Air Force 1, Air Jordan, Converse. You can see them on anyone's feet. But what makes a mass product - the icon of consumerism - an exclusive object? Industry experts confirm that there is a boom in sports memorabilia and collectible sneakers, especially if worn by sports stars or at historical events. A multi billion-dollar global market, destined to grow exponentially in the next decade, which has matured above all with the pandemic and has won over the Millennials in particular. A phenomenon that has even generated a veritable class of conscious consumer enthusiasts, a community of amateurs: the sneakerheads.
There's a boom in sports memorabilia and collectible sneakers, especially if worn by sports stars or at historic events
Following a vertically rising trend, the biggest auction houses are gearing up to ride the wave. Just a few months ago, Christie's launched a new department (Department X) to capitalize on one of the most promising new market segments. Like the Renaissance or Modern&Contemporary Art departments, this department will hold online auctions, with live previews in New York and private sales throughout the year. Even Heritage Auctions, the Texan house with headquarters in Dallas, counted among the top five in the world, has declared its intention to invest new resources in the sector.
Meanwhile, just recently Sotheby's announced that it is the first auction house to exhibit sneakers in the Middle East, in Dubai to be precise, with an unmissable proposal for an increasingly sensitive public even in the Gulf: the Dynasty Collection, with shoes that Michael Jordan wore to rack up the legendary six victories that went down in the history of the NBA championship in the 1990s. In short, it's sneaker-mania. A trend that combines status symbol, individual history (of great champions) and social significance. In fact, the sneakers embody the spirit of rebellion brought onto the pitch by the historic red and black Air Ship, which broke the color code established by the NBA regulation on uniforms and footwear. They fined the shoes but Nike believed in the player (none other than Jordan) and the product, choosing to pay all the fines for every game he played just to keep the model on the court. The success was amazing.
And sneakers also embody social redemption, as narrated by the rise of Hip Hop, a veritable cultural movement that from the late 1960s channeled the anger of the black American population of the Bronx, a rough neighborhood on the outskirts of New York, where it all started. In 1986, hip hop group Run-DMC launched the laceless Adidas Superstar, an explicit reference to prison life, where shoelaces were forbidden to prevent self-harm.
Sneakers also embody social redemption, as narrated by the rise of Hip Hop
Their blatant embrace of black street culture earned the group a brand endorsement deal and a place in music and fashion history.
Because it’s also about that, too. Of social and cultural phenomena that have marked the history of clothing. Veritable tsunamis, like that unusual syncretism between haute couture and streetwear that arose between the two centuries, involving various talents and big names in design. Such as Virgil Abloh with his Nike Air Force 1, made by Louis Vuitton in Fiesso d'Artico in Italy, the first to manufacture them outside a Nike Factory.
Forty years after they first came out in 1982, Abloh, the American creative genius of Ghanaian origin, former artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear ready-to-wear line, reinvented the iconic sneaker for the French fashion house, designing just 47 bespoke pairs.
Like Virgil Abloh with his Nike Air Force 1, made by Louis Vuitton in Fiesso d'Artico in Italy, the first to manufacture them outside a Nike Factory
Each pair of shoes was made with materials and fabrics selected by Abloh himself and sourced from the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2022 menswear show, meaningfully entitled ‘Virgil Was Here’. In fact, the designer passed away aged just forty in 2021 and the footwear were released after his death. Well, in an auction that ended on December 8, one pair of those sneakers fetched around $7,000.
In short, it's a short step from collecting to investing, and mixing high and low - so to speak - sacred and profane is fun; a small concession to creativity that breaks the routine. But recent history tells us that there is a great deal of meaning behind a custom that is by now well-established. Come to think of it, dressing down an elegant outfit with sneakers is not such a trivial gesture after all.
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