Angularity as Macrotrend: Part 1 @ Sneakers


unfolds [the angular chuck posite just released by nike is based on folds of metallic copper material]

[the angular chuck posite just released by nike is based on folds of metallic copper material]

Sneakers again?!?

You betcha! See the post “The Professor Finds a Pair” from 13 June 2014 for his previous sneaker pronouncements.

Yes, but first the backstory: In 2003 and 2004, The Professor spent a fair amount of time investigating a phenomenon he began to call “the new fluidity in design.” It had to do with art, craft, design and architecture projects that were organic in form and curvaceous in shape; that were often colorful and optimistic; that spanned “from a spoon to a city” across different scales and scopes; and, that pushed the limits of what most people thought plastic and related materials could physically do. The result was Blobjects & Beyond, a book [and museum exhibition] that The Professor worked on with his art-historian wife [Chronicle Books, 2005].

What, then, to make of the more recent phenomenon of faceted and chiseled geometries, the sharp-edged and strongly delineated angularity that is becoming more prevalenteven that of current sneaker design?

Note the just-released-this-week men’s Chuck Posites from Nike: they come in standard form as a silver metallic shoe [with a carbon-fiber pattern],  or from NikeID in a customizable, shiny copper treatment. Despite the metallic visual dominance, the shoes look light, kinetic and unburdened. Steep-angled from tongue to heel, reflective in the dark of night, and given a translucent sole with trapezoidal comolded inserts, the Chuck Posites catch, hold and reflect light in the same way that such advanced aircraft as the F-117 Nighthawk and the more computationally-enhanced B-2 stealth bomber reflect and absorb radar.

[in post-industrial silver the nike chuck posite celebrates its angularity][in post-industrial silver the chuck posite celebrates overt angularity]

The name of the shoe is a construction: “Chuck” comes from former basketball player #34 Charles Barkley [whom the shoe is named for], and the “Posite” comes from Nike’s Hyperposite upper material that the shoe largely employs. Barkley has previously been the one of the faces of Nike’s “Force” line of sneakers: Like Sir Charles himself, those earlier Force sneakers looked heavy, buttressed and purposefully intimidating; they evinced a certain blunt-force athleticism along with an attitudinal and confrontational stance.

The Chuck Posites, on the other hand, look nothing like Barkley: they appear to be lighter, faster, post-industrial, purpose-driven, more attention-getting, and as much about a celebration of the future as the previous Force/Barkley shoes were about the glorification of the past. The form of the shoe is metallic, and toward the heel its zig-zag form assumes the metaphor of a bellows: a series of stacked and angled folds that appears as if they are in the process of undergoing compression—as if the wearer had just leapt high to snare an imaginary rebound and the shoe had compressed and then rapidly expanded to augment the jump.

While Chuck Posites possess the expressive clarity and no-nonsense demeanor of a weapon, they create a major problem on the branding side. The sneakers simply don’t line up with the person Barkley has become, and that strategy actually creates a major design-to-personality disconnect. The shoes are cool in a way that he is not now, and maybe never was. They are certainly at odds with who he is today: Barkley is the NBA-player-turned-TV-commentator who’s best summarized as the round mound of sound. His confrontational and opinionated demeanor is 180º from the sleek and refined form language of the Chuck Posite. As a matter of fact, in their emotional ergonomics, the Chuck Posites remind The Professor of a Glock [model 19/gen 4], a Beretta [model PX-4], or a Heckler & Koch [model USP compact .40] while Barkley himself [and the older Nike Force/CB34 sneaker line] was more like a sawed-off shotgun, twitchy trigger included; Ice Cube soundtrack included.

[the bellows-like detail encompasses the heel and mid-shoe of the nike chuck posite][this bellows-like detail encompasses the heel of the nike chuck posite]

In closing, it’s clear to The Professor that the Chuck Posites unveiled on 11 November embody a new macrotrend based on angularity. The degree to which these sneakers embody this shard-like, more parametric approach makes them an exemplar of this new way of creating, along with other projects such as Lamborghini’s Reventon car, Gareth Pugh’s clothing circa 2009, Andreia Chaves’s Invisible Shoes, and a number of Zaha Hadid’s projects including the Rock in Dubrovnik. Projects such as these will be more fully documented in an upcoming post from The Professor that will look across disciplines and scales to showcase a full range of examples.

Lastly, these basketball shoes are notable for another reason and it would be remiss of The Professor not to point that out. They show fidelity, fealty even, to another cultural tendency [possibly also a macrotrend; the research is still pending]: the idea of industrial craft. These are mass-produced goods that demonstrate a degree of artistic attention to detail that belies their commodity status; it’s part of the power that turns buyers into collectors, and sneakers into souvenirs. This takes elite-level design and fabrication techniques to a new level. The Professor believes it is a direction that myriad advanced artists, craftspeople, designers and architects have already decided is a potent form language to explore in their near-future efforts, which means that all of us need to be paying attention to it [like yesterday]. That’s why he started paying attention to angularity 10 years ago, that’s why he began collecting exemplars at the same time back then that he will soon post—and that’s why they call him The Professor.

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