What your sneakers say about you

Now the Adidas I own for a man is rare

Myself, homeboy has 50 pairs

I have blue and black, because I like to relax

And yellow and green when it’s time to get sick

I have a pair that I wear when I play ball

With the heel in, make me ten feet tall – Running DMC, My Adidas (1986)

Boxfresh or scuffed in combat; on the court, the catwalk, or at the club or convenience store – sneakers (or sneakers, or sneakers, or whatever you call them) seem to embrace all shapes, functions and fancies – across sport, fashion , art, movies and music. For several decades, sneakers have sealed their status as the currency of pop culture. In 1986, New York hip hop legends Run DMC created a groundbreaking anthem (and $ 1.6 million brand support deal) with their hit track My Adidas – and globally, the sneaker’s statements and serenades have gone on intensely and swiftly ever since, whether it’s Dr Dre flaunting his pristine Nike Air Force 1 stash, or the recent controversial / collectible “Satan Shoes” from Lil Nas X. The Design Museum of London also devoted its last exhibition, Unboxed sneakers: from the studio to the street, to the shoe phenomenon.

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“What attracted me was telling the story of sneakers in a design context, because they are ubiquitous everyday objects that have taken on such great significance in the lives of many people,” explains Ligaya Salazar, the curator of Sneakers Unboxed. Salazar’s background in fashion and art, and time spent playing semi-professional basketball as a teenager, echo the multi-level overview of the show; the theme is treated with clinical precision (one of the opening exhibits dissects “the anatomy of a sneaker”), but also in a way that offers a vital emotional boost. Many of his defining images come from black street scenes and cultural innovations; the show features Martha Cooper’s vivid early 1980s photographs of New York breakdancers sporting the rugged Puma Clydes; Elsewhere, Grace Ladoja’s 2015 doc short Air Max – The Uniform explores the favorite shoes of the London grime scene.

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