The Rise of Sneaker Culture Takes the High

More stories from Yoanna Shushkova


Yoanna Shushkova

Designer Pierre Hardy experimented with primary colors and geometric shapes to create a “wearable art.”

Over the years, sneakers have become a big part of our everyday life and culture. In the 90s, when sneakers became popular, fashion was everyone’s obsession, as everyone tried to outdo each other with different clothes and designs. The culture of sneakers has brought every sex, social position, age, and race together. 
“The Rise of Sneaker Culture” exhibit at The High Museum of Art opened on June 11 and ended Aug. 14. The exhibit, which showcased different sneakers from famous brands all over the world, has captivated many different people, some of whom call themselves “Sneakerheads.”
“I thought it was really interesting because they showed the shoes that have impacted our culture and told the history of [sneakers],” Esme Rise said.
The exhibit showed the process of designing shoes, exploring how the designs of different brands have changed over time. Today’s designers use cutting-edge technology, the newest materials and the best tools to meet the requirements of customers and athletes. Inspiration for sneaker designs can come from many places, including luxury automobiles, architecture or people.
“They had just about every well-known type of sneaker in styles I’d never seen before,” Rise said. “I also liked how they showed the very first models of sneakers. It was super fascinating to see how style has changed over time.”
Many of the exhibit’s sneakers included the Nike Air Jordans. When Michael Jordan created his sneakers, he wanted his shoes not only to be worn by athletes on the court, but by businessman and people on the streets. Today, the hype for Jordans continues to grow with every new design.
Tinker Hatfiel is a designer at Nike  who helped create the Nike Air Jordans. The Air Jordan III was one of Hatfield’s first Jordan designs in 1994, and it remains one of the most popular. It was also the first design that included the Jumpman logo, which depicts a silhouette of Michael Jordan dunking.
Another pair of sneakers that caught visitors’ attention were the iconic Nike Air Force Ones, whose soles are engraved with Barack Obama’s face. The Generation X artist Jumm Lasser wanted to mark the historical election of President Obama as the first African American president. Another pair of Air Force Ones were painted by artist Mache and show Heath Ledger as the Joker from the movie “Batman.’’ His work has gotten him attention from prominent pop culture icons such as like Jay Z, Kanye West, and LeBron James.
“I thought the exhibition was great and very informing of hip hop culture and basketball,” Sanaa Gailor said. “It wasn’t what I expected, but I liked it lot.”
The well-known Converse Chuck Taylors were  also part of the exhibition, including a pair designed by artist Damien Hirst to recreate his famous artwork All You Need is Love to raise money for charity. Converse wasn’t the only charitable sneaker showcased. Adidas designed a sneaker to raise awareness about the state of the world’s oceans. The white lace up sneakers with blue detail were made from recycled plastic seawater waist.  
On exhibit were also high-end sneaker designers including Dsquared2, Christian Loubuton and Prada. Designer Pierre Hardy played  with the primary colors of yellow, red and blue and geometric shapes to create a “wearable art.”
“My favorite design was probably the Nikes and the Yeezys. I also liked the Louis Vuitton sneakers. I didn’t have much knowledge about the designers and brands, but I know much more now,” said Sanaa Gailor.
Another interesting pair of sneakers were designed by Allen Largin.  In 2010, Future Sole created a competition for high-school and college students to create a sneaker design. There were 22,000 submissions and Allen Largin’s design for Carmelo Anthony won. The shoes are red, have clean stitching because of Anthony’s fluid game, in honor of Anthony’s dead sister the logo on the shoe’s tongue says “Chelle.”
Many people treat their sneakers with a lot of love. “[Men] treat shoes very much as objects, as collection items,” said the designer for Christian Louboton on the placard describing his shoes at the exhibit.
“My obsession with shoes started in eighth grade, when I started to get a new pair every couple of months,” Allen Largin said. “Not because they were worn down, but because I wanted a new pair. I really just loved shoes.”
Sneakers have become more than just shoes; for some, they are an essential item for everyday life. 
“I loved the whole exhibition,” Christian Luba said. “I thought it was amazing. I’ve been wearing sneakers since I was a kid, but I never knew much about them and what the process actually is. I think this gave me a lot of information about the shoes I wear.”