Sneaker collaborations that tell a story

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I love sneakers that tell a story. Shoes that evoke a place. Or even a historical event.

At the end of June, Asics launched a somewhat low-key dual collaboration with renowned Japanese design house Atmos and Simon Wood, the editor and publisher of sneaker freaker, a beloved Australian sneaker zine. The canvas of this shoe is the Gel-Lyte III OG, The Gel-Lyte was first released in 1990 and is constructed in a way that lends itself to radical color blocking. The “story” this shoe tells is about stray cats living in the back streets of Tokyo and Melbourne. Gray suede toes and heels along with dark purple midfoot color read like a night on the town. Plasma green laces and a touch of neon on the sole, plus glow-in-the-dark logo stripes work like city lights. Pale bands of lightly hairy cowhide represent wild cats. The concept is clever. The grey/purple/neon green color is irresistible. The weight of the materials will make this a go-to shoe in my rotation this fall and winter. (The Ally Cat sells for $160 and can be bought now on StockX for less than $200.)

My affinity for this shoe was a surprise. I largely steer clear of collaboration shoes. Back in the mid-2010s, when it seemed like every b-list rapper and Brooklyn-based graffiti artist was having a sneaker collaboration. These joint projects have usually resulted in a bright color combination on a standard pair of sneakers. The opportunity to design a pair of AF1 Dunks spawned an “everything but the kitchen sink” design mentality. The phenomenon has given rise to dozens of very strong but totally forgettable kicks. Eventually, cultural fatigue set in. I don’t know if the number of collab sneaker releases has gone down over the last decade or if I just started paying less attention to the dreck?

To this day, the hype cycle is fueled by collaborations. There has been a paradigm shift. Instead of Sound Cloud MCs, the partnerships are now between sneaker giants and red hot luxury brands like Syndicate in Los Angeles Where A Ma Manierei from Atlanta Where Gucci. Many shoes have been spectacular. However, the bar for entering this space is extremely high. It’s virtually impossible to buy a pair of Union x Nikes for less than the price of a kidney.

Outraged. We don’t chase the hype at Fatherly. Chasing a shoe that everyone has or wants is boring. We love subtlety. We are keenly interested in what is forgotten, neglected and underestimated. And we want shoes that tell a story. To that end, we’re featuring three of our all-time under-the-radar collaborations.

1. Sneaker Politics Cafe DuMonde

Sneaker Politics, the Louisiana-based chain of sneaker shops, is the best place in the world to pick up a pair of shoes. The brick-and-mortar pitches are brilliant homages to Louisiana history and culture. Over the years, the collaboration shoes designed by owner Derek Curry and his creative team have followed the same philosophy. There have been designs inspired by King Cake; the blue cannons used by the United States in the Battle of New Orleans; HBO’s Southern gothic crime thriller True Detective. They cheekily affixed Mardi Gras beads to the Jordan IIIs. Hands down, our favorite is Sneaker Politics’ tribute to the iconic coffee served at the New Orleans café, Café Du Monde.

2. Swiss Air sneakers and stuff

A close friend picked me up a pair of these deliciously random kicks while stopping by a great Swedish sneaker shop called Sneakersnstuff (https://www.sneakersnstuff.com/). SNS Business Class pays homage to first-class air travel on Swiss Air over the past century with soft, caramel leather; rich suede; funky blue knit and the iconic mid-century Sigvard Bernadotte, Virrvarr pattern on the insoles. When I opened the box I also found a Swiss Air toiletry bag, eye mask and ear plugs. It’s the details that matter. I go through long stretches when this is my favorite pair of shoes.

3. Salehe Bembury x New Balance Peace Be the Journey

Salehe Bembury is the most exciting shoe designer in the world. Her first job outside of design school was at Payless Shoes. After that came Cole Hahn, then Kanye West’s Adidas vertical, Yeezy. Then almost four years as the big boss of sneakers at Versace. In 2021 Shoe News named Bembury Designer of the Year. He made Crocs cool and created this gorgeous version of the New Balance 2002R. It’s called “Peace Be the Journey”. The yellow/orange/magenta/dusty blue color palette was inspired by Bembury’s morning hikes in Arizona’s Antelope Valley.

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