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Raf Simons debuted his unexpected re-work of the adidas Ozweego in 2013. At the time, our taste buds had not yet acclimatized to chunky, bulbous, overstated sneakers that are now status quo. Along with some confusion around how exactly to pronounce the shoe’s name, there was an equal amount of confusion around its appearance. A mixture of smooth leather, mesh and a robust performance sole unit gave the shoe a uniquely technical look, but it was perhaps the translucent gel nodes erupting from the upper that made Raf’s Ozweego worthy of a double take.
It’s difficult to find many aesthetic links between the original adidas Ozweego and Raf’s version, aside from the name. But it’s this drastic re-work that has given this shoe a second life, this time basking in the spotlight. The original silhouette from the late ’90s was never celebrated, but Simons brought a renewed interest to the Ozweego that no one could have predicted.
Opinions on Raf’s Ozweego were expectedly divided at first; the unorthodox design was off-putting and quite alien for some (they say being too early is as bad as being too late), but a small group embraced the alternative look before others. Regardless which camp you sit in, the Ozweego undoubtedly opened the floodgates, creating a space for other chunky designs to live.
While the Ozweego was first a leader in this way, adidas has now treated the silhouette with a degree of complacency, simply iterating new colorways for the last six years, with the exception of the Ozweego Replicant variation. Regardless, the latest Ozweego iterations have provided little reason to get excited, as Raf and adidas have been arguably left behind in a category that they helped to define in the first place.
Some unwaveringly ubiquitous designs can remain relevant for decades without being altered, like the Eames shell chair, the Braun analog alarm clock, or in the sneaker world, silhouettes like the adidas Gazelle or Nike Air Force 1. However surely Raf Simons’ take on the Ozweego was with the spirit of jarring our expectations, an in short, to be pointedly different. Simons’ told The Wall Street Journal “I have had periods where I only wore Stan Smiths, maybe from age 15 until I was 25,” which explains why he left his version of the tennis silhouette starkly unchanged, instead channelling his creativity into the Ozweego. To some degree, this spirit has been left by the wayside in favor of the somewhat formulaic Ozweego colorways we’ve seen over the past few years.
The Ozweego is still an amazing shoe that initially challenged our notions of what is “ugly” and what is “beautiful,” and sneakers like the Balenciaga Triple S or Kanye West’s YEEZY 700 probably would not exist without the Ozweego, but it’s definitely time for something new from adidas and the inimitable Belgian designer.
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