Saturday, April 20, 2013

Retro Vs Classics

Recently I've been dabbling in the sneaker game. Call it reliving my childhood if you will. Back in my high school days I remember seeing people with Air Jordans or Air Maxes on their feet that I couldn't afford... (I even remember about a fellow student who had his Air Maxes taken from him, straight off his feet, only to have them replaced - I'm assuming by the loaded parents - the next week) All I had were some cheap as no name brand sneakers. My first 'decent' pair was a big deal to me. It was a pair of Converse basketball shoes as worn by Magic Johnson in the 1992 Olympics. (Showing my age, am I?) It was $99.99, bought from Athlete's Foot (yes they carried basketball shoes at one stage) at the local shopping centre. And that was because I made the school basketball team, so I guess I needed something decent. $100 was a LOT of money back then for a pair of sneakers, but nowhere close to what Mr Jordan wanted for his shoes. (In hindsight I should've kept them considering the stories attached to them, even if they're extremely worn. Converse, if you're reading this- can you PLEASE retro them???)

(image courtesy of

Fast forward many years, and the sneaker industry is experiencing some kind of a revival (or so I was told). More people are wearing pricey sneakers, and more brands are getting in on the secret that Nike/Jordan had known for quite some time- Retro sneakers sell by the truckload at full retail. (For those of you not well versed in sneakerverse lingo, a retro means a reproduction of a design that was previously released, sold at stupid high prices to cash in on the hype and nostalgic factor. These are quite often lower in quality compared to the original release *debatable*, higher in price and all profit since there's no need to recoup the R&D... *ahem"

And yes I got caught up in finally able to afford what I'd wanted as a kid. And went nuts going about it.

Ah, but Retros ain't nothing new in the watch game is it? One could accuse Rolex for doing the "retro" for the past, 50 years? *cough* submariner *cough*. It's really the same watch aesthetically, released over and over again, with slight differences to differ them from the order releases just like Jordans, and the prices keep on going up and up. At least the quality has improved over the years.

There are many other brands who consistently look to their past for inspirations for their current/future models. And why is this? Is it because there's nothing new under the sun, or have we run out of creativity? Or is it because a classic design will always remain a classic? A case of "if it ain't broke don't fix it?" Well, yes and no.

Call me a cynic, but for the sneaker game, what the brands are doing right now is to cash in on the latest sneaker craze. They know retro works and now tries to cash-grab as much as they can before all the kids move on to something else. It'll happen. It's got nothing to do with classic designs. Some retro sneakers are down right ugly, but because of that nostalgic factor, or some sort of a personality/story attached to it, it sells. Nike has been pacing themselves, but then again they have a huge arsenal of backlogs to re-release and "update". Reebok, on the other hand, is seemingly releasing their whole archive in one go. I think they need the $$$. Either that or they have an extremely accurate crystal ball that tells them the retro craze will be over next year. Cuz at the rate they're releasing their back catalogue, they'll run out about then. Or they're doing what Converse is doing and just keep selling the same sneakers they have been for the past 80 years.

Reebok Shaq Attacq Retro sneakers - First released back in '92, Retroed for the first time in 2013 to cash in on the current sneaker and retro craze

Sure there is nothing wrong with a classic design that's been tried and tested and loved. But I feel that to remain a classic, improvements must be made to the product. For example, Rolex does constantly improve on the Submariner, albeit how little each improvement is. Jaeger-LeCoultre has continuously improved on their Reverso, a classic of over 80 years. If you ever get the chance to play with one from the 30s you'll realise just how much they've improved on just the swivel case. Porsche is also constantly improving their 911 Carrera, whilst retaining the classic silhouette. But if the same product is pumped out day in day out with no improvements whatsoever, that to me is just being lazy. (Converse comes to mind again with their Chuck Talyor All Stars but to be fair, it's gone from a pair of professional basketball shoes to streetwear, and they have been creative about the materials used as well as collaborations with various artists/designers to put their signature touches on a classic product.)

I love a classic as much as the next classic lover, but personally, I'd also like to see improvements made, whether it be in the materials, the production, whatever... something. As nice as a 50-year-old Porsche is, I certainly would not want to drive it everyday, and therein lies the rub.

No comments: