Shoe: Common Projects BBall High (Black/Black)

Release: Fall/Winter 2015

Price: $525, from MR PORTER

 

The “BBall High” is an Air Jordan-inspired high top basketball shoe from American-Italian design partnership Common Projects. Founded in 2004 by designers Prathan Poopat and Flavio Girolami, the brand became an it-crowd hit for its ultra-minimal take on the classic white tennis shoe, dubbed the “Achilles.” The original Achilles by Common Projects sneaker was handstitched from Nappa leather and commanded a steep price of $265 USD (~$340 in 2016). Despite the maximized bill of materials, the shoe was as pared back as a Danish architect: on release, Achilles by Common Projects were available only in white, black, and – wait for it – gray.

A selection of Common Projects shoes (photo: Justin Chung for businessoffashion.com)

A selection of Common Projects shoes (photo: Justin Chung for businessoffashion.com)

Of course, the rest is history. The shoe was an instant darling, winning orders from world-famous retailers like Opening Ceremony (New York) and Ships (Tokyo). Demand doubled every ordering season, and soon, Common Projects was a full-on production. While the Achilles remained the brand’s signature shoe, Poopat and Girolami would go on to expand their design vision to other iconic silhouettes across both athletic and casual footwear. In 2016, Common Projects produces everything from suede Chelsea boots to mesh-accented runners, every pair still handcrafted in Italy using only the finest Nappa leathers. You can probably guess what this does to the price tag.

Impressions:

The Sistine Chapel; the Pagani Huayra; Michelangelo’s David. It is a fact of life that the world’s most beautiful objects are seldom born of compromise. By sparing no expense, an artist is limited only by their devotion to excellence – materials, prototypes, even ego melt away in the pursuit of pure vision. Left standing: the ideal form made concrete, heaven itself brought to Earth for the benefit of all mankind.

Either that, or Italians just make some beautiful consumer products. Case in point: the Common Projects BBall High. If the idea of a “luxury sneaker” seems contradictory, buckle in, fuccboi.  

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

Like any self-respecting fashion dweeb, I had heard of Common Projects well before buying a pair of their shoes. As the fashion pendulum swings towards casualization and minimalism, the Achilles Low appears borderline prophetic, anticipating – some would even say creating – the industry-dominating trends we’re immersed in today. Luxury sneakers? Common Projects. White leather low tops? Common Projects. The rerelease of certain decades-old minimalist tennis shoes? Common Projects.

Short of the bedroom posters, it’s the Countach of a generation: innovative, beautiful, and prohibitively expensive.

But why go for Countach when you could have Reventon? Thanks to a friend, I had the opportunity to scoop these BBall High sneakers for below retail, and so, pounced with wild abandon. After years of hearing about the brand (including a few brief months with their website as a permanently-open Chrome tab), all it took was a try-on for me to fall in love. Simply put, they are a special, special thing.

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

First, let’s talk quality.

It’s unreal.

Good. Settled. Next.

Second, let’s talk about how exactly it feels to wear a sneaker made of materials typically reserved for the feet of Grecian shipping magnates.

It’s unbelievable.

Great. Making good progress.

Finally, we’ll discuss the experience of wearing the Common Projects Bball High.

Oh, Neptune.

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

They’re just that good. My job as a writer is to render the feelings in my synapses on to you, the audience, but between those nerves and this keyboard is the idea that these shoes are an unexplainably special thing. The craftsmanship is unrivaled – handstitched soles, hidden seams, thick Nappa leather that’s more glove than upper. Then, of course, there’s the looks: minimal branding, sharp lines, and a high-top silhouette so handsome even His Airness would approve. Covering it all, a jet black sheen that highlights retro basketball detailing without broadcasting the presence of the shoe itself.

Understated beauty rendered with uncompromising quality: the Common Project BBall High is luxury in every sense of the word.

So yeah, they’re a high-quality shoe – but even better, they’re wearable! Thanks to those aforementioned trends towards fashion casualization, I can pair my Bball Highs with everything from jeans and tees to bizcaz chinos. I’ve even worn them with shorts before. While I may prefer triple white shoes over their murdered-out cousins, dressing to these shoes has been a surprisingly enjoyable – and easy – extension of my personal style. I’ll often swap my Common Projects into simple outfits I’ve already built, letting the luxury sneakers create a new context all their own.

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

For example, I sit typing this review in a beige tee and lightwash jeans, the perfect template for a white leather sneaker. Instead, I’m wearing my Bball Highs. And you better believe they feel rad. 

That being said, there’s a tragedy to wearing something you value: by no fault of your own, objects wear out. It’s the classic eating-having cake paradigm, a feeling all too familiar to sneakerheads and pastry chefs alike. But unlike the flicker of remorse from bringing beater Vans to a tailgate, wearing the Common Projects Bball High intimately acquaints you with this ownership paradox.

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

No part of their construction screams “fragile,” but still, every wear starts to feel like mechanical depreciation. One day, you’ll wake up and realize the gold lettering doesn’t shine the same. Or perhaps you’ll get caught in an afternoon pop-up, and in the corner of the toebox, a water stain develops. Even in a vacuum, dress leather needs occasional “rest days” just to recover from the microclimates your disgusting sweaty feet create through simple walking and wear.

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo: Kristen Eisenhauer

On those beater Vans, all of the above are non-issues. On Greats Royales, they’re reasons to own leather conditioner. But on these uncommon products, these luxury leather Common Projects that cost a month’s rent at retail? They’re just enough to make you hesitate. Half the reason I’m wearing my pair today is because I had a project meeting where I knew they’d be appreciated; the other half, because my Weather app said “no rain” and today’s walk to class was a half-mile shorter than tomorrow’s.

Long story short: Common Projects Bball Highs are luxury sneakers built without compromise. They are gorgeous, tasteful, and one of the Top 3 favorite sneakers I own. Yet, like all luxury products, you do trade a non-linear amount of dollars for that last bit of aesthetic pleasure only true luxury provides. Considering the multitude of triple-black Italian leather hightops out there, forking over the $500+ retail for Common Projects can be hard to swallow. But if you have the budget, indulge your senses: the BBall High is sneaker, in ideal form.  

 

COMFORT: ★★★★★

STYLE: ★★★★★

VERSATILITY: ★★★★★

VALUE: ★★★★☆

OVERALL: ★★★★★

 

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