Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
For anyone that thought fashion’s love affair with the ugly sneaker trend might be something of a passing phase, time, as it has a habit of doing, has proved nothing short of a slap in the face. With that in mind, however, it’s also worth noting that our self-effacing love affair with – and eyebrow-raising fetish for – the dad shoe is really nothing new. Skechers, after all, have been churning them out for 26 years now – long before they were adopted, cult-popularised, and ultimately tarnished by one of fashion’s most dubious hangers-on – and the company currently still earns yearly revenue in the billions.
Even beyond those questionable ‘classics’, the ugly shoe’s infiltration of capital ‘F’ Fashion did not even begin with the furore of Balenciaga’s Triple-S: the first Raf Simons x adidas Ozweego (cryptically, the Ozweego I) – a hybrid creature of the designer’s boundary-pushing form and the brand’s penchant for function – turns five this year.
What was gifted to us at the end of 2017, and the fruits of 2018 thus far, then, have been at pains only to push things further, with designers falling over themselves to churn out cripplingly self-aware footwear left, right, and centre – a long-running joke that shows no apparent signs of stopping, coming at the expense of decimated bank balances and torn calf muscles everywhere.
“Designers are falling over themselves to churn out cripplingly self-aware footwear left, right, and centre – a long-running joke that shows no apparent signs of stopping”
It’s still easy, of course, to pin much of this on Demna Gvasalia. In both his role as creative director at Balenciaga and as the founder of the ever-divisive Vetements collective, the Georgian designer’s intimate understanding of the intricacies of meme culture and the resulting viral spread of his work have proven themselves to be key elements in the prolificacy and staying power of the trend.
But, as another polarising figure once intoned, “no one man should have all that power.” And, in this case, the blame – if you want to call it that – is spread far more widely than at the (Tabi-biting) heels of Gvasalia.
And so, taking all of that into consideration, we’ve listed some of the most resplendent offenders to date and the styles hitting shelves in 2018 – taking into account hype, aesthetic, and sheer proportion – and ranked them on a scale of 1 – absolute unit. Strap in.
BALENCIAGA – TRIPLE-S
I’m going to level with you. These shoes are disgusting and I love them; everything about them is wrong; I own a pair; I am consistently, savagely, and rightfully mocked for my sins by the very people I hold dearest yet I persevere with wearing them, destroying any muscular integrity my decrepit 28-year-old body is flailing to hold onto and any semblance of respect for me anyone else is graciously holding on to in the process. Fuck it, though, look at the awful bastards.
I honestly don’t know what it’s for exactly, but Demna has a gift – seeing into voids both internal and existential, he reaches in, pulls out a darkling mirror, showing us a truth we may refuse to accept but which is truth nonetheless.
The memes are out of control too, obviously.
Your #MCM wears Balenciaga’s Triple-S with skinny jeans. I am sorry to report I am your #MCM. Please love me. Because clearly I do not love myself.
ADIDAS BY RAF SIMONS – OZWEEGO III
The mere fact that what we’re looking at here is the third stage in the evolution of the Belgian designer and German sportswear brand’s ongoing footwear collaboration should tell you something. While it’s perhaps no surprise that the Ozweego III is a little easier on the eyes than some of its peers, it is after all from a man who has managed to smoothly transition from the sleek codes of Jil Sander-subtlety to the pop culture-referencing details of his Calvin Klein and self-titled collections. It’s also comforting to know that he hasn't quite embraced rubberised nihilism entirely – the Ozweego III (and I and II)’s many eyebrow-raising colourations seeming more like commentary at a distance than an attempt to get involved.
Raf and adidas only earn themselves a six on the sliding Absolute Unit scale – I’m not exactly in awe of these lads, but given the fact you can wear – and, as it goes, I very much have worn – these outside in the cold light of day, I don’t think the designer will be too disappointed.
KIKO KOSTADINOV X ASICS – GEL-BURZ 1’
Announced back in November and released in January, Bulgarian designer Kiko Kostadinov’s work with the Japanese athletic brand – whose logo is, consistently disappointingly, very similar to a that of a delicious, fruity soft drink – doesn’t quite have the physical clout of some of its contemporaries. But, what it lacks in size, it makes up for unequivocally in the depth of its many fluorescent indiscretions. After all, there’s riffing on the concept of “dad shoes” and then there’s making a shoe that my dad would wear to go and dig up worms for fishing on a warm and rainy evening after the sun goes down.
These might not have the eye-watering girth or unearthly strangeness of their co-conspirators, but they rightly earn themselves some extra points for neon audacity and a fully-fledged commitment to the Dad Aesthetic.
LOUIS VUITTON – ARCHLIGHT
Alright. Well. This, at the very least, is a first: I don’t remember another pair of trainers ever actually giving me vertigo without even wearing them before, but it’s always good to try new things I suppose. Props also to Nicolas Ghesquière for putting something apparently straight out of a Borg cube onto the Paris Fashion Week runway for his SS18 show and giving science fiction fits a much-deserved place at the Louvre.
These look kind of like they’re melting and maybe I am a little too. Resistance is futile, baby. But I’m not trying that hard anyway.
VETEMENTS X REEBOK – INSTAPUMP FURY LOW-TOP
Self-awareness and self-flagellation are never really that far apart in the grand scheme of things; to know yourself, after all, is so often more intrinsically tied to the considerably easier route of hating who you are than it is to any radical act of self-love.
Leave it to Demna Gvasalia, then, to slap two of the ugliest emojis directly on to the front of a pair of some of the most inherently ugly sneakers in recent memory – to leave no doubt of their origins or the level of financial and spiritual investment required to own them by covering them in the name of his brand – and to expect us to buy them without flinching.
Unlike so many of Gvasalia’s other wayward creations, these shoes are far from sold out. They remain (rightly) in-stock more or less across the board, accruing the full stack of points here for their absolute zero effort/punch in the face audacity combination. A timely reminder that there is still a light in all of us.
Okay, look: I know I said we couldn’t blame Demna for everything back at the beginning and I see now that the mad bastard has made his way – in one guise or another – onto this list with a trifecta of sartorial misdeeds.
But, also, absolutely fuck me: the Balenciaga Super-S. They haven’t been released, they won’t be released, and in fact they were an April Fool’s joke reported by Hypebeast. But these mythical beasts, these unicorns of the Dad Shoe canon, would have weighed in at 23lbs, which – for those in the know – is almost twice as much as the average male fox in Britain. It’s 2018, however, and the eventual second coming of these bad boys seems about as plausible as anything else at this point.
Verdict: 10 (the unit to end all units)
These fuckers might not actually exist but I like to imagine wearing them could simultaneously destroy and do wonders for my self-esteem in equal measure. I’d say “drag me” but there’s no way you’re dragging anyone anywhere in these.
After some consideration it might not seem fair to give the full crown, cloak, sceptre and throne of Absolute Unit-dom to a shoe that isn’t actually manifest in the real world, but let’s call these hideous things what they are: the Super-S, after all, is in some ways no less real than you are I – a conglomeration of our fears and fantasies; a lesson in wish fulfilment of the darkest order, and for that reason, I name them the winners. All hail the Balenciaga units.