Sneaker Culture at the High Museum

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If you’re a sneaker fanatic, the latest exhibit at the High Museum will feel like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

The Rise of Sneaker Culture showcases more than 150 sneakers, exploring the shoe’s evolution from its origins in the 1830s to its present day cultural significance.

Though it opened in June, I hadn’t had a chance to see it until today, and it moves on to the next city on August 14th.

So if you want to see this collection, which includes each and every style of the Air Jordans (!), head over this week.

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Once inside, you’ll browse scores of valuable, glass-encased sneakers from iconic brands like Adidas, Converse, Nike, Puma, and Reebok, major fashion houses like Prada and Louis Vuitton, and even from private collectors.

Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack of Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum also incorporated photographs, design drawings, film footage, and interactive media to contextualize the evolution of sneakers over the past two centuries.

The modern iteration of sneaker culture, once relegated to only part of the population and mostly for sports, now cha-chings as a whopping $26 billion dollar industry with immense significance in the mainstream.

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Let’s peek at a few.

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If you’re a fan of Jordans, you can stroll down memory lane back to 1985 and see the iconic red and black pair that turned contemporary sneaker culture on its head.

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More than 30 years later, J’s are still causing a frenzy. And Nike never spent a dollar in marketing.

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I learned a lot from this exhibit. A complete novice in this area, I didn’t know, for instance, that the 2015 Air Jordans have Michael Jordan’s fingerprint on the bottom sole:

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Little details like that are what drive the true fanatics wild. They love contemplating what the inspiration for the shoe was, the materials used, the air ventilation, what symbol or signature was where, high top versus low top, color palette, and more.

I know this because, all around me, they waxed rhapsodic.

Standing near these displays was like overhearing sports commentators. Men and women of all ages were describing excitedly to one another what a particular shoe meant to them, where they were to first time they saw it, what game in what year Michael Jordan first introduced a shoe in, what happened to the pair they had, which elusive style they’re still hunting for, and much, much more.

Their enthusiasm was utterly contagious. I started asking myself, do I need a closet full of sneakers at home, too??

Probably not. But if you watch the video in a side room, you’ll see that some people have closets or even rooms dedicated to their sneakers — categorized, indexed, color-coded and all.

The video was a snippet of Just for Kicks by Thibaut de Longeville and Lisa Leone, which brings to life the historical and cultural context of this fascinating (and for some, obsessive) sneaker culture.

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It’s impossible to discuss sneakers without exploring hip hop’s influence, from Run DMC and the b-boys in Brooklyn in the 80s, to the Air Jordans, Reebok Pumps, and Air Force 1s in the 90s and 2000s, to luxury collaborations like Kanye West has with Prada and Kid Cudi with Giuseppe Zanotti today.

If you want to really dive back, though, peep some of the earliest examples of sneakers:

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Maybe ^ these beauts circa 1915 inspired some of Kanye’s collabs, seen below?

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Coincidence? *insert Kanye shrug*

Aside from the celeb collaborations and the Jordans present, there was another superstar in the room.

Shoes that may have actually been on Air Force One:

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Made only for President Obama and with only 5 pairs in existence.

They have a little extra surprise on the bottom, too:

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Talk about leaving a footprint that lasts.

Check out the exhibit before these kicks stroll on to fresher pastures. To the tune of My Adidas, of course.

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