Basketball shoe, tennis shoe, trainer or sneaker, regardless of the name, they have influenced the way we live, and the way we dress, since the early 20th century. Worn by millions of people the world over, sneakers have, in just a few decades, become a mass-market product that transcends gender, age, and social and cultural background. But how did a simple sports shoe make the leap from the pitch to become a genuine fashion accessory seen on pavements around the world – and generate an industrial rivalry with huge sums of money at stake? With over 400 pairs, films, archive documents, photos and personal accounts, the exhibition will trace the evolution of this giant industry and showcase the sneaker in all its cultural dimensions.
First, visitors will discover a selection of several iconic models, spanning 1920 to the modern day, that are key markers of the history of the sneaker. Worn by sports stars, demonstrating breakthrough technological innovation, promoted by famous rappers or skaters, or produced by major fashion designers, stylists or iconic artists – each of the selected models has a story to tell. They reflect a moment in time, an era or a social phenomenon.
In the second part of the exhibition, visitors will discover the story behind this rise. Long the preserve of the sporting arena, sneakers gradually expanded beyond this field to play a major role in urban culture and fashion. The transfer from sport to street is closely linked to emerging counter-cultures in the United States and Europe in the 1970s. Symbols of rebellion against conformity, tools of distinction for hip-hop and break-dancing icons, or of social and cultural affirmation for certain minorities, sneakers could soon be found on everyone’s feet and became the archetypal democratic object of the 1980s. Films, photos and personal accounts will chart this dazzling success story.
The third part of the exhibition will look back at the key innovations that have shaped the history of the sneaker industry since its inception, and shine a spotlight on the research carried out by major brands’ dedicated departments that, for many years, have been engaged in a race to bring new technologies to market. This trend today addresses the imperatives of ethical fashion and sustainability and inspires the imagination of students at leading fashion schools.
Key figures in the world of sneakers will take centre stage, including collectors (so-called “sneakerheads”) and designers who have contributed to the biggest successes – names like Jacques Chassaing, designer at adidas since 1981 and the brains behind the Forum basketball shoe, among others, and Tinker Hatfield, the designer of the Nike Air Max 1 and the ultra-famous Nike MAG from the film Back to the Future Part II.