New York City is the capital of the sneaker universe. This was already fact. Well, with one or two dissenters. But this much is undeniable: Sneaker culture, whatever that means these days, started in the streets of New York. It grew here, sank roots deep under the streets, then spread seeds throughout the country and the world. In time, other cities—Boston, London, Tokyo—took on importance of their own, took what started in New York and put their own definitive twist on it. The tree grew so big that some people in some places forgot their roots.
If the New York sneaker scene was, to borrow a KITH term, “just us,” the arrival of Concepts marks the introduction of “them.”
Allow this to serve as a reminder.
The flashpoint of this whole thing is a single store opening on Hudson Street, as Cambridge Mass.’s Concepts opens their New York outpost this weekend (in Vinny Ponte’s old Rival space, no less). This is not to take away from those sneaker boutiques and sneaker-ish boutiques—KITH, Supreme, ALIFE Rivington Club—that started here, or the ones that came more recently, like West and Extra Butter. The scene was already vibrant, the competition healthy.
But this is different. If the New York sneaker scene was, to borrow a KITH term, “just us,” the arrival of Concepts marks the introduction of “them.” This is Mikhail Prokhorov buying the Nets and putting a billboard up opposite of Madison Square Garden. This is provocation—maybe not quite so intentional, but provocation nonetheless. And in anything, whether it be sports or politics or sneakers, that is generally the way to something happening. An action prompting a reaction.
This has been a decade of wild growth for sneakers in general. Collaborations, once the privilege of the very few, have become ubiquitous. It would be possible to buy sneakers every week without buying anything BUT collabs. New models come in a vast array of colorways right out of the gate, popular retro models get re-made in countless ways, back catalogues are strip-mined for whatever might catch on with an ever-hungrier fanbase, entire brands are brought back from the dead, sometimes more than once. And, although it might get lost in all the noise, the best releases each year are getting very, very good. Arguably the best have never been better.
And those who do it best just continue to do it better. Packer Shoes, KITH, Concepts, Sneakersnstuff, Extra Butter—they stand out even amongst all the other standouts, via consistency and storytelling and work with a variety of brands. For one to expand to the turf of the others, that’s significant. And it should have some consequences, ones that should benefit us all.
Concepts wasn’t the first “outsider” sneaker boutique to invade New York—Atmos opened an outpost in Harlem back in 2005—but it’s the biggest so far. And it won’t be the last. As European retailers gain prominence thanks in part to blogs and in part to local retailers carrying their collabs, it only makes sense that they will seek brick and mortar footholds in America too. Where? Where else?
Russ Bengtson is a senior staff writer for Complex who has lived in NYC since 1996. He’s not going anywhere. You can follow him on Twitter here.