Almost everyone knows what “Chucks” are. But what you might not know is that these rubber-soled, canvas shoes are the forefathers of modern sneakers. The first linen shoes with rubberized soles were produced as early as 1860, but it was not until 1917 that the unstoppable rise of the sneaker began with the launch of the Converse Rubber Shoe Company’s first basketball shoes under the “All Star” brand. The characteristic rubber sole is also what gave sneakers their name, originally referring to how quiet the rubber soles were on the ground. Chuck Taylor, a basketball star and Converse employee, began promoting the company’s “All Star” shoes in 1921. Two years later, the distinctive round patch with his signature was added and the shoes were rebranded as “Converse All Star Chuck Taylor” – and their nickname of “Chucks” was born.
The battle of the brothers: The birth of adidas and Puma
At the same time, the Dassler brothers from Herzogenaurach in Germany entered the shoe market, developing ultralight shoes for runners. The Dassler brothers had a parting of the ways at the end of the 1940s and their shoe company split and evolved into the world-famous brands adidas and Puma.
In 1971, another world-famous brand was born: Blue Ribbon Sport. Never heard of it? Not surprising as the brand was quickly renamed Nike. In 1987, the company launched the first air-cushioned shoes, the Air Max, which are now available in an almost infinite range of colors.
While in the 1950s, the more casual sneaker was worn as a sign of rebellion against stuffy parents, by the 1980s the sneaker had been accepted by large sections of the population as comfortable, everyday footwear. As sneakers were embraced by more and more people, the number of models on the market rose rapidly: in 1970 there were only five different models, in 1988 there were 285 and in 2012 there were more than 3,000.
The sneaker as a cultural artefact: The Sneaker Queen and her passion
The sheer number of different models makes sneakers ideal for collectors. Julia Schoierer from Berlin, who is also known under the moniker Sneaker Queen, has been a passionate sneaker collector for many years. She hasn’t counted for a long time, but her collection comprises somewhere between 800 and 1,000 pairs. It got to the point that she had too many shoes to store in her apartment, so she put some of her collection in storage. It was as a teenager that her passion for sneakers started: “I was a classic tomboy when I was younger. Most of my friends were boys and I was very into hip-hop. At that time, sneakers were a kind of status symbol and I didn’t like wearing high heels – I wanted sneakers.” When she left home at the age of 20, she took her 100-150 pairs of sneakers with her.
All things vintage
Julia specializes in collecting vintage models. Her major passion is sneakers from the 80s. When she does buy new sneakers, she only buys reissues from that time. Her passion is a product of her interest in the history and evolution of sneakers. She regularly organizes exhibitions on the subject and even advises large companies. “In my heart of hearts, I am an aesthete. There’s nothing more exciting than the evolution of the sneaker,” she says. For example, the eighties were dominated by geometric shapes and hard edges; in the nineties everything became more fluid; and later the retro trend followed. The same evolution is evident in the design of cars and fashion.
Her own model
One of the true highlights of Julia’s life was when she got the chance to collaborate with adidas. As one of just five collectors worldwide, she was allowed to design her own shoe for the “Collectors Project.” In keeping with her passion for vintage, she opted for basketball shoes, which she named “Rivalry High”: “I wanted to capture the spirit of the era when my passion for collecting originated.” She can also remember the first model she consciously bought as a collector: “That must have been the Air Jordan 4 Retro by Nike, which was relaunched in 1999. That was actually the first shoe I really saved up for. I went back to the shop every week to ask them to hold my pair until I had enough money.”
All of Julia’s friends know that she spends most of her time wearing sneakers. “I only wear high heels for very special occasions. My feet feel really pampered in sneakers,” she laughs. And she actually wears all of the models she buys. This is what sets her apart from other collectors, who typically speculate on prices going up.
Her passion for sneakers combines perfectly with her two other great passions: photography, which is her profession, and travelling. “I have the soul of a collector. I don’t really live my life with an idea of what it should look like, I just enjoy trying everything out. And when I get bored, I do something else,” says Julia, whose sneaker collecting is driven by cultural interest and not because the possession or consumption of sneakers is important to her. Her blog also deals with the cultural foundations of her passion: www.sneakerqueen.de
The most sought-after sneakers go for record prices
For some collectors, sneakers are a real investment. Unsurprisingly, some people even speculate on them, a trend that sneaker manufacturers have deliberately pushed with their frequent, limited editions or celebrity-designed models. Sneaker collectors, also known as “sneaker heads,” often queue for hours or even days to get their hands on the most sough-after models. One of the most expensive sneakers ever is the Nike Air Mag Back to the Future, which costs around USD 23,000. At an auction in 2013, the Nike Air Jordan 12 Flu Game even fetched over USD 100,000 dollars. The shoe was worn by basketball star Michael Jordan in an NBA final in 1997, which he and his team only just won.
The most expensive sneakers in history:
DIY sneaker storage options
Of course, collectors also need somewhere to store and display their sneakers. There are lots of ways to build your own shoe shelves from even the simplest materials. For example, you can simply mount a Euro pallet on the wall and use the gaps to store your shoes. Wine crates can also be stacked on top of each other to store shoes.
Some of Germany’s best sneaker stores
If you are in Hamburg, these are the stores to head to for your sneaker fix:
Shoes with your own personal touch
Of course, the trend towards customization also extends to sneakers. Leading brands allow budding sneaker heads to design their own shoes online. For example, you can have a specially printed insole, your own name on the heel or your choice of colors for the various sneaker components.
Apartments with more than enough space for your sneaker collection: