Recently I was listening to a podcast with the Lox, famed Brooklyn rappers from the shiny suit era that were from the shiny suit. Styles P, made a comment about a conversation he and his son had about the music he makes and enjoys (so his generation) and the music of his sons generation, that his son enjoys. To paraphrase, his son said the music he listens to is more about the mood it creates and less about the action that his father’s generation was about. It is a collection of moods and emotions that vibe together from melody to lyric, as opposed to just lyrics.
I am stating the obvious here, right now music has transitioned from focusing on deeply rooted messages that didn’t necessarily have a lot of emotion to creating music that encompasses a mood before a message. It doesn’t necessarily have a purpose but it is a collection of the atmosphere that was surrounding that creativity while the song was being recorded. Styles generation was provoking and reacting to what was happening in their world. While this generation isn’t about going and reacting to what the world is doing, it is about setting the tone for what they are doing.
This too me is a stretch metaphor for how I currently see footwear design.
We no longer design to move, we design to mood.
No longer do we hone in on problem solving and creating a product that will enable you to push yourself to your athletic boundaries, we now create products that hone in on the atmosphere that surrounds that. I dare say it is more important how you look off-sport then you do on-sport.
As I sit back and examine the scene, I don’t think that this is a generational move to give up on function or problem solving, I actually think its the opposite. I think the function is just a part of the product now. It is there and will always be there. Which allows the designer, or the consumer; to focus in on what is next for them and that is the emotion the product evokes. I see this not just in the product that is being sold to us currently but also in the sketches I see featured by young designers and professional designers. The sketches that use to be celebrated in product portfolios honed in on how to improve the athlete and the function of the sport, now you see sketches shifting solely to evoking emotion through proportion and most importantly the feeling it creates towards the details of the product. It is way more themed now.
There were elements of that in the past, you had to have a way of pulling in the viewer to the product but now it is so much more abundant towards the fashion and the atmosphere that world brings. Currently that atmosphere is all about proportion and texture and minimalism. What inspired me to get into design was the notion of creating a product that solved an issue for an athlete while still looking beautiful. So you had this opportunity to create something hot that most people would be drawn to and want to wear but the function was there. Simply put, form follows function. However, I don’t believe that is what is driving the next generation of product. Which isn’t a bad thing but it is a new thing for sport. I see less industrial design and more avant-garde design that pulls inspiration far from the function. That was typically saved for bespoke sport product or one off products, now its the focus of the entire industry.
I think the level of fashion and high end aesthetic in sneaker and footwear design has always been there but it is more blatant now. Sneakers have went up scale with an avant-garde approach as they have been used in fashion shows or crafted by fashion directors. While the opposite is happening with fashion, the more they are influenced by sneakers and sportswear the more they create ready-to-wear lines that bridge their lower their prices with their high end lines. There is no denying that area of design, fashion or footwear, has had an influence on each other. I don’t know the exact reason for it but it is obvious there is an acceptance of learning from each other and realizing that everything overlaps and influences each other.
To go back to the hip-hop narrative, Styles generation was very one minded and in a lane. You had the beat and the rhymes and you told your story thoroughly through it. You didn’t have people crossing over and doing both beats and rhymes and you definitely didn’t have people singing hooks. Dre and Puffy kind of did but they rarely wrote their own rhymes, really they just knew how to organize it all. Through time though that has shifted. Rarely is there an artist that solely does one thing now. Everyone rhymes, everyone sings, everyone produces in some capacity. Which in my eyes has created a more well rounded artist and helps them to see their vision more clearly. For instance an album like Frank Ocean’s Blonde wouldn’t have the amount of emotion it has, had he not been the one curating every element of the project.
The same can be said for what we are seeing in footwear today. It isn’t about just having the idea, you have to see how the idea effects the materials used, the colors selected and ultimately how it is positioned in the market. The current trend in all areas of art seems to be do it all. You don’t have to be the expert in everything but you definitely have to be well versed and willing to find the direction.
It will be interesting to see where this era of design takes us and whats next. Part of it is very superficial, it works so hard to be iconic and bold and a piece of art. You can thank the success of Supreme, UnderCover, Off-White and many more for that. But we can’t all be that. While the current phase is to blend all areas of life together to create a mood of cozy, it won’t maintain. To an extent this era of product reminds of 1998-2005 or so. Where it become over cluttered with gimmicks to make shoes more unique. Like straps, gaiters and a lot of straight lines on forms that don’t take straight lines well. The product always gets a reset though.
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