The Nike Air Huarache is 23 years old.
Countless technologies have come and gone since the Huarache debuted, but the appeal of this one sustains. Some people will try to tell you that the world of trainers (sneakers if we have to call them that for a global audience) is in rude health, but the fact a shoe that's old enough to legally drink — and back when this one first appeared, we thought that shoes were getting so progressive that they might be eating, talking, drinking androids for the feet by 2014 — is the big shoe now is as much a testament to a lack of progression as it is a display of great design’s endless appeal.
That the excitement is over a shoe that hasn't even been reissued right — lacking the special Huarache box, screwing up the shape, frequently skimping on quality (watch out for those glue marks) beyond QS editions, and dropping in a variety of appalling colorways — is strange, yet it reinforces the power of Tinker Hatfield's design. That this piece could even be click bait on a U.S.-based site right now is a testament that the hype hasn't plateaued.
Back in 1991, this shoe was just there one day. The UK's love of the running shoe goes way, way back to the late 1970s — given the sport's lack of popularity here, the basketball shoe wasn't going to dominate, and the explosion in jogging, music-led subcultures, and the much mythologized terrace culture gave Europe as a whole an appetite for the next road running thing.
Despite Michael Johnson's co-sign and local favorite Derek Redmond being carried across the finishing line in a stricken state by his dad in full Nike gear (with the "Have you hugged your foot today?" slogan across to his chest) during the Barcelona Olympics, the Huarache was just the right shoe for the right moment. Runner's World reviews said that the shoe lacked breathability, but who was wearing them for their intended purpose? Runner's World might have been ambivalent about its benefits during distances, but The Source would proclaim the Huarache technology the shoe event of the year in 1992.
In the UK, the Huarache was just the right shoe for the right moment — rudeboy, ragga-influenced style was colossal, crews like Soul II Soul were defining British style, sportswear had been the choice of streetwear for several years on the run up, and the pin roll was an increasingly popular way to show off footwear, whether it was Jordans, Air Max, ZXs, or Viking. Chipie cords, jeans, or click suits and the familiar diamond patterns of Burlington socks capture a moment in time, though Huarache wearers could go sock-free, too.
This design was popular for the same reason that some kid might want to scrap the better-looking pin roll and opt for some funny pre-cuffed pants with a pair — it had the minimal, foot-flattering profile that just looked good if it wasn't suffocated by swathes of distressed denim. For that reason, the Huarache and its Huarache Trainer brethren might just be the greatest complement to a tracksuit ever, and never forget that generation upon generation of British youth have been repping the grey or black track pant as a staple long before anyone had to create an insecure cozy movement to justify wearing normal things. There was even a moment when, thanks to the Dynamic-Fit of the shoe, it was worn sans laces.
the Huarache and its Huarache Trainer brethren might just be the greatest complement to a tracksuit ever.
Then there were the 1992 Foot Locker Limited Edition editions of the shoe — the Quickstrikes of their day for anyone who had a big FL branch in their vicinity — that took the fabled Escape line's ACG-style looks and sort of demystified them. They were bragging rights in neutral colors.
The Huarache made a strong appearance in the now-defunct, then-influential The Face magazine alongside models wearing the Air Max BW — another 1991 release with longevity in the UK — and was on the shelves well into 1993, when the white and black edition would be a staple shoe that made its final statement from the sale rack. And that was that, right?
By the start of the millennium, the appetite for reissues had exited the 1980s and begun calling for the return of some more technical styles. In 2000, a couple of Londoners with an knack for tapping into discerning tastes — Michael Kopelman and Fraser Cooke — would design two colorways of the Air Huarache ahead of its impending reissue for Stüssy. This was a significant moment in any timeline of footwear collaborations, and it created a blueprint that's currently looking particularly scrappy right now, with multiple mediocre shoes with cutesy nicknames dropping every weekend. But back then, it was novel —a streetwear brand and a sportswear brand working together seemed unusual, even though Stüssy had been worn with Nike for years. The resulting duo of makeups are still incredible — both with more than a little air of Limited Edition and Escape about them.
The Air Huarache would drop in some original colors and some new makeups in subsequent years. Via Foot Locker, the Huarache and Huarache Trainer would become street-level favorites all over again, with the connoisseurs amassing them as the shoe boom began, kids with zero interest in message boards throwing them on barely laced and nostalgics who were pleasantly surprised that they were back grabbing them. The kids who saw their older brothers and cousins wearing a pair a decade before could finally get theirs. No advertising needed. The colorways were respectful — some women's versions were masterpieces, while some black leathers and white/neutral greys almost passed unnoticed. By 2005, the Huarache was back on the sale racks.
Other than the ACG-themed Quickstrikes of 2007 and some hideous patterned editions that were threatened but never released a year or so later, the Air Huarache seemed to lie dormant while its eBay value was on the ascent. Then the unpleasant Huarache Free appeared that scrapped the Huarache sole — which is half the shoe's appeal and a groundbreaking moment of exposed foam comfort — and clumsily added a Nike Free sole. Let's just pretend that they never happened. Then out of nowhere in the summer of 2012, European Foot Lockers began dropping exclusives — which, in an era where we know everything that's dropping a month ahead of schedule, was refreshing — and a Quickstrike of some original colors with a puffy looking silhouette would hit retailers in early 2013, but snub Americans for some reason. Once again, now the kids who saw their older brothers and cousins in a pair ten years earlier could finally get their hands on some.
In the UK, the whipping boy for the Huarache's popularity among, what's perceived to be an undesirable crowd (though nobody at a brand is going to complain) is the glow-toothed British reality TV star, Joey Essex, the patron saint of the under cut from the Jersey Shore-esque Made in Essex. Our very own Situation. But whereas Michael Sorrentino plugged Zig Techs, Joey's love of the Huarache led him to break out the Stüssy editions to a premiere of some kind and bring them to the tabloids. He was considered patient zero for the Huarache epidemic and loathed by many for that reason. But a pious person that calls themselves a "sneaker head" is far worse than any reality star. The truth is, the Huarache just seems to be the perfect shoe for skinny jeans.
After a few months, they started dropping in greater volume. Terrible, woven toed (an affront to all that was great about the year 2000) makeups dropped. By now the shoe was popular in the UK, but never seems to be as ubiquitous as it was in 1992. Now that we have to give black and white shoes a triple prefix, staples became superstars — the all-white and all-black editions of the AF1, AM90, BW, Superstar, and Reebok Classic or Workout have been pub and street staples in this country for years. They were considered the antithesis of the sought-after shoe and sneered at by connoisseurs who ignorantly threw the classist "chav" jab their way.
But in a true emperor's new clothes moment, all-white and all-black became a must-have, and the "Triple Black" Huarache became a real resell currency when it dropped at Foot Locker last year. Reissued recently in vast numbers, even with constant restocks, it's still being resold over the recommended retail price — especially to League One football players. But in a world where most buzzed-about footwear can cost twice as much and head off into the high hundreds, and most shoes are sold out the second they're released in a blitz of queues and electronic stampedes, the key to the 'Triple Black' phenomenon is that it's a relatively affordable slice of the pie and decent looking shoe — in black, it also conceals the changes to the shape, though it really exposes the aforementioned glue stains.
Now, after being left out in the cold, America seems to be getting Huarache colors like the Scream Greens before Europe does — seeing as the USA gave us the shoe, that seems fair enough. In the UK, we're seeing signs of Huarache fatigue and speculation over what comes next (the Huarache Light wasn't the replacement for it that anyone anticipated) — with Instagram and the mainstreaming of hype culture the current explosion in popularity seems amplified. So when this classic gets retired for the third time, has the level of mania salted the earth for another growth of Huarache demand in 2023? As long as there are kids seeing siblings, celebrities, and family friends wearing a pair and being told no when they ask for some, there's a generation of potential buyers born every minute.
Not bad for a shoe that initially got scrapped because it never made its minimums.
Gary Warnett is a contributing writer to Complex and editor at Crooked Tongues. You can follow him on Twitter here.