To succinctly summarise the rise of the sneaker and its insurgence into luxury menswear, you’d need to jump back to New York in the 1980s. It was at this point when hip-hop, in its infancy as a sub-cultural street movement consisting of deejaying, emceeing, breakdancing, graffiti and fashion, exploded up through the paving slabs with such force it was clear that it was to become a highly lucrative business. In 1986, Run-DMC, released the seminal track My Adidas and the first few lyrics stamped the colossal importance of the sportswear brand: “My Adidas walk through concert doors and roam all over coliseum floors.” The track then led to a partnership deal worth $1 million between the rap group and the sportswear giant — an unheard-of rapport. This stemmed from the group’s love affair with dookie chains, Kangol bucket hats, Adidas tracksuits and Shell-Toe Superstars which they wore without laces.
It was also during the 1980s when basketball started taking centre court and gaining more airtime and, in coalition with hip-hop, stars were born wearing the most sought after sneakers. These idols included the likes of Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird on the basketball court, with LL Cool J and The Beastie Boys keeping it real on the streets. Basketball sneakers such as the Adidas Forum, Nike Air Force 1 and the Nike Air Jordan line are perhaps the most iconic. The Jordan line, the most successful trainer line ever, first released the Air Jordan 1 in 1984 in a black and red colour way, which was eventually banned by the NBA for not having enough white. It’s important to note that even though football is the most popular sport in the world, you can’t hit the streets wearing a pair of football boots, whereas basketball shoes are versatile and can be worn on the streets, therefore are linked to street culture — and canonised into hip-hop culture.
The aforementioned sneakers make up a tiny but also key part of the pie. Converse is also in there too with its All-Star, an old-school basketball classic from the 1920s, much in the same way as Puma’s Suede Classics — a b-boy staple — and Clyde, which was a collaboration with the basketball legend Walt Frazier. Other brands, albeit not for the basketball court, were kicking about too, such as Reebok with its Workouts, New Balance with its many runners and Vans with its skateboarding sneakers. Overall they’re iconic and a signifier of a common train of thought and lifestyle. Since then, the obsession of sneakers has snowballed into what it is today: a multi-billion dollar industry that’s driven by thirsty millennials who camp outside stores for nights on end, through torrential rain and blistering cold just for a pair of sneakers. Madness, you could say.