We’ve all been noticing the current Ugly Sneakers Trend that has been rocking 2018: from Balenciaga’s Triple S to Yeezy’s Boost 350 V2, loud and unapologetically anti-fashion footwear has been everywhere this season. So naturally a number of other brands have been attempting their own hand at this madness, hoping to cash in on the misguided sensibilities of so many a young, naive fashionista. But how exactly are designers continually coming up with these absolutely outlandish shoes? Demna Gvasalia simply added three soles to an already overdone dad sneaker to create the now legendary Triple S whereas Raf Simons & Adidas went a completely different direction with the Replicant Ozweego, opting to create an ultra-tech profile featuring silicone appliqués and sleek cut-outs. The former appears influenced by previous normcore trends mixed with basketball-sized proportions and the latter a breezy reinterpretation of chunky running shoes. Analyzing ugly shoes isn’t always easy, so to explore this further I will perform an etymological assessment of some new ugly shoes.
LOEWE: High Top Sneaker Dinosaur Green
This is an incredibly alarming sneaker and I would love to get Loewe’s creative director Jonathon Anderson on the phone to pick his brain about it but seeing as that does not seem a likely scenario I suppose that I will have to perform a little psycho-sneaker-analysis of my own. Obviously my first intuition lead to me to think Jurassic Park (1993), the seminal dinosaur-themed movie that would go on to produce countless sequels and spin-offs but there is something too light-hearted about these Loewe sneakers that defies the Spielberg classic. This made me realize that the inspiration must have come from a children’s program, Anderson himself was born in 1984 so he would have had lots of exposure to classic animated content: Denver, the Last Dinosaur (1988), Dinosaucers (1987), and Dink, the Little Dinosaur (1989) were all released before the cartoon dinosaur and dragon boom of the 1990s. And that’s when I knew – it wasn’t that Spielberg was wrong, I just had the wrong Spielberg in mind! The Land Before Time (1988) depicted an orphaned dinosaur and his friends’ journey of survival. It was adventurous and imaginative, portraying themes of loss and a gravity of emotion not found in many other children’s works of this time. This has to be the Freudian root of it all, the image that Loewe and Jonathon Anderson have subconsciously been chasing through their sneaker design. Unfortunately, I don’t think the whole Jurassic vibe is finding the same success that The Land Before Time did and thusly these dinosaur sneakers are undoubtedly a misstep. Who knew analyzing ugly shoes could be so nostalgic?
BALENCIAGA: Foam Platform Sandals
Wow! Where does one even begin analyzing ugly shoes like these charm embellished wedge-sole Crocs? Balenciaga is really pulling out all the stunts this season though, collaborating with Crocs™ and Jibbitz™, that is some serious clout stuff. Whenever I see these heavily embellished types of items I cannot help but imagine the underside of a grade school desk just blitzed with an array of different colored chewing gum. There’s something so reckless and tacky about it, a memory of fun-once-had. Demna is all about finding influence in his surroundings and I don’t doubt for a minute that he found some inspiration (and maybe a tasty treat) while feeling around the bottom-side of a colleague’s desk. But there’s more to it, perhaps the Balenciaga designer is feeling the temporality of this whole ugly sneaker trend. “Unlike past designer provocateurs (Schiaparelli, McQueen, Takahashi, etc.), this latest trend towards making noise, not clothes (sorry Jun) has arguably subjugated the role of the product itself,” writes Alex Rakestraw. “In short: it’s bait.” Seeing as his own sneaker was one of the first to get it “right,” maybe he feels that it is only a matter of time until his ugly footwear, much like the gum, will become painfully stale.
BALENCIAGA: Knife Booties Puppy
These are an incredibly interesting pair of shoes and to be completely honest I actually am a fan of the Balenciaga Knife Booties. Analyzing ugly shoes that I like seems unfair. However, when integrated with a childish, juvenile print like these puppies… All of the sudden something just feels wrong in the pit of my stomach. So here I am, once again, trying to trace Demna Gvasalia’s line of thought and I’m scared that I am going to fall for an obvious trap, but here goes: Hasbro’s The Littlest Pet Shop, first released in the 1990s and relaunched in 2005, feels like a good option with its adorable cartoonish animals and wholesome attitudes, but it feels as though it is missing the mark. Following a similar vein, however, the virtual pet website Neopets, launched in the late-nineties, carries with it a bit more authenticity. The website promoted independence and creativity among youth with almost every aspect of your own Neopet being customizable. It even had second-life-like aspects such as an internal virtual currency called Neocash with a vast economy and loyal community. This sort of fleshed out world building resonates with me and I believe to a certain extent with Demna’s Balenciaga, and it feels like a significant enough moment in the pop-culture landscape to have caught the Georgian fashion designer’s eye.
I was hoping to feel a more potent sense of validation after analyzing ugly shoes so intently, but unfortunately it has left me feeling a little more hollowed out than before. So let us summarize. Although the shoes were ineffective, Loewe’s attempt at a Moroccan-inspired pointy-toe babouche dino-sneaker was genuinely interesting and exciting to see. The product itself might not deserve praise but the experimentation it represents should be met with appreciative open arms. In contrast, the two Balenciaga options do not really bring anything new to the table. The platform Croc sandal feels like nothing more than a tired reimagining of Christopher Kane’s 2017 S/S collection wherein he raised the idea of the pedestrian to unexpected heights within the fashion industry, whereas Demna’s simply states annoyingly: “I can do this too,” without actually doing anything new. Alternatively, the puppy-printed knife bootie represents an unremarkable cut-copy-paste trend that defines these types of logomaniacal brands. After seeing the unintelligibly broad strokes of inspiration cited on the Balenciaga website for these booties, perhaps analyzing ugly shoes is wholly unrequired: “80s sportswear,” “fetishism universe,” and “a keen knife” – maybe the rock is better left unturned.