As the country was being torn apart last Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, Adidas unexpectedly released Kanye West’s newest sneaker, which marked a huge departure from his line’s run of sock-like shoes. The Wave Runner 700, a model that he’s been wearing this year, is change of the times for West. It’s a big, chunky running shoe that’s more appropriate for a 40-year-old father of two than a flimsy sneaker that’s fawned over by teenagers. Kanye’s Adidas sneakers aren’t just a change for him, though, they’re a sign that the industry is starting to have a moment with “dad" shoes, and they’re making literal waves in the summer of 2017.
The most popular shoe of 2017 so far is the Nike VaporMax, which is more of the same old, same old when it comes to footwear these days: A Flyknit upper and a lightweight midsole. But beyond that, the trend of “dad” shoes has found its niche. The Wave Runner might just be the latest example of this switch in tastes, one where “real” or “old man” sneakers have a place on the shelves -- or walls of Flight Club -- once again.
The Wave Runner isn’t West’s first foray into the world of bulky or plain sneakers, either. Just a few months ago he worked with Adidas on the “Calabasas” Powerphase, which is an all-white rework of the 1986 sneaker that was originally designed for aerobics. It’s a shoe that was unexpected and something that people wouldn’t have worn a few years ago without Kanye’s co-sign. But we all know how that can drastically shift people’s perceptions on just about anything. The bland and boring can becoming exciting, just by him wearing or putting his name on it.
Think about that for a second: White-on-white aerobic sneakers are being worn by all the “cool guys” this summer. It’s a departure from the traditional Air Force 1s, but also worlds away from the Prestos, Ultra Boosts, and Jordan 1s that have been in their rotations, too.
Kanye wasn’t the only designer who was able to take something old, however, and make it relevant for a new audience. Nike connected with Tom Sachs for the second version of its MarsYard sneaker and placed a 1970s’s running shoe -- in a brown, white, and red colorway -- with a modern sole unit. The shoe had previously released in 2012, but came more readily available this year. Tom Sachs’s name gives the MarsYard a bit more cachet, but it doesn’t break free from the point that its ultra-retro design is something that looks at home on both father and son. It also doesn’t make it any less cool, either. It just proves that tastes are changing, or reverting, into days when more simplistic, traditional sneakers were the norm. It’s a backlash against an industry that went so far into the future that even a shoe with NASA technology -- that’s something your dad would like, right? -- is a balance between the past and the present. And it comes with a resale value of somewhere near $800.
It wasn’t only Nike and Adidas who got in on the dad shoe game, though. New Balance, arguably the king of all geriatric footwear, has started to have a moment with its 990v4. A grey suede running sneaker that comes with tons of support and cushioning, but it’s not just being worn by mall walkers anymore. It’s become a staple in the DMV area and Philadelphia, with several successful collaborations with retailer DTLR, while a “Sunset Rose” version was a surprise hit and flew from shelves with no marketing or hype. It’s not a sneaker that’s supposed to catch on in a market that’s dominated by minimal, stripped-down shoes with knitted technology, but, alas, it’s happening.
It’s not to say that only this style of sneakers is what’s resonating right now. There are still plenty of people clinging onto shoes that look more at home worn in wave pools at water parks than ones designed for severe pronation. But if it’s good enough for Kanye, you know the rest.