Over the last 40 years, sneakers have evolved from performance wear into fashionable attire. Athletic footwear brands collaborate with modern artists, fashion designers, and pop icons to create limited-edition investment pieces that sell out within moments of release. Luxury footwear lines are not complete without at least one rubber-soled pair. Sneakers are now the subject of books and magazines, focusing on the culture of collecting as well as on advances in performance technology. This summer’s exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, “The Rise of Sneaker Culture,” is one more step in the evolution of sneakers.
The story of sneakers begins with the vulcanization of rubber in the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that athletic footwear companies began to see their products as more than just a sports shoe. By the mid-’70s companies partnering with professional athletes introduced fabrics and colors that communicated the wearer’s favorite sports and athletes. Athletes and hip hop artists brought black urban street style to mainstream fashion, with Air Jordans becoming the symbol of this new cultural commodity.
“I’ve been a sneakerhead since I was a kid, but growing up in the Bronx we only got one new pair of every year,” says Gregg Woodcock, who teaches performance footwear design at FIT, and has designed for Sean John and Fila. “The first thing I would do is take them out of the box and sit them on the window sill, looking at them from every possible angle. I became a collector as soon as I could buy my own sneakers and have more than one pair.” Many sneakerheads own hundreds of pairs that they never wear, preserving them in neatly stacked boxes–pristine, precious objects of desire.
This post is sponsored by The Fashion Institute of Technology. FIT offers a wide range of continuing education classes in fashion, design, and business, including a certificate program in Performance Athletic Footwear. Visit fitnyc.edu for more information.