Walk down memory lane at this sneaker exhibition

An Air Jordan I on display at the exhibition, The Rise Of Sneaker Culture.
An Air Jordan I on display at the exhibition, The Rise Of Sneaker Culture.PHOTO: REUTERS

New York - Sean Williams, who produced online talk show Obsessive Sneaker Disorder, remembers the dark days of casual footwear - the dirty looks, the stigma and the straight-up bans.

"There was a time even in the 1970s when it wasn't acceptable to show up in sneakers at restaurants, clubs and churches," he said. "Now, there are people getting married in sneakers."

The age of the sneaker and its influence on men's fashion may get a further boost with The Rise Of Sneaker Culture, opening today and on through Oct 4 at the Brooklyn Museum. It includes more than 150 pairs, from vintage Puma Clydes to Converse All Stars to recent high-fashion kicks by Christian Louboutin and Raf Simons.

Originating at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, it will visit the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio after leaving Brooklyn in October.

It dives deep into sneaker history, exploring early designs from the 1800s, industrial advancements in rubber and the athletic shoe as a signifier of wealth for the early-1900s leisure class and the 1970s Me Generation.

In the show's interpretation, the release of the first Nike Air Jordans in 1985, along with Run-DMC's hit My Adidas the year after, took sneaker culture mainstream and paved the way for a critical survey.

Highlights include all 23 pairs of the Air Jordans and the running shoes that Adi Dassler, founder of Adidas, gave to Olympic athlete Jesse Owens to train in for the 1936 Olympics.

Ms Elizabeth Semmelhack, Bata museum's senior curator who conceived the show, said she was interested in how the sneaker has altered traditional notions of masculinity.

"Sneakers are allowing men to express their individuality in increasingly nuanced ways," she said. In sourcing the shoes, she said, she was struck by the "baroque" design and colours of modern sneakers. "If you wore such loud colours with any other item of clothing, it would seem feminine," she said.

"But sneaker design is where men are willing to take their biggest fashion risk."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2015, with the headline 'Walk down memory lane at this sneaker exhibition'. Print Edition | Subscribe