„Some Comments on Luxury Sneaker Collabs“

A little more than a year ago, the Dior x Air Jordan 1 and adidas x Prada Superstar rollouts were aiming for serious revenue in today’s attention economy – seemingly setting a precedent for the direction „premium sneaker collaborations“ might move into. With the Dior x Air Jordan 1 topping many Sneaker of the Year lists for 2020 and making a cameo during the recent presidential inauguration via Nik Ajagu (husband of Meena Harris, Vice President Kamala Harris‘ niece), I thought I could revisit some initial thoughts I had on the collaboration and the Prada x adidas project while updating them with some more current points.

In both cases, on a surface level, we are talking about elevated interpretations of beloved and iconic silhouettes executed with a craftsmanship level that is unusual for sneaker manufacturing. That is at least what is advertised to us. An amalgamation of competences in the best case; forced and inauthentic pseudo-relevance at worst. In my opinion, both shoes can be placed somewhere in the middle of that spectrum – maybe even slightly more on the forced side. Unfortunately, they feel more like calculated memes and marketing stunts than concepts created out of a passion for the product. Naturally, these collaborations will see sequels nonetheless. According to rumors, there are at least three more colorways of the Dior Air Jordan 1s coming soon – Chicago, Royal, and All White. I know Kim Jones is a big fan of the Air Jordan 1 and Dior Homme shoe designer Thibo Denis has a great taste in sneakers as well as an incredible personal archive, but still, I can’t help but think that there was some potential left on the cutting floor. The same can be said about the quite bland Prada Superstars. In 2019 I lamented: „Will they in a similar spirit put a BOOST sole under a pair of Prada America’s Cup for Prada x adidas part two and call it a day? Let’s hope for fewer gimmicks and more substantial ideas“. And while the following A+P LUNA ROSSA 21 kind of fits that description, I have to say that it came out better than expected. A sleek adidas shape injected with some competently CRISPR-ed-in Linea Rossa DNA. It got rightfully labeled as „what the Prada x adidas collaboration should have been from the start“ across social media – a successful venture, generating cultural profit.

While accepting the contradictory premise of a countercultural mindset manifesting in a sub-culture centered around consumerism, one still has to question the substance and cultural currency of products that aim at these sub-cultures as target groups. Of course, that is quite a trivial and sentimental position to have. But to some, these things are irrationally relevant and maybe even important. That is why I hope that these two collaborations in general do not indicate a starting point of the omnipresence of unattainable „luxury“ shoes. In my opinion, there are a lot more exciting and meaningful developments unfolding in the sneaker and streetwear space. At the end of 2019, Erik Brunetti’s freedom of speech supreme court case over FUCT could have been an example. Today, one could name the increasing frequency of political positioning and education on human rights subjects. Unfortunately, it often feels like those stories get buried quite quickly in our (sneaker-focused) feeds by the new must-have shoe of the week because self-pollinating „cook-groups“ predict it will fetch thousands of dollars on the resale market.

Putting the assessment of a legitimate relevance in the grand scheme of things aside for now; if delivering high-quality executions of iconic sneaker silhouettes are the driving motivation here, Instagram is a rather inadequate tool to bring that point across I think. Both sneakers probably won’t ever be accessible for most people except you are rich (and stupid) enough to pay thousands on the resale market. As if the retail prices were not “luxurious” enough already. I guess if it was really a well-crafted product of superior quality compared to mass production sneakers and the people producing the shoes are paid fairly, these price tags could be reasonable, but how would we know? Sean Wotherspoon can rave about the quality and focus on detail in a promo video for the Dior Jordans all day, but most people won’t be able to verify these claims because they will never hold the shoes in their hands. And yes, this is the case for most highly limited sneakers these days and I get the idea of artificial scarcity and that people want what they can’t have. Nonetheless, this whole social media circus that gets initiated when brands want to create „a moment“ with its no-brainer celebrity seeding and paid content activations seems rather pointless to me. The moment I see a rapper or designer flaunting some shoes, I know I will probably not be able to get them. But to be honest, in the cases of Dior X Jordan and Prada x adidas, it does not bother me too much. I mainly miss a kind of meaningful synergy when looking at these projects. A real relationship between the collaboration partners as well as a tangible link to an interested consumer (excluding rappers and resellers). What halo effects are the brands gunning for here, other than attracting some eyeballs to their brand in a highly competitive attention economy? One has to wonder whether these collaborations are to blame in particular. Maybe they are merely a symptom illustrating all the immanently problematic elements of the concept of “luxury sneakers” and the never-ending need to outdo previous collaborative projects in terms of scale and social media engagement to the suffering of significant connection.