Viewing entries tagged
Techwear

Highsnobiety: These Were 2017's Wildest Innovations in Clothing Technology

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Highsnobiety: These Were 2017's Wildest Innovations in Clothing Technology

My latest for Highsnobiety, this time covering the craziest clothing tech innovations from the past year. From 3-D printing to the Levi’s x Google jacket, even a year without a Flyknit can still shift paradigms. Check out the full story at the link here.

 

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Highsnobiety: These 10 Brands Are Killing It On the Fabric Innovation Front

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Highsnobiety: These 10 Brands Are Killing It On the Fabric Innovation Front

My latest for Highsnobiety, talking fabric innovations and the smaller firms that power the industry's growth. Everyone knows Nike and adidas, Flyknit and Boost; now, get to know the rest. 

Read the full article at the link here.

 

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Breckenridge, CO (10/17/2017)

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Breckenridge, CO (10/17/2017)

It only took three years, but for once during undergrad, I took a proper break. 

Last week, five friends and I ventured west to the mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado, a ski resort/outdoors mecca sitting at 9,600' above sea level. It was, in every sense, breathtaking. The American West is my happy place (runner-up: the Canadian West), and after two summers of New York office work, a return to thin air and mountains was a high without compare. 

A selection of my favorite shots from the trip are below. 

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The Future is EveryWear: an interview with the team behind ONU apparel

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The Future is EveryWear: an interview with the team behind ONU apparel

Since the dawn of the “Space Race” thrust fabric research into the public consciousness, our societal vision of the future has always included high-tech clothes. From Starfleet jumpsuits to Bond’s gadget-packed suit suits, the pop culture of the time reflected one simple sartorial idea: with the right technology, your clothes could passively improve your life. To a world that was still getting over Tupperware, these dreams of lifestyle-augmenting apparel were, well, a moonshot.

In 1969, the moonshot landed. That year, the father-son team of Wilbert Lee Gore and Bob Gore heated some plastic rods, got frustrated with how slowly they were stretching, and ushered in the future. The Gore family’s invention – a waterproof membrane that could be cut and sewn as readily as a textile – laid the groundwork for some of the world’s first truly-durable waterproof garments. Now, with high-tech fabric alone, simply wearing the right clothes could improve your life. While another, arguably more famous, moonshot also landed that same year, for the world of technical apparel, the invention of GORE-TEX wasn’t just one small step – it was a leap towards the future.

Nearly five decades later, technical apparel has transformed from curiosity to expectation: “athleisure” dominates sales charts, leggings have usurped denim jeans, and running shoes carved from autonomously-woven yarns cost less than a month’s worth of your afternoon coffee breaks. Our pop culture has eagerly reflected this acceptance of high-tech clothing: from the invisible camo bodysuits of “Ghost in the Shell” to the hidden armors of “Deus Ex”, our decades-old vision of the clothes we wear granting us benefits past just avoiding a “public indecency” charge is now moving faster than ever. Last July, Thomas Moon and Paul Lee decided they could move even faster.

Through a closed-list soirée on New York’s Lower East Side, Moon and Lee launched ONU – “Clothing For People Who Do Everything.” With no official pronunciation (“It’s meant to be pronounced in any particular way that you like using sounds that are native to multiple languages”) and a devotion to making technical clothing that’s as streamlined as it is stylish, ONU is seeking what it means to be truly “adaptable.” While GORE-TEX redefined technical apparel as a genre, with ONU, Moon and Lee want to carve out a whole new category: “EveryWear,” or, high-tech clothing designed for performance, well, everywhere.

Last month, we sat down with Moon, Lee, and Justin Kim – the ONU team – to discuss their vision, their research, and why the future of apparel means not running home to change.

 

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AR: How did you get the concept for the ONU brand? How did the three of you even get together in the first place?

JK: It’s been in existence since June of last year. We launched with a small event in New York City but we have no physical location, so that event was a place for us to have an introduction to the brand.

But, it’s funny that you pronounced us as “oh-new.” [The brand] isn’t pronounced in any particular way – it’s meant to be pronounced in any particular way that you like using sounds that are native to multiple languages and cultures around the world. We are really emphasizing being a global brand that’s as international as possible.

The only way this brand could even happen is through the internet. Paul is working in conjunction with people over in Taiwan, traveling all the time, while Thomas and I are working remotely as well. We’re a “tech startup” in so many ways in addition to being a product company.

TM: When you look at a lot of brands, there’s so much “strategy” in terms of rules you have to follow that at a certain point, it’s almost redactive, right? It defeats the brand and the purpose of it. That’s one of the reasons behind that particular element with the name – we allow people to say it however they want. When we do collaborations with people who do video or photography work with us, we want to bank on their expertise. Otherwise, what’s the point in hiring someone who’s really good at their craft if you’re just going to make them do it the way you want it done. That’s not really a collaboration.

JK: Every single collection is a collaboration and a capsule collection that’s presented as such.  The first one we launched in New York, with a launch event in New York, by a designer – Diana Eng - who’s based in New York. We collaborated with her on everything from the bare ideas to the final product. Then the second collection, which was launched just end of January, was launched in Shanghai, by a designer – Christina Liao – who is based in Shanghai. It’s a very international collaboration on all levels.

 

ONU Collection 2, designed by Shanghai-based Christina Liao (photo courtesy of the brand)

ONU Collection 2, designed by Shanghai-based Christina Liao (photo courtesy of the brand)

 

Could you tell me a little bit more about your vision for ONU? That phrase you guys use – “Clothing For People Who Do Everything” – is pretty ambitious. How can technical clothing really improve our everyday lives?

JK: *laughs* Well, Paul’s wardrobe has vastly improved since we got started on this. Right, Paul?

PL: Yeah, the company was really built more out of necessity than anything. I’m a creature of comfort, and all of a sudden moved from LA (where the weather is an immaculate 72 degrees all the time) to Taiwan, where it’s not just hotter but also 90%+ humidity. The three lifestyles Justin, Thomas, and I all lead are very different, so we wanted to be able to create clothes that could fit all of our lives without being defined by them.

JK: We really consider ourselves “performers” in the sense of not only how much we travel and move around, but what we demand from our clothes. What we were looking for is something that fit everything. That includes commuting to work, living your life, and then also play afterwards.

We started by saying “work, play, and live” as the three parts of our lives where one, we need to be clothed, and two, we don’t want to change our clothes just to move within those three. If I dress in clothes that make playing basketball easier because I’m going to go shoot hoops later, then everyone is going to associate me with a certain “b-ball” look. I don’t necessarily want to be associated with a certain activity and have to plan out my day so far in advance.

Basically, we started to see clothes as a limiting factor.

Thomas’ story is very interesting in particular because he comes from the perspective of being an athlete and someone who’s like an extreme performance athlete in all regards – but he started making these clothes himself, and that’s how he fell into the fashion design space actually.

TM: Yeah! *laughs* So I used to freelance in New York for a lot of ad agencies, living every year as “hustle for six months, make my year’s salary, then leave for six months.” I would travel and run races or go rock climbing, and through that I realized I didn’t want to carry so much crap because you have so much gear as it is. I wore a lot of merino, but performance cuts aren’t the most flattering. So, I decided to take it into my own hands.

I found a place here in New York that was willing to make patterns and samples for me, and then I would contact different merino vendors from different parts of the world and ask them if they would send me fabric samples. Then, I would make stuff and test it out.

*laughs* Some of the stuff worked, and some of the stuff did NOT work. It’s a little disheartening when you’re in the middle of the jungle and your shirt starts to fall apart. But it’s your shirt, you made it!

Eventually, it got to the point where the clothes I was actually making for myself were good enough that people started asking me for them. It’s interesting – I remember talking to Ricky, the owner of Isaora [another technical apparel brand], and he was like “dude, you should get into business for yourself,” and I told him that I never would. He then told me: “This is how it always starts.”

When we talk about “Clothing For People Who Do Everything,” a lot of the brands that produce clothing that is in our space promise things from their clothing that is simply unrealistic. When people say that it’s “the best t-shirt ever,” I mean, let’s be real: there’s no such thing as “the best t-shirt ever.” All we wanted to do with ONU was apply good design to innovative materials so that when you wear your garments, regardless of what you do, they almost become invisible.

I think that alone provides an opportunity to open doors for people to do more than what they were originally thinking they were capable of. If you know your jacket is waterproof, you’re less hesitant to go out in the rain – but if you have a cotton hoodie, you know you’re gonna get soaked. It’s not just the versatility of the garments and what they’re capable of, it’s that these garments almost allow you to be versatile along with it.

JK: That doesn’t just mean “sports” either. Re-envisioning and redefining performance in everyday contexts is something that hasn’t been explored really well, and that’s a big part of what we do with each of our products.

TM: We want to make sure that our clothing is a benefit to people. If you have a jacket on and it starts to rain and your jacket is waterproof, that’s a benefit in itself because now you don’t get wet and you show up fresh to wherever you’re going. That now gives you the capacity to pack lighter and still look good. You now have one garment that can handle a variety of situations.

Returning to your point about “opening doors”, did you ever think you were going to be on the “creator” side within fashion? Were you artistic when you were younger, or was your foray into design pure necessity from which you never looked back?

TM: I guess art kinda runs in my family. We’re either artists or doctors. *laughs*

I was a designer for a long time for many ad agencies, so I guess designing apparel was never really something I thought of myself doing. But, after you get to a certain point in your design journey, [your design fundamentals are strong enough that] sure you won’t understand the nuances of a new subject, but you can self-teach yourself anything.

PL: While none of us are formally-trained in fashion, we bank on the expertise of fashion designers and fashion production houses because we do know our limitations. We look to buttress our capabilities by working every season with experts in their fields and truly collaborating with them.

And that’s how you end up with incredible pieces like the Laser Lace Shorts, for example.

TM: Exactly. I think it’s also because we have a huge capacity in terms of the technologies we have access to. A lot of the time, designers don’t get access to some of these because of the minimum orders they have to create that give larger brands those same materials. Since we’re doing smaller runs, we don’t have to worry about creating hundreds of thousands of garments, we just have to worry about creating one hundred, so let’s push it.

 

The Laser Lace Skirt from ONU's debut collection (photo courtesy of the brand)

The Laser Lace Skirt from ONU's debut collection (photo courtesy of the brand)

 

Tell me about some of those innovative technologies you have access to. What really goes into ONU clothing?

TM: Right off the bat, I think one of the biggest things is that we actually have our own R&D to make our own tech. For that first collection, we created a fabric called “Synthmere” that came exclusively from our research and development. It’s a synthetic-based cashmere which has a cashmere core wrapped around with nylon and tencel to protect the cashmere.

In the second collection, we developed the fabric that goes on the Baselayer and the Qipao dress. It’s a N66 nylon facing coated with C6 DWR, with merino wool underneath [editor’s note: this is a BFD].

Then, in the third collection, we have something very special coming out which I can tell you has microscopic jade particles in it that we’re actually developing right now. For each collection, we try to create some sort of new and innovative fabric. It’s not just about innovation in terms of the design: we want to look at the design the designers come up with and think about what’s going to be the best application in terms of the material.

Our whole process is a little bit backwards in terms of how fashion designers normally work. Typically, they’ll pick the fabrics first then create a design based on that, but we’re doing it the opposite. We want to be first be mindful of the design, then choose fabrics that make sense for it. 

That sounds so exciting - you get to push boundaries with your apparel, from both sides of the design/production equation. What energizes you the most about being in this new, young “technical apparel” segment?

TM: I think a lot of people are trying to put us in the athleisure market, but we’re more of an “innovation” company which happens to make clothing and I think that’s something that’s important for us. Down the line, hopefully those initial technologies will have been fleshed out, but we have also been contacted by our manufacturers and they are very happy to develop new technologies for us and with us based on requests that we have. It’s pretty crazy.

PL: Just seeing the eagerness of a lot of these big huge companies wanting to innovate, hitching their wagon to our vision of moving clothing forward is really exciting. I never expected it this early on.

Question for Paul and Justin: being e-commerce only, I’m getting some almost “Ghost in the Shell” vibes from all of this. There’s a connected network, international reach, and then all of a sudden, ONU will materialize for events. How did you even think up this concept for the business?

JK: We took a very intentional approach to staying out of the reseller/wholesale stockists market because we really wanted to make sure that, in the end, we could provide the best value for our customers. In the end, that’s all that keeps you coming back to a brand, right? A style can change every season for different brands, but we’re not trying to make a brand signature style. We’re creating a brand with longevity that hopefully people will keep coming back to.

*laughs* The “Ghost in the Shell” reference… that’s pretty esoteric. But also really eerie and coincidental considering how this brand came to be.

It’s the whole “Deus Ex Machina” idea of it all, right? We’ve played upon those themes quite a lot in the lifestyle photography and the writing, copy, and most recently, our second collection is very technical in nature and therefore tech-inspired. But wow – I think that’s a really good metaphor for what we’re doing.

 

 

I don’t want to push this a direction it may not be, but would you classify ONU as “techwear”? Or is it technical apparel that’s bordering that space? I know “techwear” has a certain connotation in fashion as a whole.

JK: That’s why we’re working to create our own category of “EveryWear.” Hopefully, as time progresses, that will become a coined term. You know, “athleisure” had to come from somewhere, right? It’s not just about the certain demographics that already exist – we’d rather create one.

For example, women don’t have their own techwear space really. There are a couple little pockets here and there, but we wanted to really grow that out for women with Collection 2. So, we made their stuff as dope as possible.

The Qipao dress? It’s insane.

TM: Right?! Every piece is thoughtfully designed, conceived, and has just so much going on that it’s really difficult to encapsulate the whole collection into a simple theme. I think that’s why the techwear community has been latching on to us We’ve designed things in a way that it can reference certain styles – we reference “Blade Runner” in a lot of our photography, for instance, with the neon and neo-noir themes – but it can also fit normally with someone who’s just at work.

In that way, we are trying to be versatile, truly, in the clothes themselves from a utilitarian point of view, but also versatile in style. So yeah, the visual part [of techwear] isn’t nearly as important to us.

Who – or what brands - would you say are your real contemporaries in the space? Some pieces immediately take me to Arc’teryx Veilance, then there are others like the Membrane Pullover that are perhaps more on the Stone Island side.

TM: I think we’re talking about brands that are mostly menswear. I don’t think there’s really a competitive brand on the women’s side – Lululemon Lab does some cool stuff, definitely. They do have some interesting pieces, but the composition of their textiles isn’t really anything new.

JK: We don’t see many brands really innovating with any experimental technologies as much as they are experimenting with shapes and patterns. For us, we don’t really have other brands that are precisely in our space.

For instance, you mentioned Stone Island. There’s relevance there. Of course, there’s ACRONYM, and ACG, and there’s a lot of reference there. And then there’s NikeLab, which is definitely very relevant to us. Outlier is a huge one on the men’s side. And [Arc’teryx Veilance] is close to us – Snowpeak, as well.

So, I guess it’s more like other brands that are working with some of the same technology that we’re close within the space. But style-wise? That’s a tough one, man.

PL: From the very beginning, we noticed that there was not another brand that incorporated all three as very strong pillars of their company and of their vision. We knew from the get-go that there wasn’t anyone going to be like us, particularly in the space that we wanted to create.

We pick and choose what we like in other companies, whether that’s the performance here or the aesthetic value there, and we really amalgamate that into something that’s truly our own and unique. That’s kind of been the goal.

That’s a good place to be in.

JK: But also, this is not the endgame for us. There are going to be a couple “next steps” for the company, and this [the current state of ONU apparel] is just one component of a larger company we want to build out.

 

 

So where do you see ONU in the Year 2020?

TM: (without hesitation) I see us working with KAAREM. *laughs*

We’ve got our calendar pretty tight up until then. KAAREM will be working with us in 2020 – they’re an amazing brand, I mean the way they go about creating their garments is just incredible.

JK: There’s not much we can go into about it, but it is a collaboration with another brand as opposed to a single designer. That’s the future of where we’re going. We will be expanding our business along more of the business-to-business side as well. For instance, the technologies that we develop – those fabrics like Synthmere – we’ll be able to have those available for other companies to use. We want to be able to do this R&D and not just hoard it for ourselves, but eventually be able to open it up and to share this knowledge with other brands that get into this space.

TM: Right. Because somebody might be able to do something amazing with something we created that we would never think about. It’s far from us to stop somebody from doing something super dope for people to have.

JK: I mean, that’s how we started with a lot of our stuff, too. Like those laser lace shorts that you mentioned were a great example of this: why not have the mesh pattern and it be a lace, and have that have some sort of utility to it? And then why not have it be like a skort instead of just a skirt? Taking something that already exists, flipping it, adding a unique perspective to it.

But of course, ONU’s going to push that boundary first.

TM: This is almost like our test for the people that we want to eventually release it to.

Almost like Arc’teryx and GORE-TEX Pro Shell?

JK: Exactly. We’re lucky because we don’t have to deal with the crazy minimum order quantities that big brands do – they can’t even make decisions or have access to the libraries that we do just because it’s cost-prohibitive.

TM: Yeah, it’s really cool. Sometimes, you see the stuff made and get it in hand and it’s like “oh my god, we made this!”

JK: It’s almost like, “what do we do with this?” As opposed to the designer getting a couple of swatches and being told “here, pick.”

I know the brand is still young, but to wrap it up, what’s your favorite piece that ONU has ever created?

JK: The men’s stretch shorts. I wore them all summer, literally all summer long almost every day, and they’re the best pair of shorts I’ve ever owned. The shorts are all bonded around the leg-holes so you don’t have the extra weight of the seams weighing you down. All summer, my friends were like, “are you still wearing those same shorts?”

TM: My favorite is the Merino T-Shirt from the first collection. I think that piece in itself is incredibly versatile. Being a traveler, you really can take that with you and go run through the jungle, go climbing in it, but then you can also go out to dinner because of the Bemis that’s on it. It makes it look really premium. Paul, what’s your favorite piece?

PL: It would have to be is the latest jacket we just released, both the men’s and women’s. For me, it’s a testament to where this company is going. Each collection, each item we go for is going to try to one-up the last, and the jacket really was a big step because I never expected to be able to make something so amazing, so soon in ONU’s lifetime. Being able to push that boundary – not the way that it looks, but the energy, the love that went into it – that’s what really makes it my favorite piece right now.  

 

 

Finally: unrelated, but I ask this to everyone I interview. What is your all-time favorite pair of sneakers?

TM: Nike Gyakusou Lunarspider LT 2’s, 2010. Done. That is my hands-down, favorite pair of sneakers that Gyakusou has ever produced. And they don’t even carry the Lunarspider LT 2’s anymore! They were kicked out by Nike in 2012, and it’s so annoying.

JK: *laughing* Which one of us is the designer? Take your guess.

PL: I have mine – the adidas Stan Smiths that were made with Primeknit. These were the very first sneakers I had that used that knitted woven material, and that just blew my mind. They were so much better than any other sneaker I had owned in terms of comfort, and to me, that was just an evolution of the material.

JK: And mine is really similar. Mine is the Nike Flyknit Racer. They have just been the most revolutionary shoe for me over the years. I’m a bit of a sneakerhead, and these just completely changed the game for me. I like the Oreo’s the best – they’re just super pretty. They go with everything.

 

Thank you to Justin Kim, Paul Lee, and Thomas Moon for making this interview possible. For more information about ONU, check out their website at onu.is or find the brand on Instagram @onu.is

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Shoe Review: Y-3 Sport Approach Boost (2016)

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Shoe Review: Y-3 Sport Approach Boost (2016)

Shoe: Y-3 Sport Approach Boost (Reflective-Black)

Release: April 2016

Price $455 retail ($318 on sale), from Y-3.com

 

The Sport Approach Boost is a mid-top technical runner by Y-3, the undying collaboration between German sporting giant adidas and Japanese design legend Yohji Yamamoto. Partners since 2002, Yamamoto’s work with adidas has produced some of the most iconic designer sneakers of this era – most notably, the Qasa High. While Y-3 bills itself as “designer sportswear,” the brand’s less-than-functional avant garde tailoring (and Paris Fashion Week runway shows) has traditionally signaled just which half of that equation mattered more. Champion sprinters may wear Nike’s high fashion collabs to the Olympic trials, but it’s hard to imagine those same world-class athletes competing in Qasa’s – or for that matter, one of Y-3’s garments.

Y-3's Spring/Summer 2017 show in Paris, France 

Y-3's Spring/Summer 2017 show in Paris, France 

Perhaps sensing this divergence from its sporting roots, the brand made headlines last April with a proposition as bold as its sneakers: for the first time, Y-3 would design activewear. Under the sub-brand “Y-3 Sport”, Yohji’s team would apply their design talents to clothes designed for function. The label’s tagline, “The Future of Sportswear” reflects this renewed emphasis on serving the athlete.

Initial reaction, however, was critical. On the surface, Y-3 Sport appeared tone-deaf: who would wear $300 tights to the gym, let alone buy them? Yet, as with all things Yohji, that first glance disgust would develop into can’t-look-away desire. After only two seasons on the market, Y-3 Sport is selling through online. And, as also with all things Yohji, the highlight of this Y-3 collection is the shoes.  

 

Impressions:

 

To begin, a quote:

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”

Whether he knew it or not, John Greenleaf Whittier was describing the winding saga of the adidas Ultra Boost Mid. After years of speculation, a late 2016 KITH collab unveiled the final shape of adidas’ mid-top sportswear flagship. Reactions were mixed; mine wasn’t. In my opinion, out of all the possible forms it could have taken, the amorphous hump shown to the world this December may have been, to quote Whittier, “the saddest.” KITH hype aside, the distended, bulbous, uncaged pudding loosely named “Ultra Boost” was an unfitting successor to the sleek, sexy, biomorphic runner from which it borrowed loose chromosomes.

Especially when it might have been a Sport Approach.

photo:  Derrick Lui

Simply put, this shoe – the crown jewel of the Y-3 Sport line – is the Boost shoe that Boost fans have been waiting for. Sleek silhouette? Check. Stealth fighter aesthetics? Check. Huge Boost sole? One final, luxurious check.

While I’ve intentionally watched the rise (and fall) of Boost lifestyle shoes like the NMD from the sidelines, seeing the Sport Approach Boost just once last spring was enough for me to rush the field. Well, sort of – in reality, I bookmarked the Y-3 web store and started saving my pennies. Eight months (and one 30% off sale) later, it is the first non-distance running Boost shoe I’ve ever bought.

It is also across-the-board immaculate.

photo:  Derrick Lui

First, let’s talk comfort. There’s a big ‘ol hunk of Boost foam under each foot, so I’ll take the liberty of skipping the “pillowy/cozy/like walking on clouds” redundancies and pare it back to this: the Y-3 Sport Approach Boost feels how walking should have always felt. The Boost cushion is both lavish and responsive, and with a structured Primeknit sock liner locking your ankle in, everything south of your kneecap will feel – and move – as one effortless whole. It’s pretty cool.

Second, there’s the styling. In my opinion, the Sport Approach Boost is beyond gorgeous. Starting from the top, the orthogonal bicolor Primeknit checks all the boxes – architectural, understated, and positively functional in both form (“locking your ankle in”) and material (those silver strands? 3M Reflective.)

This pattern bleeds onto the lower down the back of the shoe, adding reflective accents the length of the rear AND a tasteful transition between the busy upper and matte black lower. Notice how both materials seams and the Three Stripes branding are approximately the same angle as the strands of the knit upper? It’s the little things.

photo:  Derrick Lui

Speaking of little things, the real beauty of the Approach Boost is revealed through its details, and the way they reinterpret present concepts of shoe design. The minimalist lacing system, back/front sock tabs, and strategically-perforated upper are, in my opinion, a “future of sportswear” approach to the classic elements of a low-top mesh running shoe.

And here’s the kicker: the Approach Boost is a wearable shoe! I rock it with sweats, joggers, or shorts for more “athleisure” specific looks, but have even styled it well with pinrolled jeans and a long-sleeve tee. For some reason, the problems I had styling the Nike Lunar Flyknit Chukka (another techy mid-top – read my review here) just aren’t present here. Maybe it’s the monochrome colorway; maybe it’s Maybelline. Regardless, this is a surprisingly versatile shoe. It’s no Greats Royale-esque “daily driver,” but I’ll be damned if this shoe doesn’t give my Flyknit Racer a run for its money.    

The Y-3 Sport Approach Boost styled with Arc'teryx parka and DYNE sweats (photo:  Derrick Lui

The Y-3 Sport Approach Boost styled with Arc'teryx parka and DYNE sweats (photo: Derrick Lui

Third, the grand finale – Mr. Whittier, bring it on home.

While I love the shoe as a sum of its parts, the real X factor for me is that this is the Ultra Boost Mid that “might have been.” Like reality TV talent show winners, you love this shoe because it represents realized potential. Sure, the sticker price puts it firmly above anything sporting, but bah gawd does it belong there. There’s even a Continental road-run outsole – the same exact one from the mainline Ultra Boost! Compared to its Nike Running contemporaries (Gyakusou LunarEpic, etc.), the Sport Approach Boost has sacrificed some marathon performance for style. That being said: buy the shoe. In every single facet, the Y-3 Sport Approach Boost is the best techy mid-top that adidas Group GmbH produces right now.

photo:  Derrick Lui

The Y-3 Sport Approach Boost (reviewed here in Reflective Black) is the Jon Snow of the Ultra Boost line: handsome, hardy, and by any fair measure, the rightful successor. If this is truly “the future of sportswear,” consider me chuffed.

 

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Global Warming Is The Opposite of Fire Emoji

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Global Warming Is The Opposite of Fire Emoji

This week’s featured outfit: monochrome layers, technical sportswear, and the Y-3 Sport Approach Boost. I built this outfit entirely around the shoes, choosing DYNE’s spacer fabric sweats to play up the performance angle of the Y-3’s, then filling in the rest with whatever color-matched layers fit the weather. But, considering it’s yet another week of 45 degree sun, the term “layers” is deceivingly plural: a t-shirt under a parka is hardly the frostbitten survivalist image brought to mind by the phrase “Michigan February.”

Arc'teryx / Taobao / DYNE / Y-3 / TNF / TNF (photo:  Derrick Lui ) 

Arc'teryx / Taobao / DYNE / Y-3 / TNF / TNF (photo: Derrick Lui

As if rising sea levels and agricultural destabilization weren’t bad enough, this winter’s warped weather has hammered home global warming’s insidious threat of all: if global temperatures continue to rise, layering is over.

That’s right – over. Done. Melted away.

Arc'teryx / Taobao / DYNE / Y-3 / TNF / TNF (photo:  Derrick Lui ) 

Arc'teryx / Taobao / DYNE / Y-3 / TNF / TNF (photo: Derrick Lui

Considering how much of winter fashion layering comprises, a future defined by climate change is at risk of being supremely whack. Layering has quite literally evolved to create alphets both warm enough and #fire enough for sub-zero temperatures. Now, after 100,000 years of humans solving “these clothes aren’t warm enough” with “I’ll put other clothes on top,” the very notion of winter being significantly cold is facing extinction. With that, goes layering.

I’ll give you a second to process. If you need it, oxygen masks have deployed throughout the cabin.

Arc'teryx / Taobao / DYNE / Y-3 / TNF / TNF (photo:  Derrick Lui ) 

Arc'teryx / Taobao / DYNE / Y-3 / TNF / TNF (photo: Derrick Lui

A 2 degree rise in global temperatures doesn’t just put coral and ozone on the chopping block – more tragically, it threatens flannel and Primaloft. At sample size n = 3 (where “n” = “winters where friends have un-ironically laid out tanning”), the human race faces a statistically-significant probability of inheriting a world without casual jackets.

I shudder to think what meager remains my children’s children could flex on the ‘gram.

Arc'teryx / Taobao / DYNE / Y-3 / TNF / TNF (photo:  Derrick Lui ) 

Arc'teryx / Taobao / DYNE / Y-3 / TNF / TNF (photo: Derrick Lui

Alas, there’s an upshot: by and large, Western societies are finally realizing the effects of their destructive processes. Despite the election of some vocal climate change deniers, the needle is moving towards the majority accepting that we must change.

Facetious fashion voice aside, this is a good thing. The first step to solving any problem is group consensus that a problem exists. Together, we can make progress towards repairing the damage we caused. If we don’t, our grandkids will only experience fire layers through textbooks. So please, for the kids: watch the Thermostat. Climate change means the end of layering as we know it – and global warming is just not fire emoji.   

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New York Fashion Week: My Day Behind the Scenes

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New York Fashion Week: My Day Behind the Scenes

The following article was originally published February 4, 2017 on SHEImagazine.com.

Last week, I skipped my Social Media Marketing class to run Instagram for a brand during their New York Fashion Week debut. And that was just the beginning. Here’s what happened on the craziest, most energizing day of my life:

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6:00am: The first of five alarms rings. Although I went to bed “early” by collegiate standards, I’m waking up even earlier. Outside my window, the inky indigo predawn filters through New York skyscrapers. Inside my window, I’m scrolling through social media, clinging desperately to my consciousness and praying my eyelids stay open. The second of five alarms rings. Time to go to work.

6:30am: One final check of my bags before I jump in the shower. Packing for this trip was more actuarial than inspired, and so, my prepared checklist guides this last count while my tired brain struggles to reboot. Camera? Check. Chargers? Check. Tripod? Check. We’re in business. Clothes laid out and bags properly combed through, I can finally groom myself.

6:45am: The third of five alarms rings. I step out of the shower and get dressed, exactly on schedule. By now, at least one neuron is awake and firing, and so my mind is free to direct itself toward priorities off the checklist in my pocket. Chief among those: man am I hungry.

7:00am: I grab an omelet, coffee, and a muffin right by the 1 Train. By some pure stroke of luck, I’m running enough ahead this morning to linger over breakfast. I unset alarm #4 ahead of its trigger point, open the WSJ app, and dive into today’s events. Before long, I’ll be ripped back into reality. For now, I have warm food and the glow of my smartphone.

7:30am: The fifth of five alarms rings. In T+2, I’m waiting for a downtown 1 Train.

7:50am: Above ground on 14th Street Station. Bags in tow, this young man goes West.

7:59am: Arrive at Samsung’s 837 NYC space on Washington Street, one minute in advance of “be at the venue by 8am.” A Samsung security guard checks my name off a list and hands me a wristband. I do not, however, receive any bonus points for being early.

8:00am: Five hours ‘til showtime. I meet up with the DYNE team, receive my headset and my instructions. I’ll be running Instagram, Facebook, and Facebook Live during the show itself, but for now, I am an extra set of hands. The earpiece buzzes to life, and like that, I’m in motion.

8:15am: Task #1: set every device in the space to DYNE’s website. Armed with an NFC chip (more on this later), an hour of touch screen swipe-to-type becomes 10 minutes of “tap device, then find the next.” This is some seriously cool tech.

8:30am: I meet Nabill and Sheroid, two of the other guys helping DYNE out with the show. We shoot the shit, complain about the snow outside, then it’s back to work. Nabill and I float around with our DSLR’s, getting as much content as possible for later web use; Sheroid, a fashion designer himself, talks to the stylists to see if they need a hand. Even during this self-directed work time, the three of us are on alert for the slightest buzz of the earpiece. If God calls, we (collectively referred to as “I need somebody”) must answer. It is equal parts tense and invigorating.

9:30am: I get the Samsung devices I’ll be using to cover today’s show. Since we are in the 837 NYC space (Samsung’s gorgeous experiential retail footprint, just north of Meatpacking), anything “i” is strictly verboten. BJ, Dyne’s marketing manager, logs me into the company’s official social accounts before handing off my Galaxy. This is happening.

10:00am: I test out Facebook Live video using the Galaxy and my tripod. Live video is all about timed “fire and forget”: set up, hit play, change angles every so often. For this test, I set the camera up backstage and put 5 minutes on my watch. As the video played, I could still move around with my DSLR – or, when it came to show time, the “Instagram Live” phone currently occupying pocket #3 on my Nike ACG cargoes. I’m not sure “carry 3 phones and a mobile battery” is what Errolson had in mind when he designed these pants, but hey, if the slipper fits.

10:05am: Live test ends. Just as I move the tripod, my earpiece sparks to life: “I need someone to run and grab cases of water.”

10:10am: Nabil, Sheroid, and I are speed-walking towards Google’s algorithmic output for “grocery store near me.” Not that we’re late or anything – it just happens to be 20 degrees with reduced visibility. With Maps as our eyes and hands tucked in pockets, the 3 of us walk 6 blocks to grab 4 cases of H2O. Nabil: “At least the water will be cold when we get back.” Silver linings, indeed.

11:00am: We get back just in time to catch the 11:00 show rehearsal. Chris, Ryan, and the entire DYNE team run through technical details as the Samsung team begins prepping the venue for the real deal at 1pm. Mr. Jeremy Ellis (the beatmaker for The Roots) holds it down, mixing live in front of rows of not-yet-styled models. For a dry run, this is explosive. T-3 hours until show time.

11:15am: It’s a little after 8am on the West Coast, and DYNE’s Portland-based audience should just be settling into the morning. I fire off my first round of 3 Instagram photos – all exclusive, behind-the-scenes shots, exported from camera to Phone 2 via Nikon’s wireless utility. If the 30 foot video screen didn’t sell it, today is all about the tech. With that, phone 2 goes back into its pocket, and back comes the DSLR.

11:20am: As the models are dressed and styled, Ryan directs a lookbook shoot with a snow-covered skyline in the backdrop. From my perspective, this weather could not be better. For a technical sportswear brand launching a Fall/Winter collection, an icy cityscape as backdrop just can’t be beat.

11:50am: After half an hour of odd jobs, my earpiece is back: “Alex, meet me on first floor.” I now have a duty. Since delivery will take too long in the snow, I’m the lunch gopher. I take Jeremy’s order, turn my earpiece to high, and book it to the West Village to pick up lunch. Even 5 blocks out, my walkie-talkie is coming through loud and clear. Moe, DYNE’s master manager and all-around operations guy, calls out both a warning and a rally cry: “One hour til showtime!”

12:05pm: Juggling lunch orders and my own once-banned “i" device, I send up round 2 of behind-the-scenes photos, this time, including a callout: “Watch the show live on Instagram at 1pm EST.” One hour ‘til showtime, indeed.

12:30pm: I fist-bump Jeremy from The Roots. Intern (literally) delivers.

12:40pm: I find my checklist from earlier, grab my backpack, and start loading up for go time. Tripod? Check. Mobile batteries? Check. Phone? Check. Phone? Check. You get the idea. Everywhere backstage, both models and DYNE staff are loading up devices with the NFC (or, Near-Field Communication) tech at work.

In short: the NFC chip in each DYNE garment pushes a signal to your phone that activates a web experience, tailored specifically to the item you’re wearing. Unlike Bluetooth, NFC doesn’t require you to “buy in” to a battery-wasting signal, either – just placing your phone on your clothing’s chip activates the mobile experience for each. For a running jacket, the NFC experience may be local weather radar and a curated workout playlist. For others, it may literally drag you through a Flux Capacitor into a shiny, technocratic future – at least, that’s how it feels.  

12:45pm: BJ, Moe, and I touch base on expectations for coverage as models, stylists, and 100 other moving parts swirl around the whole of backstage. Eugene Tong (THE Eugene Tong) rushes by, while Chris gives everything a final nod. The energy is intoxicating, and best measured in kilotons.

Camera on neck and gear in hand, I head down to the stage to set up angles. On my way from third floor to first, I catch a glimpse of the Fashion Week crowd lined up outside. Even with the storm, dozens have come early to be the first to experience DYNE. Exhale, dude. This is it.

12:50pm: “Ten minutes, people. Ten minutes.”

12:55pm: Models are in place. Jeremy Ellis is in place. I’m in place. Blue lights glow; orange lights burn; a thirty-foot video screen blasts video of DYNE in action. I set up the Facebook Live phone on the tripod stage left, the IG Live phone stage right, and take some test shots with the DSLR. Then, for the first time today, I simply sit and wait. In five minutes, this will all take place.

12:59.99pm EST: “Showtime.”

1:00pm: And we’re live.

1:10pm: Switch angles.

1:20pm: Switch angles.

1:30pm: Switch angles.

1:40pm: Walk the floor with the Instagram Live phone. I’m having the best problem I’ve had all day: there are too many people here to get the phone close enough to the models for full-portrait coverage.

Ryan Babenzien sticks me on his IG story, and for a brief moment, the world sees Instagram Liveception. Front and center: my exhausted grin and messy hair. After a 6am wakeup, there are many reasons to be thankful I’m behind the camera.

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2:00pm: “That’s a wrap. Great work, everyone.”

DSC_0599.jpg

Chris takes a bow, joined by his wife and family. Kayt, BJ, Moe, Ryan, and the rest of the DYNE team surround him from just off-stage. From my view in the pit, today was pure adrenaline; for them, the people who made on stage possible, it was so much more. Months of work, hours of prep, and one final sensory overload: world, meet DYNE F/W 17.

2:01pm: I fire off one final round of Instagram posts, and can't help but start smiling.

Photo: Nabil Miftahi ( @nvbilll )

Photo: Nabil Miftahi (@nvbilll)

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I haven’t stopped since.  

 

Special thanks to Chris, BJ, Moe, Kayt, and the entire DYNE team for inviting me out. I was not paid to be there - I volunteered my time and paid my own way to support a brand I believe is the future of sportswear. The memories, however, came free of charge.

 

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Ask Me About My Weatherproofing

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Ask Me About My Weatherproofing

This week’s featured outfit: layers, coatings, and the Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto. I spent a day last week poking around some underground spots on my campus, then went straight outside into freezing temps without even shedding a layer. Versatile? It’s no Jabrill, but it’s close.

Thrift / Arc'teryx / The North Face / Nike ACG / Nike x ACRNM 

Thrift / Arc'teryx / The North Face / Nike ACG / Nike x ACRNM 

With my techwear wardrobe finally on solid footing, dressing my favorite winter style has never come so easily. When storm clouds gather, I now have an arsenal of pieces ready to mix and match – a veritable technical cocoon, no matter the conditions.

Now if only someone would ask me about my weatherproofing.

Just once. Something simple, like “why is the rain beading up on your pants?” or “are you dressed in all black so snowflakes won’t see you?” Questions like these aren’t just natural human interest – they’re borderline polite.

Imagine the scenario: us at a bus stop. You, dressed reasonably; me, a walking shadow with neon ninja slippers. For our purposes, this bus stop has no cover. It is a pole in the ground.

Nike x ACRNM Air Presto Mid

Nike x ACRNM Air Presto Mid

Also, there’s a blizzard.

In this realistic and easily-envisioned case, I am unfazed by the elements. Behind layers of DWR and down insulation, not even the Lake Effect could – well, faze me. Snow cascades off; water beads up; the wind itself whispers “hard pass.”

Thrift / Arc'teryx / The North Face / Nike ACG / Nike x ACRNM

Thrift / Arc'teryx / The North Face / Nike ACG / Nike x ACRNM

Would you not be even the slightest bit curious?

I like to think we all would be. Next time you’re waiting for public transit (or wading through a Polar Vortex) and see someone dressed in techwear, just ask them one simple question: “How weatherproof are you, bro?”

The answer: never too impermeable for a new friend.  

 

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The End of Streetwear

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The End of Streetwear

In 1989, cool opened for business.

That year, James Jebbia established Union NYC, a Spring St retailer that would go on to become America’s first-ever “streetwear” boutique. If that name sounds familiar at all, it should: in the nearly thirty years since, Jebbia’s vision of culturally-fluent, skate-influenced cool has colonized the world.

To see this takeover in action, look no further than this January’s fashion season. Former tee designers command their own runway shows. Luxury brands walk models in knock-off Adidas. From backstage to the front row, everywhere an omnipresent rectangle bearing the label Jebbia himself founded: Supreme.

A bag from the forthcoming Supreme x Louis Vuitton collection unveiled at Paris Fashion Week 2017 ( source ) 

A bag from the forthcoming Supreme x Louis Vuitton collection unveiled at Paris Fashion Week 2017 (source

In less than three decades, a fashion movement defined by its countercultural authenticity has become the world’s favorite way to dress.

No wonder it’s coming to an end.

In short: due to a recent mass normalization and the steady march of the trend cycle, streetwear’s time as cool kid genre du jour is almost up. In long: well, let’s go back to Spring St.

When Union, Stussy NY (1991), and Supreme (1994) opened around early 90’s New York, skateboarding wasn’t just a cool thing – it was the cool thing. At that time, skating (a trend straight from the sunbleached sidewalks of Los Angeles, CA) was neither widely understood nor widely legal. It also was – and still is – pretty dangerous.

The same applies for these skate brands’ tangential influences (ex. rap music, sneaker culture, experimental art). Thanks to their associations with these unfamiliar-yet-appealing cultures, Union, Supreme, and Stussy were – well, cool.

A Stussy ad from the Feb 1992 edition of Thrasher Magazine - the skateboard mag, not the sweatshirt ( source )

A Stussy ad from the Feb 1992 edition of Thrasher Magazine - the skateboard mag, not the sweatshirt (source)

While there is no dictionary definition of “cool”, the emergence of appealing cultural trends throughout history is often correlated with their danger, their nonchalance, and their perceived inaccessibility, culminating in a popular “romanticizing” of the behavior.

Punk rock, underage drinking, hell, even extreme planking: if it’s edgy, effortless, and somewhat difficult to access, people (especially a subset of important people called “early adopters” – more on them later) eat that shit up.

The same holds true for fashion, but with one important caveat: because wearing clothes is passive (compared to moshing at a rock show), “cool” fashion is often born from association. Cool clothes, therefore, are those that signal all things edgy, effortless, and inaccessible – think moto jackets, concert tees, and the persistent appeal of military surplus gear.

Here’s where those “early adopters” come in.

A vintage photo of a New York skateboarding crew, from the book "Full Bleed" ( source )

A vintage photo of a New York skateboarding crew, from the book "Full Bleed" (source)

Early adopters are novelty-seekers that also tend to be highly visible within their respective networks. This small subset doesn’t just embrace new things (which, due to their unfamiliarity, happen to often be edgy and difficult to access); it also promotes them.

Because of their network visibility, early adopters are essential to a trend’s mass adoption. If enough early adopters align with a cool new thing’s values, their visible consumption of – and association with - it will provide a bridge between the small group of “innovators” that created a trend and the “majority” (i.e. everyone outside downtown Manhattan, from Midtown to the Midwest).

For a trend to hit critical mass and really take off, early adopters must align with it. If they don’t, the trend crashes and burns. 

The reasons and process behind something becoming “cool” work just as certainly in reverse. The surest way for a trend (especially a fashion trend) to become uncool is to make it the opposite of what drew early adopters to it in the first place: normalize its originality, make it accessible or *gasp* associate it with try-hards.

 

 

The upshot: once that adopter-to-majority transition takes place, a trend is bound to become uncool.

While “coolness” is a human invention, as more and more people consume a trend (i.e. eat that shit up), mass normalization naturally occurs. Whether you’re looking at Rogers’ diffusion curve or the 20-year cycle of fashion revivals, all trends must eventually die.

This is a universal process within fashion. Think the rise and fall of prep brands in the early 1990’s: within two decades, Polo goes from crime-worthy desirable luxury to suburban curiosity. Ditto for Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Lacoste, and Izod. Ashes to ashes; wavy to herb.

However, what’s really interesting is the point where the decline begins. Trends peak when they become saturated in the eyes of the early adopters that powered their rise. Once enough people outside the trend’s original circle are on board, it’s all downhill from there. By definition, something a majority of people know about isn’t edgy or inaccessible. The perception that the trend is normalized, then, is actually well along that formerly-cool thing’s descent.

Which brings us to the present:

Streetwear – the fashion genre that emerged as edgy, inaccessible, and effortlessly counter-cultural close to thirty years ago – has been normalized. In 2017, we are rapidly approaching the end of streetwear.

Examples like this year’s fashion season indicate saturation within a trend’s original environment, but for more graphic illustrations of streetwear’s normalization to the majority, just look around.

Store lineups make major national newspapers. Mid-tier department stores like Lord & Taylor spend millions to merchandise “street style.” Luxury fashion lines fetishize streetwear tropes (ex. Vetements (pictured above); Balenciaga’s Resort 17 dad caps) to buff their margins.

Supreme sold a branded brick.

Yet even that wasn't streetwear's fever point.

Most notoriously of all, as Beckham is to “soccer” and Deadmau5 is to “techno”, the Yeezy 350 Boost (that co-signed Roshe Run trapped in an asset bubble that would make a Dutch tulip quiver) has transcended its context to become synonymous with “cool sneakers.” World-spanning markets have developed just to sell its fakes.

 

In 2017, streetwear lies entirely divorced from the edgy, exclusive, counter-cultural cool that propelled it to fame. Its wearers are no longer SoHo street skaters, or even the early adopters (names like Mac Miller, Aaron Bondaroff, and Wil Whitney) that powered its ascent. Instead, because of its mass awareness as a "cool" clothing trend, streetwear’s present consumers are typically nouveau riche, status-seeking, and far removed from the original context in which the clothes were created: the very opposite of its roots.

Edgy? Not anymore. Even attempts to regain early streetwear’s provocative nature (ex. the Supreme FW15 “Hentai” hoodies) end up fetishized and resold à la Beanie Babies.

Inaccessible? Not anymore. While a select few “grail” items (ex. Yeezy Boosts) sell out in seconds, entire lines and collections of ancillary products just… sit. For a particularly vivid example, go to any mall shoe store in America: after two knockout launches of earlier models, adidas’ new UltraBoost 3.0 stagnates.

Effortless? Not even remotely. Short of personal connections at a Tier Zero retailer, dressing in hyped streetwear now requires objective wealth, hours of research, and online treasure hunts on resale sites like Grailed or eBay.

 

The face of resell: a  Grailed.com  search for "Supreme" as of 10:00pm, 1/18/2017. That thermos? Retail: $32. Seller asking: $110.

The face of resell: a Grailed.com search for "Supreme" as of 10:00pm, 1/18/2017. That thermos? Retail: $32. Seller asking: $110.

 

A 17-year old in Wayne County, New Jersey browsing Grailed to cop a botted Supreme hoodie at resell may live mere miles from Spring St, but in reality, inhabits a whole different world. Streetwear has become, in effect, a costume – superfluous, artificial, and wearable.

And costumes just aren’t cool.

A still from a YouTube recap of the line for the first SS16 drop from London-based skate brand "Palace." (source) 

A still from a YouTube recap of the line for the first SS16 drop from London-based skate brand "Palace." (source) 

My prediction: streetwear as we know it today won’t survive the decade. Nike, adidas, and Supreme will still be around in some way, shape, or form, but much of the culture that has sprung up in their wake - industrialized sneaker resell, ‘Gram-driven flex brands, BigCartel shops - will either wither on the vine or change so much as to be unrecognizable.

What, then, will take its place?

My guess: techwear.

Photo courtesy of Harry Whinn (@genuwhinn) 

Photo courtesy of Harry Whinn (@genuwhinn) 

All black GORE-TEX, “tactical” accessories, and an obsession with function lead your “top of the bell curve” citizen to assume the person wearing a $2000 ACRONYM jacket is either a) a terrorist or b) delusional. Given our current politics, it’s hard to get more edgy and countercultural than “suspected militant.”

Photo courtesy Keith Tio ( @keithtio )

Photo courtesy Keith Tio (@keithtio)

Funny enough, this same line of thinking is how the MA-1 bomber jacket (a garment with cultural roots in the skinhead movement) and the traditional leather moto jacket (replace “skinhead” with “biker gangs”) arguably gained a foothold: the fashion crowd saw them and yes, liked the looks, but loved the dangerous connotation. Remember: trends are edgy, effortless, and inaccessible, but fashion trends must prove those characteristics through association

In my opinion, techwear has all the marks of early-stage streetwear: unfamiliar looks, counterculture association, and wink-nod secret meaning to anyone cool enough to recognize that your $400 Stone Island Shadow pants aren’t just BDU’s in disguise.

Photo courtesy of Jah Eel ( @jah_eel )

Photo courtesy of Jah Eel (@jah_eel)

Sprinkle in the fact that techwear is prohibitively expensive without much in the way of brand recognition to supply a social proof purchase motive, and you get the perfect conditions for a new edgy, counterculture trend.

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While it’s impossible to tell exactly what the future holds, one thing’s for certain: nothing is timeless.

In late December, I met a friend for coffee at the La Colombe on Lafayette Street, New York, New York - in the shadow of the New York Supreme store. He had just given away his collection of vintage Supreme tees, and sounded almost wistful as he described handing them over to friends who cared only about the label. After all, he had grown up going to Supreme – he knew the employees, lined up for clothes, and had even sold skateboards that the store carried over a decade ago.

As we sipped espresso, we watched a hundreds-deep line of children and their parents (tourists, judging by their accents) shuffle into the store. Group-by-group, they came – bored parents, pleading teenagers, each seemingly obligated to be there.

The kids, driven by their Instagram feeds and the trappings of hype culture, were on the #fashion equivalent of a hajj. The parents, driven by protectionary biologic cues, were there to make sure their young children didn’t end up Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

Simply put: it wasn’t cool.

Yet, there we were. On the doorstep of the world’s hottest brand, my friend and I watched Beanie Babies craze pt. II unfold with no end in sight. The coffee was bitter, but I sat complacent. The December sun was setting over Lafayette St. Every dog has his day.

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What do you think? Is this really the end of "streetwear" as a cultural trend? Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page here to start the conversation. Also, if you enjoy insights like these, please consider signing up for my weekly newsletter here!

 

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The 5 Sneakers that Shaped 2016

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The 5 Sneakers that Shaped 2016

This article was originally published in the December 2016 "Essentials" issue of SHIFT Magazine. See the magazine spread here.

Thanks to decades of fashion casualization, athletic shoes now occupy a proper spot in the pantheon of footwear. What started decades ago with canvas sports shoes like the original Converse Chuck Taylor has blossomed into an industry projected to be worth more than $84 billion by 2018. From humble roots, sneakers have evolved: designer collabs, fashion week shows, and even self-lacing trainers are all a part of today’s sneaker ecosystem. Here are our picks for the 5 pairs that defined one of the most exciting years in the history of sneakers.

 

1. Nike Mag “2016”

The granddaddy of them all. In 2011, the Portland-based athletic brand released 1500 pairs of Nike Mags (the iconic “future shoe” from the 1989 film Back to the Future II) through eBay auctions, with all proceeds benefitting the Michael J. Fox foundation. Other than a lack of space age “auto-lacing,” the 2011 Mag’s were a 1:1 copy. Even at open auction, bidders paid close to $3800 per pair just to score Mags.

Four years later, as the world celebrated “Back to the Future Day” on October 21, 2015, Nike tweeted one of the most cryptic lines in sneaker history. The Mag was back.

The very next day, actor Michael J. Fox (who played Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies) took to late-night shoes to show off his 1/1 auto-lacing mags. Meanwhile, sneakerheads worldwide prepared to take out mortgages (and kidneys) for the cash to cop. Then… they waited.

After a year of anticipation, the Swoosh broke the silence: the future was now. On October 4, 2016, the first genuine Nike Mags were released. While only 100 of the auto-lacing pairs exist, the paradigm-shifting tech (and eye-watering price tag) make this limited shoe the most influential sneaker of 2016.

 

2. Adidas NMD R1 “Glitch Camo”

  source

 

The Rookie of the Year. When adidas released the original NMD Runner in December 2015, the sneaker world took notice. Here was the answer to everyone’s prayers: boost tech and Primeknit on a lifestyle shoe that wasn’t just another Yeezy? Hallelujah.

Couple that with a price tag just under the Ultra Boost’s, and adidas Orginials had the recipe for a future classic. As long as they wrapped it in the right colors, of course.

As the first NMD release after the 2015 launch, the “Glitch Camo” colorway had big shoes to fill. If the shoe succeeded, it paved the way for future NMD success. However, if pairs sat – or worse, hit clearance – it could mean the end for what promised to be the year’s most exciting lifestyle silhouette. Long story short: sneakerheads camped, “Glitch Camo” sold out nationwide, and the rest is history. Thanks to the good looks of the “Glitch Camo” R1, the adidas NMD began its meteoric rise to fame.  

 

3. Yeezy 750 “Grey/Gum”

The wave. If 2015 was the Year of Yeezy, 2016 was the start of a dynasty. Within a few short months, the world got a studio album, two fashion shows, global pop-up stores – oh yeah, plus the Saint Pablo tour. Anything with a Kanye co-sign turned to gold, or at the very least, more headlines than one could count. By the time this third colorway of Kanye’s adidas-produced signature shoe dropped in June, both streetwear blogs and the press at large seemed poised for peak Yeezy.

In many ways, the 750 Grey/Gum is both hyped sneaker and cultural token. To those outside sneaker circles, the shoe’s distinctive colorway, celebrity association, and mythical stature (sold out in seconds, resold for 500% MSRP) identify this prototypical “Yeezy” as culturally transcendental. As Beckham is to soccer and Deadmau5 is to techno, so is the Yeezy 750 to everything sneakers. Love it or hate it, the Yeezy 750 Grey/Gum had an impact.

 

4. Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto “Neon”

The underdog. From streetwear blogs to Barron’s magazine, this year’s headlines seemed to spell doom for the Swoosh. As the press fixated on a revived adidas (NMD, Yeezy) and a resurgent Under Armour (UAS, Curry), Nike appeared to be treading water. Even a new Lebron shoe and a fresh round of Riccardo Tisci collabs couldn’t catapult America’s largest athletic apparel brand back into the limelight. Then along came ACRONYM.

In late spring, images leaked of a rumored Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto collab. The first shoe shown to blogs had all the classic ACRONYM trappings (zippers, snap closures, innovative materials), and generated excitement due to its avant-garde silhouette alone. Rumors swirled about possible other ACRONYM-typical colorways – black? Black on black? – and excitement surrounding the shoe slowly grew. Then, around mid-summer, another round of photos leaked, showing off all 3 colorways of the now-confirmed sneaker.

In the middle of two variations of olive-on-black Prestos sat the wildest shoe of 2016: a neon pink, highlighter yellow biomorphic ninja slipper. Suddenly, Nike was back in the headlines. The “Neon” Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto may just be the comeback story this year needed. Check out more about the shoe from this blog here.

 

5. Ronnie Fieg x A Bathing Ape Fiegsta “Sand” 

The connoisseur’s choice. While the rest of the world chased Yeezy Boosts and Nike MAG’s, two of the shoe game’s founding influences collaborated on the year’s most wearable luxury sneaker. To augment the launch of KITH NYC, his New York-based store-turned-brand’s first fashion collection, the legendary Ronnie Fieg partnered with Japanese streetwear hallmark A Bathing Ape on this handmade suede version of the latter’s celebrated “Bapesta” shoe.

Dubbed the “Fiegsta” (for obvious reasons), the shoe launched in early September to critical acclaim, and more importantly, ravenous demand. To those in the know, the reason was obvious: Fieg is one of the world’s foremost sneaker designers; BAPE, perhaps the most influential streetwear brand in history. The two collaborating was a Voltron of cultural gods not seen since Murakami x Vuitton. Fans recognized the significance of Fieg’s work with BAPE, causing the shoe to sell out instantly even at a staggering $300 MSRP.    

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Do you agree with the choices? Anything I missed? Comment below or on Facebook here.

 

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The Sweatshirt from Planet X

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The Sweatshirt from Planet X

This week's featured outfit: technology meets sportswear for a conventional look that's anything but. As both design geek and novelty-seeking missile, I'm drawn to the quiet brilliance of reworked staple pieces. While cotton and wool on classic shapes certainly look great, a slew of materials science has made old-school materials more anachronism than utility. Now, thanks to some truly-innovative designers in the sportswear and outdoors industries, the silhouettes of the past meet the fabrics of the future in a brilliant, understated way. 

Arc'teryx / DYNE / Uniqlo / Uniqlo / Nike / The North Face (photo:  Christina Oh )

Arc'teryx / DYNE / Uniqlo / Uniqlo / Nike / The North Face (photo: Christina Oh)

Starting from the top, there's the jacket: this Arc'teryx Commuter Hardshell is modeled after the zip-up cotton Harrington jackets of yore, but a GORE-TEX construction (and movement-friendly design) takes the silhouette to a new plane of function. The gorgeous, neutral "Chalk Stone" shown here is from Arc'teryx 24's Spring 2015 collection. Even after a year of use and abuse, the jacket has held up beautifully.

Arc'teryx / DYNE / Uniqlo / Uniqlo / Nike / The North Face (photo:  Christina Oh )

Arc'teryx / DYNE / Uniqlo / Uniqlo / Nike / The North Face (photo: Christina Oh)

For some under-shell insulation, I threw on the DYNE Heritage Mega Crew. Crafted from DYNE's water-resistant "Mega" spacer fabric, the whole package weighs less than half a pound yet keeps you toasty regardless of condition. Think down coat levels of warmth:weight, but without the "puffer" look. Then, there's that electric blue: fluorescent, hi-viz, straight from a Cosmonaut style guide. Package that all in a classic athletic sweatshirt silhouette, and this midlayer becomes borderline space age. 

Arc'teryx / DYNE / Uniqlo / Uniqlo / Nike / The North Face (photo:  Christina Oh )

Arc'teryx / DYNE / Uniqlo / Uniqlo / Nike / The North Face (photo: Christina Oh)

Rounding out this old-meets-new collection are the Nike Lunar Flyknit Chukkas. Lunar Flyknit Chukkas are a heritage desert boot silhouette, built from everything but: Flyknit, Lunar EVA foam, and high-tension Flywire collide to bring performance running features to a distinctly-casual shoe. Draped in this speckled blue/platinum colorway, the Lunar Flyknit Chukkas represent the best that Nike's lifestyle-focused Sportswear division has to offer.

Arc'teryx / DYNE / Uniqlo / Uniqlo / Nike / The North Face (photo:  Christina Oh )

Arc'teryx / DYNE / Uniqlo / Uniqlo / Nike / The North Face (photo: Christina Oh)

Innovation doesn't always mean moonshots - often, true change comes from incremental updates rather than blue-sky daydreams. The Sweatshirt from Planet XCleared for liftoff.

 

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Self-Loathing Ninja Slippers

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Self-Loathing Ninja Slippers

This week's featured outfit: technical athleisure and the Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto. I pared down the rest of the look to draw attention to the shoes, but made sure to choose pieces with tech detailing (minimal branding, matte neutrals, synthetic fabrics) to play up the context created by the ultra-functional Prestos. The result is somewhere between Arc'teryx and Nike Pro Combat: functional credo, fashion execution, and overall one of my favorite new looks. 

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

The techwear nerd in me wants to use these DYNE Tech Chinos as a foundation to go full GORE-TEX ninja, but every ounce of that Deus Ex internal monologue ends the moment I look down.

I'll put it bluntly: for ninja shoes, the ACRONYM Presto is awful at not being seen. 

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

That's not a bad thing - I actually think the "Neon" colorway rocks. Of this season's three Nike x ACRONYM colorways, this one is undoubtedly the icon. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's objectively one of the strongest Presto colorways ever dropped. Ever since Common Projects started the #whitesneakertrend close to a decade ago, there's been a disturbing lack of risktaking in footwear. Most major collabs are now popular silhouettes decked out in Switzerland-level neutrals, then labeled as valuable due to a "limited release" rather than deriving value from their design merits alone.

Egregious examples include the Livestock Samba, which is - wait for it - a black adidas Samba.

In this context, the Nike x ACRONYM Presto is a breath of fresh air: bold, daring, and still supremely wearable. Paired with these DYNE Linus Sweats, it's a tech-inspired casual shoe rather than a Blade Runner prop. That being said, the shoe sings against all black: the iridescent contrast colors shine like a solar flare against skin-covering neutral pieces, and with a plethora of white/black details to break up the lava lamp toebox, look like deliberate complements rather than a gasoline spill. In short: they look sweet. 

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Which is good. Since you'll be seeing them a lot. 

Seriously. Dressing in all black then strapping into biomorphic mid-tops does feel unquestionably cool, but every now and again, you catch a flash of pink/yellow as you reach down to check your texts. In these brief moments, you grapple regret: the realization sinks in that the limited release you proxy shipped from Germany is a triathlete nun away from Nike's UNLIMITED colorway, and suddenly, you're just a nerdy dude who bought zip-up ninja shoes.

Limited edition zip-up shoes. 

That are visible at night.

You're just a nerdy dude who bought useless ninja shoes.

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

But hey, once the self-loathing subsides, you've got a Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto! And that's not nothing. In fact, in a year saturated by Yeezy drops and yet another "luxury" Air Max, it's one of the best sneaker releases of 2016. Stay tuned for a full review coming soon. But until then, thanks for reading.