A sneaker festival with a story…

Hi,

We’re just about recovered from our second We Are Parable event of the year, so I thought it was about time that we wrestled the blog back from our awesome guests and collaborators and wrote a little something ourselves.

As you know “Is It The Shoes?” (or IITS) was the four day sneaker festival that we held in London to document how sneakers have influenced key areas in popular culture from film, music, art and fashion. We wanted to tell stories about how some of the most prominent shoes over the last three decades came into existence. I mean, it’s one thing selling a pair of kicks for £150 – it’s quite another to explain why these shoes are so highly valued.

The second We Are Parable event, "Is It The Shoes?" took place earlier this month
The second We Are Parable event, “Is It The Shoes?” took place earlier this month…

Take the Air Max 1, or the Air Max ’87, as its known in some circles. It’s an iconic shoe with an instantly recognisable silhouette that designers can simply go to town on, displaying their creativity and flair on every stitch. Great – but where’s the story? The shoe’s designer, the legendary Tinker Hatfield, went to Paris and was blown away by the Pompidou centre, the art museum which has all of its internal mechanisms on the outside of the building. Using this ideology, he had the idea of showing the mechanism that was happening in the shoe – the now ubiquitous Nike Air. When you know how this shoe came about, you can appreciate it more, and understand just how unbelievably groundbreaking it was over 25 years ago.

The Air Max 1 and the Pompidou Center in Paris, the museum that inspired the shoe. One of the many stories we told over four days.
The Air Max 1 and the Pompidou Center in Paris, the museum that inspired the shoe. One of the many stories we told over four days.

We wanted our festival to be full of stories like this, which is why we had things like the screening of “Just for Kicks”, which explained the sneaker story and how it exploded in the last 30 to 40 years, from Run DMC to Air Jordan to the rise and rise of retros.

The "Run DMC" wall with artwork from TboART
The “Run DMC” wall with sneaker artwork from TboART
Some old school retro Jordans mixed with some contemporary favourites
Some old school retro Jordans mixed with some contemporary favourites

Throughout the festival, we were both amazed how our audience responded and engaged with the material. For example, a few people were watching a video installation of Michael Jordan winning the 1988 slam dunk contest – the penny seemed to drop when they saw the competition-winning, from the free throw line dunk…that’s where he became an icon. That is, for me where the Jordan legacy started, and it was great because people were asking me questions, wanting to know more. That is the greatest reward for me – that our audience (“our collaborators”) left with a story to tell others. It’s always been more than the  leather, rubber, laces and glue that makes the shoes, and hopefully, if you came down, you’d see that too!

iits1

We call our audience our collaborators – if you come to one of our events, you’re more than welcome to have a drink and admire what we’ve done, but we want you to own the experience for yourself, for you to be as involved in it as we have. For you to make it what you want. Despite having some amazing art from Kicks on the Moon, Ghica Popa and Mozart Circus to name a few, we encouraged our guests to decorate a plinth with whatever they wanted that showcased their love for kicks.

Some of the "collaborator generated" art that decorated our plinth over four days
Some of the “collaborator generated” art that decorated our plinth over four days

The theme of art and collaboration was continued throughout the weekend with a sneaker arts workshop at London’s first pop up mall, Boxpark, with street artist Pins lending a hand to create some pretty awesome shoe templates. As curator of the festival I’d thought I try and see if I remembered anything from Art back in school, but then I got sitting next to one guy who produced this:

Hands up if you think Nike should actually release these?
Hands up if you think Nike should actually release these?

Yeah, maybe I should stick to writing.

We closed out the weekend with an amazing panel discussion with Dr Thomas Turner, Lemel Lindsay Prince (two of our guest bloggers), Franklin from Trainerholic and Kish Kash. We discussed a number of topics from whether there is actually such a thing as sneaker “culture”, reselling, sneakers and violence (a very very contentious issue), the reluctance of companies to stock men’s shoes in women sizes, without resorting to producing ‘girly’ colours and so much more. It was an incredible turnout!

Introducing the IITS panel (From Left to right) Dr Thomas Turner, Franklin Boateng, aka "The King of Trainers", us, Lemel Lindsay Prince and Kish Kash
Introducing the IITS panel (From Left to right) Dr Thomas Turner, Franklin Boateng, aka “The King of Trainers”, us, Lemel Lindsay Prince and Kish Kash

This festival achieved exactly what I wanted it to. I wanted people to start having a debate about sneakers, whether it’s telling (and re-telling) stories, or having conversations about the present and future of trainers. It has been so humbling for people coming up to me and telling how refreshing IITS was and how we should definitely do it again. Well, time will tell on that one.

Before I sign off, I want to once again thank everyone who made IITS what it was. It’s been a proper labour of love for me, but I’m proud and feel great that we were able to put something into the public domain which was so well received.

So many people helped us on this amazing journey!
So many people helped us on this amazing journey!

Thanks again…

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