When you think about the sneaker’s original purpose, it’s fascinating to imagine how such a utilitarian shoe became a status symbol worthy of highly anticipated launches, high-end catwalks and enormous price tags. The Brooklyn Museum’s buzzed-about 2015 exhibition, The Rise of Sneaker Culture, let visitors take a peek at the sneaker’s journey from the nineteenth century until now. About 150 pairs showcased the vast range of fields and fascinations that have influenced this shoe, from music to fashion to technology and back again.
The sneaker as we know it apparently emerged in the 1800’s when competitive walking and running gained popularity. Made of leather and shaped like a dress shoe, it wasn’t quite at the level of the scientifically enhanced sports shoes we have now, but it worked at the time. In the 21st century, of course, the sneaker can be so many different things. Accordingly, top designers like Prada have their place in the exhibition, as do pieces from famous sneaker collectors.
The sneaker has gone through countless incarnations–remember when Pumas and Converse were everywhere? Perhaps it is the athletic origin of these shoes that in fact inspires designers to get creative. Making a pretty heel is one thing; making hundreds of thousands of people crave a sports shoe, however, is a challenge.
The innovation hasn’t slowed down, either. The Vixole Matrix, a groundbreaking new brand, will be a customizable e-sneaker featuring sensors and LED components. We may not be living in a Jetsons-esque world quite yet, but given that we went from nineteenth-century competitive walking shoes to e-sneakers that can be synced to iPhone apps, we’re on the right track. Though The Rise of Sneaker Culture, a collaboration between the Bata Shoe Museum and the American Arts Federation, is no longer in Brooklyn, the exhibition continues to tour America and has released a companion book tracking the colorful visual history of sneakers.