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London's Design Museum opens sneakers exhibition

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

18 May 2021

Culture |In Pictures

Image: courtesy of The Design Museum

The Design Museum’s long-awaited exhibition dedicated to sneakers is finally opening to the public after the coronavirus pandemic delayed it by a year.

‘Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street’ opens today, May 18 and runs until October 24 and explores one of the most universal design objects, bought and worn by millions of people worldwide every day with sneakers by Puma, Nike, Converse, and Adidas.

The exhibition is split into two sections, style and performance, and showcases a behind the scenes look at the footwear phenomenon that has challenged performance design, inspired new youth cultures and shaken the world of fashion.

There are more than 200 shoes on display, from sneakers originally designed for athletic activities such as the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star, the Puma Disc, and Nike Alpha fly Next%, as well as icons and collaborations that have shaped the rise of sneakers from Michael Jordan and Run-DMC to Supreme and Kanye West.

Image: courtesy of The Design Museum

The Design Museum also delves into the lucrative resale market that is currently valued at more than 6 billion US dollars through data visualisations from StockX, sponsors of the exhibition, before reliving the high-fashion reinvention of a streetwear staple including sneakers by Balenciaga, Comme des Garcons and Y3, alongside runway looks from A-Cold-Wall* by Samuel Ross and Craig Green.

Sneaker exhibition showcases sustainable design, collaborations and cultural influences

Another key element of the exhibition is a journey through the design process behind some of the most technically inventive shoes of today. Visitors can see the Adidas ‘FutureCraft.Strung’ shoe-making robot designed by Kram/Weisshaar, learn about Satoshi, a brand using blockchain certification and see the world’s first biologically active shoes developed by MIT Design Lab and Biorealize for Puma.

Image: courtesy of The Design Museum

Visitors will also be immersed in futuristic designs from the past and present, discovering the emergence of sneaker-tech in the 1980s with the Adidas ‘Micropacer’, featuring an LCD microcomputer embedded in the tongue, to even more controversial designs that question the formation of footwear, such as the first ‘5 finger’ prototype shoe from Vibram that replicates the feeling of running barefoot.

The iconic early Converse ‘Big 9’ and materials from basketball clinics run by Chuck Taylor in the 1950s are featured alongside the record-breaking Nike ‘Alphafly Next%’ and self-lacing ‘Fit Intelligence’ shoe by Puma released last year, and even early experiments by Nike, such as the classic blue and yellow ‘Waffle’ sneaker.

Image: courtesy of The Design Museum

Given that trainer soles are lasting in landfills for up to one thousand years, the exhibition ends with a look to more sustainable futures through three prominent themes: upcycling and repair, circular design and consideration of materials.

It features plant-based sneakers from around the world from brands including Veja and Native Shoes, as well as showcasing how the ‘repair, remake, create’ philosophy is sweeping the fashion scene with customised designs from Helen Kirkum, Alexander Taylor in collaboration with Adidas, and the Adikoggs ‘Billy Bremner themed trainers’ inspired by the Leeds United footballer.

Image: courtesy of The Design Museum

Ligaya Salazar, curator of the exhibition, said in a statement: “A footwear staple for style, performance and comfort wear, Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street reveals the role young people from diverse backgrounds have played in making individual sneakers into style icons and in driving an industry now worth billions.

“The exhibition also gives behind-the-scenes insight into new upcycling and sustainable design practices, unseen prototypes predicting the future of performance design, and streetwear and fashion collaborations that changed the face of the industry.”

Design Museum creates world’s first entirely computer-generated sneaker with Snap AR technology

Image: courtesy of The Design Museum/Snapchat

Visitors can also use augmented reality to virtually try on a sneaker designed entirely by a computer using Snap technology. ‘Sneaker O’ has been designed using machine learning from a curated exhibit list and comes in four colourways encouraging Snapchatters to experiment and find the one that suits them, explains the Design Museum.

The OG is a mixture of white and grey elements chosen by the computer, while Dynamic I, II and III, is an adaptive sneaker that adjusts its colour in real-time based on the shoes you’re wearing and allows the user to select how much colour to add to the design.

Image: courtesy of The Design Museum/Snapchat

Josephine Chanter, director of audiences at the Design Museum, added: “Working with Snap, we have been able to explore the emerging world of sneakers designed only to be worn virtually and, in a world, first, use machine learning to create the ultimate sneaker. We can’t wait to see what visitors think when they try it on, and how sneakerheads around the world react to the design.”

‘Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street’ opens on May 18 and runs until October 24, 2021, at the Design Museum in London.

Image: courtesy of The Design Museum
Image: courtesy of The Design Museum