Who knew sneakers were such a rich topic? The casual shoe once only worn for sports has, since the 1980s, grown into a cultural phenomenon and become a highly collectable item for mostly men but women, too. (They don’t come in women’s sizes.) It’s big business with certain styles selling on the secondary market for triple the original retail price. Collectors often don’t wear the shoes, but instead house them in specially designed closets or custom built display cases. Hmm … intriguing.
I recently attended the Oakland Museum of California’s new exhibit Out of the Box: The Rise of the Sneaker on now through April 2, 2017. This traveling exhibit from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto explores the sneaker, tracing its history from the first 19th century athletic versions to the current craze among collectors for the next It Shoe.
Over 140 pairs of shoes are on display including styles from Adidas, Nike, Puma and Reebok. There are vintage styles, hand-painted, limited editions, and designer sneakers from the likes of Christian Louboutin (complete with red sole).
The exhibit is arranged in six sections, helpfully outlining the development of the sneaker. Remember Converse? Basketball player Chuck Taylor endorsed the Converse making them the must-have shoe for every teenage boy across America.
The sneaker as status symbol really kicked in during the 1970s as Americans embraced fitness and brands like Puma and Adidas. Later in the 1980s, Hip-Hop and Rap artists took to the casual shoe style as part of their overall look catapulting sneakers into a celebrity stardom of their own.
An entire section is devoted to Air Jordans, the signature sneaker styles of basketball player Michael Jordon by Nike.
Evelyn Orantes, OMCA Curator of Public Practice says: Sneakers are more than just a shoe – they are an expression of personal identity and a reflection of pop culture, whether it’s the latest sports fashion or technology-driven creations.
What a fascinating exhibit! I recommend this to anyone interested in fashion history, pop culture, pop music and of course all those sneaker collectors out there.