Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Fusions & Hybrids | Hero or Villain

Can you name all the sneakers bastardised in this fusion nightmare?

It has now been two weeks since Tinker Hatfield and Josh Heard unveiled the #AirJordanXX8. The shockwaves have passed and the dust settled again allowing the sneaker community to return to its accustomed sense of normality. So the time seems more than right to objectively review the impact that this shoe has had. 

On the face of things it has professedly been a long time since Nike and more specifically Air Jordan have so energetically developed and hyped a basketball concept shoe. Wether this is down to the power of Michael Jordan's persona or the the strength of the brand, the one message for the us to take home is the Jordan Brand are at last making an asserted push for new technologies and new levels of performance in their footwear to match their continued reinventing of the basketball aesthetic. But just before there is a huge sigh of relief I feel the urge to play devil's advocate and challenge the majority consensus. Is the Air Jordan XX8 not just a glorified #NikeZoomFlight98 (aka The Glove) or some hi tech fusions? Is it really something revolutionary or not simply the recycling of past ideas or worse still the ideas of market competitors?

The reason that these questions are so easy to ask is that the visual similarities to past sneakers is so strong.  You could easily be mistaken to believe that the XX8 is in fact the eight or ninth generation version of the original ZF 98. On paper this should not cause problems but because this latest offering has been marketed as the future of basketball footwear, it has not delivered the aesthetic impact that is fit for such an introduction. There is a huge gulf in the complexity of the performance technology built into the shoe and its overall appearance.  This is disappointing because #Nike has wowed its consumer fan base with this same silhouette back in 1998 with the ZF 98. They could have simply retro-ed the originals (as promised for this year) allowing them the freedom to create something genuinely new and exciting rather than a shoe who's identity is slowly being tarnished by the talk of being a fusion. Like the clever fusions of the past (AJF3 and AJF5) the XX8 has incorporated a deceptive design that draws attention from the fusion aspect and centres on over accentuation the core classic design that is the sheathing of the inner shoe first used on the ZF98. If you are like me and catch yourself reacting to the aesthetics in such a way why would you not just buy the original, which is what we were sweating over as kids to begin with and still truly want? In truth Nike could have played things better. 

Now for the second part. If you are someone who rigorously wades through all the promotional material released by Nike in the wake of a new shoe then you would have inevitably come across the interviews with Tinker and Josh. Aside from the joy to be had from designers lifting the lid on their creations, what their creative thought process has revealed is how murky the world of intellectual property is. This sentiment is inevitably heightened since the on suing of FlyKnit-gate but there still seems to be a couple of things to worry about. There was continuous mentioning of the design process being led by the image of a sprint spike for basketball players. If 
#Adidas were feeling bullish there would seem to be enough evidence to start locking legal horns with Nike once again but personally on these grounds alone to me there just is insufficient evidence. There's no denying Adidas were per suing the same performance goals with the Derick Rose line but Nike have a long track record of historically developing their footwear in this direction. If history relates then most recently it was the Air Jordan 2009 that was the most recent shoe to be influenced by sprinting as well. After all Nike signed April Holmes and her prosthetic leg inspired the hell of the 2009. But just to make things more complicated, the Adidas Supernatural Creator came out around 2009 and is arguably exactly the same as the Jordan but with just a bigger bootie. 

What is more interesting is the similarities in the construction of the sole units shared by the XX8 and the Adidas Puremotion golf shoe. Aesthetic similarities are the first pointer. The technological similarities the second. You just have to have a close look at the XX8's midsole and flight plate to get a sense of where this comparison is coming from. Where the crucial difference might just be is that judging by the full view of the outsole, the midsole and flight plate aren't popular like the Puremotion. This all may sound overly technical but to wrap things up I'll let you decide with a good old fashioned exercise in compare and contrast below.          

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Material Studies | Longevity & Decay

Just imagine opening a box you believed to have been safely stashed away years ago, only to open it and be confronted with this sore sight. At the time of storing, the motive was brilliantly logical. The Air Jordan XVII was a slept on release, even in this Wizards colourway. Sitting on a pair for some years to come would be an investment for the future. The chance to break out some deadstock Jordans from past gone years is a privilege of a few and in the instance of re-sale a true money spinner (corgieshoe). The sad reality is the process is by no means an exact science. In more cases than not the result is what you see above - a deadstock pair of sneakers going to waste having never seen the light of day.

As I may have hinted at already, keeping your sneakers deadstock or not is a choice that every sneaker enthusiast faces with each and every new purchase. There is no denying that a pair of sneakers looks best fresh out of the box, without a crease in the toe box or the slightest hint of dirt on the outsole. Sometimes, our love of sneakers takes things to levels that we would have never seen coming at that point of first purchase. We are all culpable of wishing eternal life for a special limited edition/ release, ever hoping that the arrival of a new day will bring with it the holy of holy's, the news of the discovery of the elixir of youth for our kicks. The truth is that wether you keep them on ice for years or wear them everyday, the inevitable will happen. They will end up cracked, crumbled, peeling, ripped, stained, torn and above all unwearable. If you want to look at them forever in their pristine state, just take a picture and then wear them so celebrating their transient grace. Sneakers are simply not made to last and it is the materials, not the design, that we can hold accountable for that. 

Let's get into the science of it!

Without breaking down the entire composition of a sneaker into its individual architectural elements there are four major material groups that pose the main problems for any collector. These are textiles, leather, rubber and plastics. A simplistic approach to taxonomy as this does not make plain the susceptibility that each category faces to the weathering effects of time. Thus the grouping of the material types will be done in descending order of durability. This will mean staring with the with the most durable and ending with the least durable. So, introduction aside it's time now for the nitty gritty.

Textiles and Leather:

The reçurent culprits to much material damage are sunlight and weather cycles. The simple science of this is that excessive sunlight bleaches colour pigments whilst the fluctuation of temperature and moisture content leads to the excessive expansion and contraction of cell structures. This in turn causes them to break precipitating a subsequent loss of strength in the material. 

Had you ever been tempted to apply a dressing to the premium leather of your bespoke Nike Air Force One or OG Jordan then be warned. Not only is it slightly unorthodox behaviour but applied dressings, such as a saddle soap, are fine whilst the object is in use. Let me just stress that again - IN USE. This is because the shoe is usually cleaned and a new dressing reapplied on a regular basis. Once this regular maintenance ceases, however, dressings often start to migrate to the surface where they form a sticky surface layer that attracts dust, etc. The worst bit is that this residual layer of dirt is what supports mould growth that is irreparable. Thus be warned any time you consider adding some form of protective dressing to your kicks.  

Rubber and Plastics

This is where things start getting a bit tricky as at this point the temptation is to fall into the trap of being overly scientific and thus boring people to tears. So, I have tried to keep the unadulterated science of it all to a manageable level and more importantly a relevant level.

Rubber is a very enigmatic material, in respect to its deterioration. Two apparently identical rubber components in the same environment can behave totally differently. One component may become brittle and cracked, whilst the other may become soft and sticky. Unlike most other materials, rubber tends not to be adversely affected by chlorides (acids). That means touching them with your sweaty hands with not cause any longterm damage. After all someone would have told NBA athletes to stop wiping their sweaty hands on the soles of their sneaker during games. Most importantly of all no real damage with be subjected on them by walking in the dirt of pavements and streets worldwide that exists outside of the sanitised world of the shoe box. 

At this point I'm quickly going to digress but it is all for good reason. To give a flavour of why new sneaker releases are full of new materials that we have never heard of is because there are over 2 million different types of plastics (and rising) that designers can choose between. What more, many materials can be added to plastics. For sneaker designers it is a means to improve the performance of the shoe. For instance to counter brittleness and impart elasticity plasticisers are used. To lower cost and to add strength bulking agents and fillers are used. For the increased longevity of the sneaker, stabilisers can be added to counter the effects of UV light, to prevent fungal attack or most commonly to reduce the rate of oxidation. 

Digression aside, probably the principal cause of deterioration of rubbers and plastics is sunlight. The composition of sunlight is such that its various wavelengths can cause different types of damage in different plastics. Basically there are two main types of damage - chain scissoring and cross-linking. Chain scissoring occurs when enough energy is absorbed to break bonds in the polymer chains. This results in a weakening of the plastic. For the sneaker head it is often observed as cracks or chalkiness of the surface of any part of the sole (usually the mid sole). Cross-linking occurs when absorbed energy promotes the formation of new bonds within the structure. Over time this can result in a plastic becoming insoluble in solvents that it was originally soluble in. More relevant to sneakers it can also result in the plastic becoming less flexible and elastic. This explains why that pair of OG Jordans disintegrated on the first time of wearing them after multiple years of proud display. 

What I fear is that in light of all this science some readers may read this article as an act of scaremongering. Worst still they might read too much into it. Worst of all I might have driven them to such insane measures as this....

If you have reached this stage of insanity then there is simply no help nor way back to normality. But as good an action as any to avoid the slippery slope to vac packing your entire sneaker collection is simply give them some air time. The beauty of this hobby of sneaker collecting is that everything comes back inevitably and you'll get another chance to re-stock on your favourite models and makers. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Designer Database | Eric Avar

The time has come to profile one of my favourite designers to be associated with #Nike. Considered by many to be the most influential designer of the past decade, Eric Avar initially planned to follow in his father's career footsteps as a mechanical engineer. As history would relate, however, whilst working at Athlete's Foot in the late 1980's he was completely beguiled by his first encounter with a designer's diagram of a Nike Air Stab. So grabbed by what he had seen he persuaded the dean at Rochester Institute of Technology to let him specialise in the subject of shoe design. The rest is history. From there he spent a six month period working for Adidas before joining the ranks at Nike. Now as Innovation Kitchen Creative Director of Special Projects, Avar has taken the lead of bringing Nike's latest technological innovations and applying them to creating a better performing product. 

Nike Air Foamposite One:

Nike Air Flightposite One:

Nike Air Flightposite Two:

Nike Air Flightposite Three:

Nike Air Garnett Three:

Nike Air Huarache Flight:
(with Hatfield according to the patents)

Nike Air Hyperflight:

Nike Air Penny One:

Nike Air Penny Two:

Nike Air Penny Three:

Nike Air Penny Four:

Nike Huarache 2K4:

Nike Hyperdunk:

Nike Jumpman Pro:

Nike Zoom Kobe Three:

Nike Zoom Kobe Four:

Nike Zoom Kobe Five:

Nike Air Zoom Flight "The Glove":

Nike Son of Glove:

Nike Air Zoom GP:

Nike Air Zoom GP Two:

Nike Air Zoom GP Three:

Nike Air Zoom GP Four:

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Designer Database | Tate Kuerbis

Tate Kuerbis is another designer who's work we need to start associating with his name more often. His career with Nike has seen him rise through the ranks from just a junior designer for Air Jordan to a head designer and eventually a senior footwear designer for the brand. Unlike many designers that will be featured in this database, Tate Kuerbis is in the special bracket of designers that have designed shoes for differing sports. In Keurbis's case his portfolio is heavy with basketball models but includes a selection of tennis models. For those less familiar with his name and work please scroll through the images below. 

As with all these lists they are not complete and will be continually updated once more patents have been looked at. 

Air Jordan XVIII:

Air Jordan XIX:

Nike Air Dozer Force:

Air Jordan Team 1:

Jordan 12.5:

Nike Uptempo Pro:

Nike Vapor IV (tennis):

Sneakers that I couldn't find the images for include:

- Nike Zoom Max Uptempo
- Nike Zoom Flight 98

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Designer Database | Jason Petrie

I'm well aware that repeating one's facts is as pointless as preaching to the clergy so for those interested in the background story to Jason Petrie please visit my earlier post on him - The Alpha Project. In that post what I failed to do was share with you the manufactured designs of Jason's. So with no further ado here is a list to familiarise yourself with. 

Nike Force Stat 1:

Nike Air Force Stat 2:

Nike Air Max Lebron VII:

Nike Air Windmill Flight:

Nike Zoom Flight Club: