by Anmol AhujaDec 18, 2021
Defined as 'a staple of modern fashion', sneakers don’t seem to be going out of trend anytime soon, or possibly ever. One of the most famous sneakers of all time, the Converse All Stars potentially marks the beginning of sneakerhead culture. In association with American Basketball player Chuck Taylor, in the early 1920s, the brand introduced the 'Chuck Taylor All Stars'. This means, our all-time favourite Converse sneaker has been in trend for over 100 years. Since then more brands have collaborated with sports personalities to create unique iterations, giving the fashion industry some of its most iconic footwear. Other notable examples include Puma Clyde, from the 1970s when Puma collaborated with NBA player Walt Clyde Frazier, and Nike with Michael Jordan created the historic Jordan Nike Air Force Sneaker in 1985, becoming the forerunner for the sneaker revolution that followed.
Over the last century, sneakers have only acquired more and more attention and obsession from consumers. This vogue paved the way for brands to market themselves with campaigns, trends and celebrity collaborations. While circling between street fashion and luxury fashion, the journey of sneakers has opened the industry to create intriguing and eccentric designs. With the advent of constantly evolving technologies, new materials, manufacturing methods and the digital world, footwear design is at the zenith of innovations. To explore how these factors are transforming today's footwear, The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada, has put together an exhibition titled, FUTURE NOW: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks. Featuring footwear from designers and brands including Salehe Bembury, Steven Smith, RTFKT, Mr. Bailey, Zaha Hadid, Nike ISPA, Safa Şahin, Tom Sachs, EKTO VR, Saysh, Benoit Méléard, SCRY, Yeezy, and many more, the exhibition has the most futuristic footwear designs of all time. Designed by the award-winning agency Arc + Co. Design Collective, the exhibition is spread across four categories of innovation, sustainability, transformation and the virtual world.
Innovation has served as a driving force for footwear design; the industry has come across new technologies, manufacturing means and materials. Under this category, the exhibition brings together designs from responsive smart shoes to 3D printed heels. From the O Collection (2000) by French shoe designer Benoit Méléard to the Nike ISPA Road Warrior (2020), which visually exposes the secrets of performance technology, the array seems to display a passage of innovation. Adding to this is the SCRY Undercurrent P Virtual Prototype (2022), which disrupts traditional shoemaking by working digitally from design to fabrication. NOVA by Zaha Hadid in collaboration with United Nude in 2013, the first shoe to ever be made using rotational moulding, will also be a part of the innovative section.
As is the case with most fashion trends, the rise in sneaker collectables also witnessed a huge rise in the consumption of fast fashion. Addressing this, the exhibition brings together the most sustainable footwear design, displaying sustainable materials and production methods which create an impact through circular design. A few of the footwear displayed in the sustainability category are Nat-2 Fungi (2021) made from mushroom leather, the vegan, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) approved F_WD XP4_Mavy (2021) and Converse Renew Chuck 70 (2020) made from recyclable materials. Included in this section is the shoe by Adidas x Parley for the Oceans x Alexander Taylor collaboration which was knit using thread created out of discarded gill nets reclaimed from the ocean.
Stirring up transformative changes in the future of footwear design, the designers of today are pushing boundaries and birthing new possibilities. Exploring this transformative change, FUTURE NOW displays a few of the emancipatory designs including Nike Go FlyEase (2021), Pyer Moss Sculpt (2020) and Saysh Ones (2021). Also resting in the category of transformation are Daniel Bailey’s Mr. Bailey Octopus (2018) and Crocs Pollex (2021) by Crocs in collaboration with Salehe Bembury. Created for 'intellectual athletes', such as those who work in aerospace engineering, NIKECraft x Tom Sachs Mars Yard Overshoe (2018) displayed at the exhibition has great value as a collectible.
Representing the new epoch of digital design and Metaverse are the footwear ranging from NFT sneakers to virtual try-ons. Diminishing the datum between the real and the virtual world are Antonio Arocho Hernández's Marina (2021), RTFKT Atari retro (2021), EKTO One Robotic VR boots (2021) and more. The Air Force 1 (2009) where gaming and sneakers came together by the collaboration between Nike and PlayStation is also a part of the display. With a diverse presentation of footwear, the exhibition has over 50 futuristic designs from the museum’s holdings, as well as loans from prominent collectors, designers and inventors, from across the globe.
Apart from the exhibition, the Bata Shoe Museum announced an accompanying book, also titled FUTURE NOW. The book features in-depth interviews with designers and creatives including Salehe Bembury, Benoit Pagotto, Steven Vasilev and Chris Le from RTFKT, Steven Smith, Alexander Taylor, Jeff Staple, Mr. Bailey, Zixiong Wei from SCRY, D’Wayne Edwards from Pensole, and Darryl Matthews and Shamees Aden from Nike ISPA. Published by Rizzoli Electa, the book is now available worldwide. While sharing her thoughts on the exhibition, the Director and Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum, Elizabeth Semmelhack, states, "I have been fascinated by how innovation and shifting cultural needs and interests have pushed footwear forward since the advent of industrialization, so as part of that interest I wanted to consider where footwear might be taking us in the future. This included looking at cutting-edge innovations, new sustainable materials, steps towards greater inclusion, and footwear in the metaverse. The resulting exhibition and book highlight some of the most exciting work being done today."
The exhibition FUTURE NOW: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks is on display at the Bata Shoe Museum in Canada till October, 2023.
(Text by Sunena V Maju, intern at STIRworld)