New York's Museum of Modern Art is hosting their third exhibition on the intersection of music and art. Its title "looking at Music 3.0" presents the New York scene on the 1980's and 1990's, a rich period when graffiti, performance art, and hip hop emerged from the underground. The show features the work of dozens of artists like Keith Haring, Diamanda Galas, Karen Finley, Christian Marclay, Sonic Youth, Run DMC, Afrika Bambaataa, Kathlene Hanna and Le Tigre, and Laura Levine, just to name a few. The little taster above is a Levine's stunning portrait of Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth and hip hop legend Grandmaster Flash, shot in 1981 for a cover of New York Rocker.
In light of this artistic emprise to explore the cross-fertilization between art and music in the 1980's and 1990's, it doesn't seem like a bad idea to do a bit of digging ourselves to explore the murky world of sneakers and sneaker culture of this very same cultural underground. The temptation would be to dive headlong back into the 1970's but really that venture can be saved for another rainy day. If anything, I guess it would be nice to bolster the work of the MoMa with some genuine sneaker scholarship to paint a fuller, more replete image of this historic window in time...
1) Puma Clyde - c.1979-83 (suede low top)
Colours (rare): white on green, white on light blue, white on purple, navy on natural, green on natural, black on gold, royal blue on rust, baby blue on on navy blue, navy blue on sky blue, rust orange on tan, cream on burgundy (a personal favourite), black on red
The quintessential Clyde of this period was manufactured in Yugoslavia. It sounds crazy to say but (a bit like the Air Jordan's of today) the mould that they built on was almost triple E width. Compare that to what might be an average width of today's sneaker which is around a D just to be conservative you were stepping in boats if you weren't big foot yourself. So in reality it was a giant misconception that these boats as shoes were popular to dance in. These original Clyde's were just simply too wide and flip floppy but then again damn they look tight. You've just got to ask Crazy Legs from the Rock Steady Crew, "Doze's Pumas would fly off his feet all the time! He was so clumsy, one time he broke Ken Swift's mom's coffee table like that". If any validation was required then those were the words from the horse's mouth!
Anyway back to the point. Space, like in any other city is a valuable commodity especially in a city like NYC. As Bobbito Garcia puts it, wearing Clyde's was like stating, 'I don't own shit, but I'm gonna own this sidewalk when I'm walking on it.' On trains, cats would stand in front of the doors in a b-boy stance with their heels touching but their toes pointing as far opposite as possible. The spin off of this was that you would get the baddest of the bad, the hard rocks, taking up two or more seats at a time with their legs open. People would be scared and intimidated even damn outright petrified to ask them to close their legs so that they could sit. So regardless of what you were buying into, the only sneaker that one would attempt to mimic such antics, style and mainly bravado with, without a shadow of a doubt was the Puma Clyde.
2) Adidas Superstar a.k.a. "Shell toes" (leather low top & high top)
Colours (rare): money green on white, white on forest green
The '69-'87 Shell toes hit their peak in popularity during this period when they were being manufactured in France. You can identify them simply by the black/copper logo on the tongue. It wouldn't be an over exaggeration to say that whether you were the new kid on the block or some serious sneaker connoisseur you were wearing and owning multiple pairs. With Run DMC taking the street fashion scene by the scruff of the neck and and launching Adidas with its Superstar sneakers into the stratosphere of popularity, some sneaker devotees were aware of them beginning or even being played out. But just as Run DMC showed with their no shoestrings approach in contrast to the Chinese cats who wore them bummy style way before anyone else, this sneaker was more about how people wore it, customized it and accessorized it, in so elevating it to its current iconic status. Not before nor after will you really find a sneaker that offered as much of a blank canvass for customization than the Adidas Superstar.
3) Adidas Top Ten (leather high top & low top)
Colours (rare): silver on white, red on white a.k.a. 'Indianas' black on white, green on white, orange on white, white on black, white on forest green, white on red with silver accent, white on green with silver accent
The '79-'83 Top Ten was the first highly advanced technological sneaker that really made a difference in terms of comfort. For one, it had the most highly padded tongue ever (at that point anyway), and two, it had a logo that read "Endorsed by Top Ten Basketball Pros". Truthfully who knew who those top ten players were, I don't think anyone new for sure but then again who really cared or was ever found out? The Top Ten was something of a design revolution. Any sneaker before it had to be broken in for a couple of days before it was ready to play in. The Top Ten was the first sneaker that could be taken fresh out of the box and worn comfortably on game day. A luxury that not that many could have as they were also one of the first sneakers to have an initial list price of $100. That's some serious dollar.
4) Pony McAdoo (suede low top & high top)
Colours (rare): white on red
The '79 McAdoo was very reminiscent of the Nike Bruin with it's silhouette, construction and colourways but truthfully the McAdoo tag crushed all competition hands down, period (especially when rocked with the laces in a couple of eyelets and the tongue popping, breaking that silky smooth silhouette). Why anyone wouldn't give the nod to Bob McAdoo is a mystery to me. The name outright was fly enough to warrant rocking these joints regardless of whether they were a looker or not. But just like Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan line, McAdoo was the best there was and could have been at the time. He led the NBA in scoring in '74, '75 & '76, and was the league MVP in '75 when he averaged 34.5 points per game. Boom! I wouldn't feel that I would be putting my neck out when saying that the high top version of these released later in the early 80's were the flyest models Pony ever had and would have in their catalog.
5) Nike Sky Force (leather high top & 3/4)
Colours (rare): red on white, white on white patent
The '83-'84 Sky Force were integral for Nike. They were the first sneaker Nike put out that was listed as a 3/4. The Blazers were technically 3/4 mids in height, but everyone just called them high tops because I guess no one knew any better and the official coining of the term was yet to be introduced. The Sky Force was was also the first Nike sneaker to feature patent leather, and it was their only patent leather release through the '80s and early '90s until the '95-'96 Air Jordan XI's. Thats just a damn shame.
6) Nike Air Force 1 (leather high top & low top) + '88 (reissues) a.k.a. "uptowns", "Airs"
Colours (rare): red on white, black on white, blue on white, orange on white green on white, navy blue on white, burgundy on white, silver on white, gold on white, black on white, cream on chocolate, white on olive green. white on patent red; low top in white on green, white on light blue nubuck, white on black, gold on white
Last but by no means least we're at the Air Force 1. I might have refrained from going the whole nine yards on this one but compromising on detail and fact is going to do nobody any good so here goes. The second version of the Air Force 1s became available in '84, and featured a sleeker swoosh and perforations on the toe box to make up for the missing nylon mesh of the Air Force Zeros. Nike also reduced the roominess of the toe box, which gave a sportier look overall. Without doubt this shoe was the alpha and omega of sneakers. It quickly and swiftly eclipsed the Adidas Top Ten as the most functional basketball shoe and street shoe ever, but bizarrely nike stopped releasing them to the public by late '84. As a result of such madness that it holds the title of being the first basketball sneaker that Nike ever took out of production and then all importantly brought back. Once it got reissued in '86 it became the hottest shoe in the entirety of New York for ball players and non-ballplayers alike. A lesser known fact as to why they were so hot in '86 was that only one store - the one and only Jew Man's in the Bronx - in all of New York carried them. If we are going to be technical about things then there were only two stores (the other was in Baltimore) in all the world carried them until about '88. The supply was so limited that it raised demand to a fever pitch and then some. To this day, for these reasons, the forging of the Air Force 1 has made it to become New York's own greatest ever signature sneaker for the city and of all time.