The “ Sneakers Unboxed ” exhibition kicks off at the Design Museum


The “ Sneakers Unboxed ” exhibition kicks off at the Design Museum

Calling all sneakerheads! Historical exhibition ‘Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street’, celebrating the history of sneaker design, opens at the Design Museum in London

Curator Ligaya Salazar describes the sneaker as “one of the most ubiquitous designed objects in the world.” This led her to work on ‘Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street’, opening at the Design Museum in London on May 18, 2021. An investigation into the shoes that so many of us now wear every day, the show’s exhibits include an original Adidas Jabbar, the first shoe to bear a basketball player’s name, the first Nike Air Jordans and a 1919 Converse. Elsewhere you’ll find that design you love or hate, the Vibram FiveFingers running shoe and designs upcycled by Helen Kirkum.

The first bedroom series centers around 1970s New York, and the sneakers worn by the young hip-hop scene. ‘[This was] a key moment in elevating the sneaker from an athletic shoe that you wear for a specific occasion to something that is part of your identity, ”says Salazar, adding:“ it’s really important to recognize that. Thanks to these youth cultures, sneakers have become an industry. Otherwise, we would all wear them to go jogging.

Enter ‘Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street’

View of Helen Kirkum’s installation Archeology of sneakers. Photography: Ed Reeve

In fact, innovation on the sports side of this story has been slow. Salazar points out that Converse has cornered the market with canvas and rubber shoes for almost 50 years, and when Adidas and Puma arrived in the late 1940s, they would only launch new models every four years for the Games. Olympic. Even Nike, an OG of sneaker culture, started as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 – an import company that brought Onitsuka Tigers to the United States from Japan. Enthusiasts will no doubt appreciate the mid-1970s Onitsukas included here, along with their Blue Ribbon Sports dustbag.

A diverse set of scenes – from hip-hop and skateboarders to the so-called ‘casual’ on football terraces in the UK in the 1980s – are featured in ‘Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street ”. Emphasis is also placed on a more modern subculture – the so-called sneakerhead, and the increasingly vibrant resale market that fuels their obsession. The exhibit is sponsored by resale site StockX and features both the widely traded Yeezy 350 Zebra and its 2020 MVP – the Jordan 1 Retro High Dior. But, says Salazar, sneakerhead culture predates our own era: it dates back to the 1970s. “So the term was ‘demon’. You were trying to find the pairs that no one else had, ”she says. “ It was all about being recognized by your peers. ”

The sneakerhead scene is still in effect in 2021, but it comes with growing concern about the impact of sneaker production on the environment – among brands, consumers and new designers. The exhibition explores what the future of sneakers could look like, with methods such as personalization bringing innovation. ‘[Designers] put different soles from different brands, they cut them out and put different things in them, ”says Salazar. ‘[Customisation is] a very interesting move that was there all the time but is – like everything with sneakers – at a peak now. §


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