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5 things to know about Rick Owens' relationship with sneakers

Did someone say Proto-Dunk?

5 things to know about Rick Owens' relationship with sneakers Did someone say Proto-Dunk?

UPDATE 25/05/2021: The video-essay History of Rick Owens Sneakers by Geocasket was one of the primary sources of many of the notions and opinions reported in this article and it was culpably omitted by the author. The following article is an updated version of the original one, with the correct crediting.
The whole nss magazine's team is deeply sorry for the serious mistake, as we try to apply journalistic higher standards to the content production by fact-checking and crediting our sources. We are sorry it didn't happen in this case, and we will make sure to use this inconvenience to improve and get better.    




To be a designer who has built a huge part of his fame on sneakers, Rick Owens designs them only because he needs them – the designer has a passion for sports and physical activity. In a 2016 Footwear News interview, Owens said: «Sports shoes were never my thing. The only reason I started making them was because they frustrated me. They were a little too prosaic. I wanted to exoticize them». In this sentence you could enclose the paradox behind all the most famous sneakers designed by Owens: the ambition to be able to elevate even normal and "prosaic" objects to artistic design. All of Owens' design is, after all, a very personal rereading of the world and its phenomena (ambition that even extends to furniture and table cutlery) and it is obvious that, in the face of a huge phenomenon such as that of sneaker culture, the designer has decided to test himself. He did not imagine, however, that precisely those designer sneakers, the first of its kind, designed to be a reaction to the banality he perceived, would end up fueling the same hype that they wanted to contrast with. 

To deal with the complex mythology surrounding Owens' sneakers might not be enough for a book, but for anyone at the entry level there are basic facts to be established to understand its genesis and evolution. That's why we've listed 5 things to know about Rick Owens' relationship with sneakers.

Rick Owens doesn't even like sneakers

In 2017, Owens told to Vestoj: «I wear sneakers of my own design. I’ve become very known for sneakers, which is ironic considering that when I first started doing them it was almost a parody. I thought sneakers were the most boring things on the planet. They represented complete banality to me. But I was going to the gym and I needed some so I started doing my own exaggerated version, and they’ve become a signature of mine. It’s one of the things I sell the most of now. The ones I wear are on a stretch leather sock: they’re kind of a sneaker combined with an opera leather glove». Owens gave a similar answer when asked why he had partnered with adidas: the desiger said that, at the age of 50, he had to start running and had called adidas to design racing sneakers. Why adidas? «Adidas is a classic brand and it reminds me of Eighties hip-hop. They just have an authentic, old-school realness that appeals to me», the designer told WWD.

What were Owens' first sneakers?

Although numerous sources place Dunk's debut in the FW06 "Dustulator" collection, according to blogger Geocasket's research, as shown in the video History of Rick Owens Sneakers, Rick Owens' first sneakers, also known as Proto-Dunk, were produced for the FW05 collection along with another now very rare model presented only for the women's market and known as Cut-Out Dunks, famously appeared in a photoshoot starring Russian supermodel Sasha Pivoravova. The rarity of these first shoes (never released commercially) has sent them to astronomical resell prices – such as a pair sold on Grailed for $9000. The Proto-Dunks were of poor quality, with the upper and sole simply glued together. Owens himself later told Footwear News that: «Construction was completely wrong». Dunk's final form appeared in the SS06 collection with the Shearling Nubuck Dunk followed by Dunk who later appeared in the FW06. All these early models are characterized by metal staples, such as those of a stapler, which bind the various parts. Even today the pliers are shown, if intact, to demonstrate the good condition of the shoes.

The Dunks aren't inspired just by Nike

The Dunks became famous for their blatant imitation of Nike, but in reality Owens fished with his hands from the language of adidas and Puma to create his first, famous sneaker. The famous Swoosh of the Dunks in fact not only imitates Nike but is also a reversal of the stripe of Puma while the three lines that cross it refer to adidas. A 2007 prototype also shows that Owens had begun work on an imitation of the Vans Old Skool that never entered the market while, with the FW13 collection, the Ramones appeared, a reinterpretation of the Converse. The imitation of adidas became more evident with the Crust Dunks of the FW09 decorated with three side seams similar to the three stripes. Other design elements appeared later, with the release of short tongue geobasket in 2010, whose early models featured a toebox with stitching that imitated nike's and still had the detail of the staples. Later a low cut version of the silhouette turned into the Turbobasket of the SS10.

Nike never sent Owens a cease-and-desist

According to the legend, fueled by Owens himself, Nike sent a cease-and-desist letter to the designer to stop production of the Dunks. Owens said in an interview that the letter made him "swoon" although, as Grailed's Asaf Rotman reports, there is no concrete evidence that the letter was ever sent and Nike never said it had. What's more, the Dunks remained on sale until at least 2010 in the brand's stores. The fact is that the design was changed giving life to geobaskets as we know them, and feeding the myth of that "first edition" of sneakers that already two years after their debut had become very rare and that were the basis for the birth of the hype around Owens sneakers when the mania of sneaker designers spread around 2016.

The Dunks furono le prime sneaker di lusso di sempre

Dunk were the first sneakers of its kind. Before them there were no luxury sneaker designers, with a price that exceeded a thousand dollars. Not that fashion brands had ever produced their own sneakers, but until then they had been "low" category products and the same most famous luxury sneakers in those years, prada's America's Cup, were all in all very accessible to the general public – an entry point. The price and quality of the Dunks, combined with the air of legend surrounding their "first edition", fueled their fame within avant-garde fashion circles and paved the way for a series of extra luxury iterations of many other silhouettes in the years to come – especially after Owens' partnership with adidas that lasted from 2013 until 2017.