How sneakers went from hip-hop status symbol to mass market – WWD

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PARIS – After having conquered the streets, catwalks and high fashion stores, the sneaker arrives at the museum, with an exhibition in Paris retracing the history of the most democratic shoe in the world.

“Baskets, baskets enter the museum!” opened Wednesday at the Musée de l’Homme, the Parisian museum dedicated to the evolution of man, with an exhibition of more than 70 pairs of shoes, including a pair of Adidas sneakers signed by tennis legend Stan Smith himself. same.

But rather than appealing to sneakerheads with rare and unusual styles, Aurélie Clemente-Ruiz, head of the institution’s exhibitions, wanted to explain the origins of the phenomenon that has swept the world, with now 24 billion pairs produced each year. .

“Until recently, there were people who wore sneakers and belonged to a specific social group, and people who didn’t. These days everyone wears them, ”she said. “It’s totally intergenerational and unisex. The democratization of sneakers means that today, it affects everyone on the planet.

A vintage advertisement for Michelin rubber soles.
Courtesy of the Musée de l’Homme

The exhibition, which is set to run until July 25, begins with a first announcement for French tire maker Michelin, which continues to produce rubber shoe soles for brands like Under Armor and Camper. A display case tracing the material’s origin features a pair of tiny 19th-century rubber shoes made in the Amazon.

“We wanted to talk about where they come from, why we wear them and what the future of sneakers is,” Clemente-Ruiz said. “We are not a fashion or design museum, so we wanted to focus on the historical and more technical dimension of shoes.”

While American brands like Converse, Keds and Spring Court were the first to offer athletic shoes for the whole family, the sneakers were popularized by athletes like French tennis player Suzanne Lenglen, who started wearing them. In the 1920’s.

The exhibit also features a pair of dented Puma sneakers by Serena Williams, a reminder of the American tennis player’s early association with the brand, which has since been overshadowed by her partnership with Nike.

Thanks to sports stars like Michael Jordan and his famous Air Jordan sneakers, launched in 1985, the style has taken the leap into the hip-hop community.

The exhibition features the cover of the 1986 single “My Adidas” from Run-DMC as well as a photo of the group posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, a stone’s throw from the Musée de l’Homme, wearing three-stripe tracksuits and sneakers. Superstar with his tongue sticking out.

After an Adidas executive saw hundreds of fans wave their sneakers at a Run-DMC concert, the German sporting goods company signed a million dollar sponsorship deal with the group, marking the start of his long-standing affiliation with hip-hop.

“Starting from the United States, hip-hop culture spread all over the world, including Europe – and this is how sneakers were worn overwhelmingly by young people in Europe and especially in France, so that before, it was really reserved for athletes ”, Clemente-Ruiz. noted.

The show highlights one of the pioneers of the scene in France, Sidney Duteil, who became the first black host on French television with a weekly show called “HIPHOP” on the TF1 channel. Guests included The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and Afrika Bambaataa.

“At the time, it was revolutionary for a major French television channel to broadcast a show devoted to hip-hop culture, which was not at all a mainstream trend,” said Clemente-Ruiz. “It was important for us to talk about him, because he was largely responsible for bringing hip-hop into French homes.”

The Balenciaga Triple S.

The Balenciaga Triple S.
Courtesy photo

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, sneakers had become items of mass consumption. The exhibition highlights timeless styles, from the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star to the Nike Air Force 1 and Puma Speedcat, as well as recent haute couture statements from designers such as Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton. .

Among the Balenciaga styles on display are its bestselling Triple S, the Track runner and the sock-shaped Speed ​​Trainer. “There is a real element of rallying and social recognition around this particular brand,” notes Clemente-Ruiz.

There are sections dedicated to collaborations, celebrity muses and counterfeits, the latter including a pair of fake Nike Mag Back to the Future sneakers seized by French customs, as well as silver Nike Dunk sneakers with high heels.

The exhibition also discusses innovation, ranging from 3D printing, with the bespoke Under Armor Architech from 2016; the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly, which turned sports competitions upside down with its responsive carbon fiber plate and lightweight foam, and durable designs from brands like Veja and Le Coq Sportif.

It even tackles the subject of sneaker fetishism, including the practice of destroying sneakers, as evidenced by a pair of Stan Smiths that were cut and then burnt with a blowtorch. “There are also people who put on sneakers. To each his own kicks, ”concluded Clemente-Ruiz.

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