I always used to think ‘70s sneakers were for weirdos with hair over their eyes, Che Guevara T-shirts, bootcut jeans, and messenger bags. Their thin soles and nylon uppers screamed “indie rock band” to me, and I never took them seriously. Things have changed over the years. For starters, I love ‘70s shoes and still hate corny political T-shirts, bootcut jeans, and long hair. But the footwear industry -- specifically the portion that’s only interested in product that causes hype -- has also gotten onto the trend over the past year or so.
If we’re going to pinpoint a moment when this trend started, it has to be me wearing Adidas’ SPZL collection on Full Size Run. No, that’s a joke. It probably started a few years ago when Nike took its time to reissue the Cortez, which first came out in 1972. The shoe was done up in high-quality suede, the focus was on shape and storytelling, and it proved that retro running shoes don’t just have to be reissues from the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. You can wear a bit more archaic shoe and get away with it.
Adidas had been reissuing its ‘70s and early ‘80s running shoes forever. SL 72. Atlanta. Dragon. New York. Early ZX shoes. The list goes on and on. And they have a cult-like following. The audience that goes for them might be outside of the mainstream conception of the sneaker connoisseur, but their passion for the shoes is equal to or greater than those going for Jordan 1s. A good chunk of them were football supporters who used the shoes to bounce around the terraces of England in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so their connection to the style is authentic and makes sense. The Adidas Silverbirch, which is based off the Denver, a Made in Austria running shoe, was recently featured in this season's SPZL range thanks to brand enthusiast Robert Brooks. Like any sneaker trend, it’s rooted in something genuine and passed down through the generations.
The true rebirth of ‘70s nostalgia in running shoes, however, has to belong to Nike. Although Adidas has a much more vast of archive of ‘70s sneakers -- the brand was started twenty some-odd years before the decade -- a lot of ‘70s runners get remembered as Nike shoes. It’s the decade in which the brand was started and also helped revolutionize the running world through Bill Bowerman’s invention of the waffle sole and mythical use of a waffle iron. The Nike Waffle Racer and Tailwind have both had a recent resurgence in conversation thanks not only to the reissue of the Tailwind 89, but also the collaboration between Japanese luxury brand Sacai and Nike on the LDWaffle, which is being touted as one of the best shoes and collaborations of the year.
Even with this slow energy building after ‘70s running shoes -- the LDWaffle is a mix of the Waffle Racer and Tailwind 89 -- no one saw the Sacai shoe coming. I sure as hell didn’t. If you were to tell me that hypebeasts -- people you typically see in Jordan 1s, Yeezys, and anything Off-White x Nike -- were going to temporarily trade in their usual footwear for a shoe they’d never consider if a trendy name wasn’t placed on it. But that’s what happened. The Sacai x Nike shoe, which is more like a high-fashion shoe with its two soles, tongues, sets of laces, and double Swooshes, was an unexpected choice for one of this year’s most popular shoes. It wasn’t the only shoe with the same aesthetic that’s caught steam, though. The Undercover x Nike Daybreak made use of a running shoe from 1979 that has seen little to no love from the hype circles that exalt the silhouette of the month. Now the Daybreak is coming back and people are into them. Better yet, the shoes were worn by Joan Benoit Samuelson to win the first women’s marathon in 1984. A true piece of sporting history.
Both of these collaborations have received boatloads of celebrity co-signs. The Sacai x Nike sneakers even were pushed back from their original release date and built up their drop’s anticipation. There’s also been two waves of colorways for each project, too. All debuted on the runway nonetheless.
Speaking of ‘70s runners on the runway, Junya Watanabe can be seen as the godfather of the trend when he worked Nike’s original models for a 2007 show. The special touch to these? They all had a vintage look to them, complete with pre-yellowed midsoles. The sneakers never really caught on back then. But in hindsight, they can be viewed as pioneers. They’ve recently resurfaced thanks to legendary tastemaker and renowned footwear designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, who pulled a pair out of his vault.
Will the ‘70s running shoe trend last? It would be nice, but the answer is more than likely “no.” But that’s the way things go. Something bubbles for a minute until everyone gets tired of it. Then it goes away, not until it hits sales racks and maybe becomes taboo to post on social media. There’s something about a ‘70s sneaker, however, that draws back to a simple time in the footwear industry. Where a man is innovating shoes out of his kitchen or designers weren’t really “designing” shoes, but rather sketching shoes by hand or even just crafting them in a workshop. Everything is so technical these days. Overcomplicated. Hype for the sake of hype. It’s nice to see something that’s simple get its time in the sun.