Friday, July 10, 2015


The Rise of Sneaker Culture at the Brooklyn Museum #sneakerculture

A simple swoosh, commissioned for $35 in 1971, represents one of the most recognized global brands and some of society's snazziest sneakers. Nike, along with Adidas, Puma, Reebok, Keds and a compendium of private collectors and design houses have joined forces, contributing to an enlightening exploration of sneaker evolution - from practical product to high street fashion and status symbol. This summer, the Brooklyn Museum presents The Rise of Sneaker Culture, curated by Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in coordination with Lisa Small, Curator of Exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum. From July 10th to October 4th, 150 cool kicks are displayed alongside related videos, drawings and photography. Keep reading for a look inside...

 Nike Stewie Griffin LeBron VI (2009)

The Reebok Pump prototype, 23 limited edition Air Jordans and the sold out Adidas x Kanye West Yeezy Boost 750 sneaker are among an impressive showing of historically significant shoes. "I wanted to tell the very complex history of sneakers by having original material," notes Semmelhack in an interview,"There's a million Chuck Taylors out there, but there's [only] one original... There have been millions of sneakers created, yet out of those millions, not all of them have been important to sneaker culture." Other rare sightings include the 1977 Bata x Wilson x John Wooden collaboration shoe, donated by famed sneakerhead Bobbito Garcia and the 1997 Chanel x Reebok Insta Pump Fury, one of fashion's early collaborations with a sneaker brand. Equally exotic is the pair of Adidas worn by runner Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics, where he claimed 4 gold medals.

(Front) Perfection Rubber Company High Top (early 20th Century); (Back) Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Co. High Top (ca. 1900)

Plain rubber high tops by Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Co. illustrate the modest origins of sneakers in the 19th century, worn for tennis or cycling. With the rising popularity of basketball in the late 1800s and early 1900s, sport-specific sneakers were introduced. Technological advances from the industrial revolution such as vulcanized rubber allowed for more durable and affordable soles. A slew of firsts, including the original 1916 Keds Champion sneakers and the first 1917 Converse All Star Non-Skid style. 

 (L) Jimm Lasser Obama Force One (2008); (M Front) Cey Adams for Adidas Ali Classic (2007), (R Back) Cey Adams for Adidas Adicolor (2006)

With a rise in unique editions and limited runs, designers scramble to capitalize on sneakers as a novelty medium. Christian Louboutin, Louis Vuitton, Giuseppe Zannotti, Chanel and others create their own fashion forward styles. On display are a cursory sampling of designer-inspired sneakers. Between the cartoonish callout and the cut-out polka dots, my favorite is the Pierre Hardy Poworama sneaker.

Pierre Hardy Poworama sneakers (2011) in a limited distribution of 500 pairs, inspired by Roy Lichtenstein

While I appreciate the rare 'fashion' exhibit catering to the male aesthetic, I would have liked to see samples that stretch beyond the functional aspect of sneakers and shift towards a role of symbolic or decorative accessory (e.g. Sneakers from punk rock artists/John Varvatos Artisan Lace Sneaker, Mary Katrantzou x Adidas Originals, Marc Jacobs Ninja and Sketchers Shape Up). My compliment centers applause at the effort of elevating the historical elements and the effective acquisition of the rarest of rare sneakers, however, my complaint is that the exhibit feels more like a sponsored showcase (granted Nike does command 6 of 10 spots for 'most expensive sneaker'). Nonetheless, sneaker enthusiasts can feast their eyes on plenty of pivotal picks that play a hand in  advancing sneaker culture over the last 200 years. 

Main exhibit view

 Nike Jordans

Look up! Sneakers on a telephone wire

 View from the back

(F) Giuseppe Zanotti B+W Robbie (FW 2015); (M) Raf Simons x Adidas Raf Simons Platform Lace (2015); (R) Nike x Haze Air Force 1 Low (2015)

Last look on the way out...


  1. An interesting display and information about sneakers. I never thought of them having an effect on culture, but with so many colors, prints, and styles, it's clear to see how much they've influenced society.

    1. Yes! Very interesting force of influence indeed!


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