Crowds in Brooklyn are levitating with excitement as they explore their own sartorial history in The Rise of Sneaker Culture, an exhibition running at the Brooklyn Museum through this weekend. Finally, a fashion history and technology show that really resonates with the men in the room!
The hundreds of historic sneakers, mostly from the Bata Shoe Museum collection in Toronto, tell the story of how casual sports footwear came to be so dominant in today’s high-fashion landscape.
Although there are a few examples of women’s footwear – early Keds from 1916 and iconic Reeboks from the Jane Fonda-fitness era – the focus is squarely on the men, their sports, and their athletic-inspired designer footwear.
The history section of the show shows some of the earliest rubberized sports shoes from UK collections, but quickly moves into familiar New York City territory when colorful creations began appearing at pick-up games on basketball courts around the city in the 1970s, and when the tide really turned through sports and music licensing.
Crowds and docents jockey for space to worship at the altar of Nike’s 1985 Air Jordan I alongside the autographed reissue of Run-DMC’s 1986 Adidas. After Michael Jordan inked that deal and hip-hop video was distributed worldwide on MTV, sneaker fashion went viral. Electrifying images of loosely laced footwear were seen and copied by fans from the Bronx to Kathmandu. The right shoes and lacing style could wordlessly convey to others in the know, “I know what’s going down.”
Beautifully installed, Brooklyn crowds could work their way through men’s footwear history down one side and up the other – the original P.F. Flyers, original Chuck Taylors, streamlined European designs from the 1970s, Adidas’s early fitness shoes with built-in microprocessors, Nike’s Air Force 1, and Magic Johnson’s Weapons for Converse.
After the awesome case with the entire evolution of Air Jordans, the curators lined up a riot of color, technology, status, and design with evidence of so many subsequent licensing deals. Kanye’s new Yeezy Boot for Adidas was interesting, but the Reebock’s Shaqnosis and Nike’s limited edition for LeBron really stopped people in their tracks.
High-fashion sneakers by design and art luminaries Damien Hirst, Jeremy Scott, Chanel, Pierre Hardy, Raf Simons, Giuseppi Zanotti, and Rick Owens brought visitors right into the present day – when guys wear sneakers and tuxes to the Emmys, just as Michael Jordan predicted they would three decades ago.
A great touch at the show’s exit was the opportunity for visitors to leave a note about their own personal “sneaker story” and draw their favorite one.
Take a look at our favorite footwear from the show on our Flickr feed, all presented in chronological order. And enjoy this brief presentation on men’s contemporary footwear in this behind-the-scenes peek into the collections of the Bata Shoe Museum with senior curator Elizabeth Semmelhack: