Many are called, but few are chosen.
When it comes to classic sneakers, never has this been more true than now, with the hype around new releases reaching an all-time high and resell prices – even for erstwhile standard releases – rocketing to unprecedented levels, seemingly establishing footwear as the new go-to asset class in the process.
True classics, however, remain rare, and the adidas Forum is one such shoe.
Originally launched in 1984 as a Basketball sneaker, the Forum’s unique styling, innovative detailing and all-around premium feel saw it gain cult status both on and off the court, and is today firmly established as a bonafide classic.
Now adidas is bringing the iconic silhouette back through a wide range of activity encompassing collabs, new colourways, OG releases and more.
Harnessing the power of a classic shoe can be a hugely impactful – and rewarding – flex for a brand, but relaunching, and/or reinventing a classic is not without significant risk.
One of the key figures within adidas, focussed on the Forum’s resurgence, is Eric Wise, Global GM of Basketball.
COMPLEX caught up with Eric to find out more on how and why the brand is reinventing this classic shoe for a new generation.
COMPLEX: The Forum is undoubtedly seen as a classic, iconic shoe. What would you say are the key factors that go into making a shoe iconic, a classic – and how are these present in the Forum?
Eric Wise: It all starts with versatility. If you think about it, all the iconic silhouettes, all the classics, they’ve been worn by various different groups of people in vastly different ways. Then there’s also the crucial element with Forum that the silhouette was first and foremost authenticated through sport. The parts of the shoe that you recognise today — the strap, the criss cross ankle system — these were true sporting innovations at the time.
The question then becomes, “does the innovation translate into culture?”. What’s crucial here is that it’s not a brand taking it into culture, it’s people bringing the shoe into new contexts — whether it be skateboarding, fashion, dance, and beyond. This kind of adoption happens across different genders, backgrounds, ethnicities, nations. It’s this process of cultural authentication that takes a silhouette from a shoe to an icon.
This definitely happened with the Forum when it launched back in the 80s and in various moments since. But we’re in the 2020s now, and culture, like the consumer, have evolved significantly. Past performance is no guarantee of future success, as they say, so what factors do you need to consider when bringing back a classic silhouette for a contemporary audience?
For us, it’s very much about approaching it on two levels. First and foremost, we looked to the product specifically. The silhouette is clearly iconic so it was crucial that we stayed true to its origins. At the same time, however, it was important for us to make some small tweaks to bring it into the modern day. Having done this, our approach was then very much centred on recontextualising the silhouette for a new audience. We asked ourselves “How can we make sure that we recognise Forum’s past while making sure it’s connected to a new generation of sneaker lovers?”.
Are there any key lessons you’ve learned from doing this with other shoes?
Classics are always going to be classics but there’s a delicate balance between celebrating our history and just giving the same old history lesson. So we began with the product, thinking about how it looks, how it feels, and how it can be styled, and then we made the conscious decision to bring in different partners who could reimagine the silhouette through their lens.
We really wanted to give people a voice in what Forum was all about. We never wanted to come across as the brand that shouts “Hey this is important”; instead it was absolutely essential for us to bring the right people in to be our voice and to authenticate the silhouette in culture.
You mention versatility as a key ingredient in making a shoe a classic shoe – how do you see this being evident in the Forum?
It’s all about the way in which the Forum allows the wearer to experiment; it’s a vehicle for self-expression. You can un-loop the strap, you can keep the strap and unlace the shoe – we’ve even seen people cut the strap off all together. We’ve tried to respond to this by offering a number of different variations, some with straps, some without, some with coloured straps, etc. The silhouette also comes in both High, Mid and Low cut versions which really give the wearer agency to go out and make it their own.
What does this allow you to do in terms of bringing new interpretations, and collaborations to the shoe?
For us it’s been about iterating the classic silhouette and offering even more versatility, while also keeping it true to what it is. When we bring in other partners we give them the opportunity to put their spin on it, to reimagine Forum in their own aesthetic language while keeping important product and brand markers intact. It’s a silhouette that can lean more sporty, or more fashion, or even more art-focused, so there really are innumerable ways to bring it into culture. This is something that our partners are able to latch onto and run with. We’re always excited to show everyone what they’ve come up with.
Aside from the physical aspects of the shoe, what else is it about the Forum that has helped it become a classic?
There are two really iconic elements of Forum: the strap and the criss cross ankle system. But if I’m honest, these alone aren’t what makes the shoe so special. These were functional innovations for sport that gave more athletic support. As you bring this forward, however, the shoe has been adopted into culture and those elements have been transformed by different groups. In this sense, the way the shoe is styled has been a key factor in making it what it is today. There aren’t many shoes out there that have that iconic strap and what has been special throughout Forum’s history is the way in which it has been reinterpreted.
This is something we see across many of our iconic silhouettes with roots in sport — if we think about the UltraBOOST for example, when it first launched you had people cutting the cage off or lacing it in different ways. Forum’s iconic components offer this exact same kind of opportunity, it really is a canvas for self-expression. It’s been crucial for us, in this process of reintroducing Forum, that we put the silhouette in the hands of the people, letting both consumers and our design team take it into a different space. In my eyes that’s the exciting part, and I think this is what gives the silhouette longevity.
This is also accentuated by the fact that, with Forum, you have high and low cut versions which are equally iconic. Right now it’s really evident that consumers are looking for different styles of silhouettes to fill out their wardrobes, to add versatility. For a long time people’s closets were full of runners and low tops, but you’re beginning to see a real turn to higher cut silhouettes as a way to experiment with new looks.
It’s also important, here, to acknowledge Forum’s position as a part of Basketball history. There’s no other sport in the world that intersects authentically with culture in quite the same way. We can see that influence permeating through fashion and style today. So it’s something we really want to celebrate because we’re proud of Forum’s role in that cultural history.
Fast forward to today, and you’ve been doing a wide range of collabs as a key part of your activity around relaunching the shoe. Can you talk a little about these – why this approach, why you chose these specific collaborators, etc?
In general our approach from the start was all about building Forum from the ground up, from the community. For us, Forum is a platform for self expression. And so if we think about it like a play on the actual word “forum”, before COVID-19 we had visions of people coming together to form literal forums, trading ideas, and building communities, all around this silhouette.
That’s really the ethos we’ve tried to bring to our collaborations. It’s all about bringing in diverse perspectives. You’ll start to see that come through over the coming year. We’ve already started to demonstrate this with some of the retailers that we’ve launched Forum with globally. What’s been crucial, here, is that every collaborator or partner has had a real connection to the community, whatever community it is that they’re part of.
We’ve really focussed on making this about giving back and celebrating grassroots community building. As we progress through the next year we’ve tried to build a coalition of collaborators that are introducing products with grassroots energy. For us Forum is anything but “hype” — it’s actually rooted in something tangible.
Can you get into specifics, in terms of what you’ve done or – better still – what you might be looking to do, and with whom?
We don’t want to discuss particular names too much at this point, but from a cultural perspective it’s all been about centring and elevating communities. When you look at some of the friends-and-family releases we’ve done already, there was always a component that was focused on giving back. Whether it was End., Sneaker Politics, or BSTN, we wanted to empower these retailers to connect with their communities and to build on their connection to culture through Forum. Each retailer then had their own spin on things — for example, End. was much more fashion-oriented while BSTN was very sports-focused.
Allowing Forum to permeate across both local and global terrains has been a wider goal of ours, too. So from a communications standpoint we’ve been focused on incorporating both hyper-local and international voices from across the world. Our process has been all about asking “are we working with the right people in the right localities to do justice to what this shoe is all about?”. We’ll continue to build on that so as to give Forum a heartbeat that oscillates between wide-scale relevance and local nuance. We want consumers to know that Forum is not only important to us as a brand on a global scale but also important at a community level.
Finally, can you give us an idea of what the brand’s ambitions are for the Forum franchise in the medium to long term?
We know that classics is one of our strong points as a brand. Forum is very much a part of that — with classic Basketball as another key pillar. So in the medium and long-term we’re focused on solidifying the silhouette as an essential icon in our arsenal. For us, the next year, the year of Forum, is all about recontextualising the sneaker’s incredible history for a new audience.
Get a closer look at all the Forum iterations available to cop now via adidas.