like the human penis. Overall, it looks swollen and inflated as though it’s suffering from elephantiasis. They are definitely chunky, especially on someone that wears slim-fit jeans as I do. My mum and brother probably look at me, and think to themselves that I look like someone whose feet have been attacked by a swarm of bees.
Tumorous soles aside, the AM97 is actually one of the sleeker and more streamlined sneakers in the Air Max range. The same can’t be said for the Air Max 95. I’m fascinated by its design, which draws inspiration from both the human anatomy as well as topographic maps, I’ve never been able to bring myself to buy a pair because they looks so ghastly. They look like proto trail sneakers (another trend that I detest), reminiscent of the hiking gear that new age spiritual types are so fond of wearing. They have a utilitarian anti-fashion element to them. The original colourway gives off a particularly Walmart vibe. Every aspect of the design is imposing; there’s nothing understated about them at all. They’re so maximalist that it feels like you could only pull them off by walking around naked.
The same could be said for the Nike TN, which looks like something that H.R. Giger designed for Ridley Scott’s Alien: the extruding capillaries, the mutated shape and hoof-like heels that bring to mind Rick Owen’s hideously centaurish adidas collabs. I think it’s telling that the TN is enjoying a revival after so many years out of the limelight now that chunky, ugly sneakers are at their apex. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Acne Studios looked to the Air Max when designing the Sofiane.
Of course you could argue that there are sneakers out there that are far more in-line with the chunky aesthetic than the Nike’s that I’ve mentioned – the FILA Disruptor and Osiris D3 are prime examples. But these didn’t penetrate the mainstream like so many Air Max models have. The chunky sneaker trend is hardly being championed by niche labels: Acne might be ever-so-slightly left field but Balenciaga is firmly establishment. I don’t think that such prominent brands would’ve taken such a gamble had Nike not already pathed the way with such success. They set the precedent that yes, the paying public are enthusiastic to buy swollen, mutated footwear designs en masse. I somehow doubt that I’d have Triple S owners to sneer at, had it not been for Nike.
I can only but wonder what sort of abominations will be en vogue twenty years from now. The various Air Max models that I’ve mentioned look utterly benign compared to what the kids are strapping to their feet these days. It’s more than likely that footwear will get chunkier and uglier at some point in the future. After all, each generation tries to out-do its elders as an act of rebellion and similar patterns can be seen in other branches of culture. When Black Sabbath pioneered heavy metal back in the ‘70s, stuffy grownups fell into a state of panic: it was like the gates of hell had opened via their children’s record players. Two decades later Cannibal Corpse came along and made Sabbath look positively quaint. Eminem isn’t nearly as shocking as La Caution. Culture always goes through a process of controversy and normalisation and there’s almost certainly someone out there right now looking at the Sofiane and thinking to themselves how they can make it uglier.
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- Main & Featured Image: Asia Typek / Highsnobiety.com