There's just a few weeks left to explore Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street at HOTA Gallery. This captivating exhibition delves into the footwear phenomenon that's challenged performance design, inspired subcultures, and shaken the world of fashion.
We talked with exhibition curator, Ligaya Salazar, to learn about the process of organising hundreds of sneakers and to uncover the fascinating stories behind them.
Curator, Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street
How did you bring Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street to life?
As the exhibition was originally curated for the Design Museum in London, it features both the cultural history and the design history of sports footwear. The first section foregrounds the most influential cultural moments and movements that have and continue to fuel the desire, admiration and application of sports footwear. This part is all about the reasons why sneakers have become such a ubiquitous staple in almost everyone's wardrobe. The second section of the exhibition starts with the advent of rubber being applied to footwear and tracks the continuous evolution of sports footwear functions through design concerns. The integration of new ideas, new materials and the ambitions to continue creating a better athletic outcome for the wearer.
The exhibition has hundreds of sneakers. How do you go about organising such a diverse collection?
As I was developing the sections, the key models we identified to tell the stories were added to a long list from which we started sourcing. First, through the brand archives and key collections that hold footwear in the UK and then through a network of collectors. This continued throughout the tour as private collectors often prefer to retain their objects in the country they live in. Other parts of the exhibition, such as the films and photography were also considered early on to allow for a more varied visitor experience of the story of sneakers.
What fascinating stories did you discover while curating this exhibition?
There are hundreds of small and large stories that form the history of sneakers. One I found most powerful was the story of the so-called Three Amigos. When Nike’s Air Force 1 was released in 1982, it was only available in stores for a brief period. It became especially popular in Harlem, New York, which is where the shoe’s nickname, ‘Uptowns’, comes from. Its prevalence across the East Coast of the United States was noticed by three Baltimore retailers - dubbed ‘the Three Amigos’ - who went to Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton to convince them to re-release the model in different colours. Despite the company’s resistance, the resulting ‘Color of the Month' initiative from 1984 was a roaring success and the first time a discontinued model had been brought out again in response to consumer demand. This was the start of the now common practice of retro releases, regional exclusives and limited editions.