There was a time when etching your current squeeze’s name, or maybe just an acid house smiley face, onto your Kickers in Tippex was the height of cool. This season, the fashion industry has taken note(s) and has been scribbling on its sneakers like it’s 1997.
Kim and Kanye’s customisable Yeezy Boost 350 V2s for kids, with “peace”, “love” and the names of their children written on them, sold out almost instantly when they went on sale last week – they have already been restocked. (It can’t have hurt that one-child Truman Show North West wore a pair of her own customised Yeezy kicks for a trip to New York’s Natural History Museum about a week before the drop.)
The new season Adidas Stan Smiths, complete with scrawled phrases such as “yes I’m crazy” and “nobody is perfect”, are currently on sale for $335 (£257). While the Vetements x Reebok Instapump Furies, featuring such choice phrases as: “I’m bored”, “full on life” and “so good”, as well as that old classic the CND sign, sold out in no time earlier this year, despite a £586 price tag. They came about a year after head Vetements designer and industry pied piper Demna Gvasalia was spotted wearing a pair of done-in Converse he had apparently scribbled on himself. Saying things such as “our alter & our hearts”, as well as the name of the Russian singer Zemfira written in Cyrillic, they looked like a particularly high-brow desk in any secondary school across the country.
Kanye West collaborator Virgil Abloh’s Off White label has recently collaborated with Nike on various written-on versions of their trainers. Bella Hadid last week stepped out in a pair yet to be officially released – “Virgil was here” was scribbled on their side. And Dolce and Gabbana kept the fashion industry on its toes with its studded autumn/winter collection sneakers embellished with phrases apparently designed to reflect millennial style, from: “I’m thin & gorgeous” to: “Sorry I’m the best”. Cue a collective facepalm at their misjudged attempts to mimic millennials.
Fiona Firth, buying director at MRPORTER.COM, where the Vetements x Reebok trainers “flew off the site”, describes how “what was once a school pastime to blow off some creative steam” has now become “a recognised artform”. We might not be talking Titian here, but there is a Keith Haring-esque impulse at play.
The links back to the DIY philosophy of the punk era are obvious. Denim jackets defaced with biros were an integral part of the punk uniform. Tony Glenville, creative director at the London College of Fashion, cites the fashion of this era in general as a touchstone: “Graffiti on clothing is very 80s – from Stephen Sprouse through Castelbajac, it was a global thing.” The fact that scribblings are having a moment is, for him, akin to “the ripped jeans of Bros now reappearing, it’s part of realising how long ago the 80s was! Plus of course,” he says, “fashion has no memory”.
Now, as then, it’s not a trend reserved for footwear – Glenville points to the cut-out letters on caps and jumpers at Valentino’s Fall 2017 menswear show. Look to the versions of the It-T-shirt of 2016 that appeared on the Gucci Fall 2017 runway, reimagined with slashes and scrawls – the work of Spanish artist Coco Capitán, who, along with creative director Alessandro Michele, came up with the phrases such as “What are we going to do with all this future?” and “I want to go back to beliving in a story” – spelling mistake for no extra charge.
“Slogan and logo disruption through graffiti and personalisation is always with us,” says Glenville. It’s about “rebellion and revolution” – the same heady mix that will likely make the latest Vetements trainers sell like hot cakes when they land on Mr Porter soon. This pair look your former goth self got creative on them, not even bothering with words, and leaving no space untouched by a black marker pen.
But the graffitied names of Kim and Kanye’s offspring on the Yeezy Boosts are no Castelbajac painting-dresses, and they’re not going to win many fans in the anarchic world of mohawks and safety pins. The devil-may-care aesthetic of scribbled-on trainers might scream rebellion, but embellishing the current crop is a very safe kind of scribble – one that stays firmly between the lines.
But then maybe that’s the point – this is a sixth-form kind of insurrection; the slogans are often naff, just like the kind of thing you would have written aged 17 on your lever arch file. This is rebellion for those who still want to get good grades in their A-levels, albeit not at pocket-money prices. And it’s their price that makes them, in all their grubby glory, a kind of sartorial humblebrag.
So, at the risk of upsetting Kanye, if you fancy dipping a toe into this trend, maybe just take a Sharpie to your old plimsolls instead. Or go for Maison Margiela’s current iteration, which have plenty of blank space on which you can fulfill their invitation to “Leave A Message” – with a handily provided branded marker pen, of course.