Ever since I discovered the book “Sneakers” I wanted to talk to its authors. My interview with Howie Kahn is now online at PRAISE magazine – and here’s the English version!
As PRAISE is a German-speaking mag, I felt it was my privilege to publish the original English version of the feature here as soon as it made the jump from the printed issue:
Books on footwear are far and few between, even more so when it comes to works that aim higher than for collectors’ showcases. “Sneakers” by Alex French, Howie Kahn and Rodrigo Corral is that rare treat. Published in the fall of 2017, the book even entered the New York Times bestseller list. To find out more about the stunning 320 page project, I met up with Howie Kahn on a recent trip to NYC. I let Howie speak uninterrupted for himself here to pay homage to the “train of thought” interview form of the book.
“I’m a 39 year old man, which means I grew up precisely when sneaker culture took off in the USA. It’s when I crossed over from the age of “your mother dresses you” to when you really care what you wear. And the thing everybody cared about when I turned 8 or 9 was Air Jordan 1 and 2. That was the first time I had ever seen men and boys talk about fashion. I grew up in Michigan in the mid 80s, style wasn’t really a thing that was discussed over there. But all of a sudden, it was a major thing, and I remember thinking I have to get the shoes. As I was a kid, I didn’t fit into adult sizes, but I remember buying the smallest adult size I could find and wearing them anyways. They looked like clown shoes on me, but I had to have them. That’s how my fascination started. Probably not a very original story – but I think what’s interesting is that it happened to lots of people at the same time.
Fast forward to 2015 when I was lucky to have a talk with my writing partner Alex and our designer Rodrigo, and it turned out that all of us wanted to do a project about sneakers. Initially, it took us a while to figure out what kind of book we wanted to do. It meant a lot to us to make something permanent. Most things are digital now, you scroll through and you’re done with them. That’s also how sneaker drops work – a shoe comes out, it’s hyped and special, but then the world just moves on to the next thing. So, what we were going to do with the book was to center it around people as the anchor of the entire culture. The shoes keep changing, but there’s a core group of people that make this world tick.
We wanted people in the book who are making waves right now. But we also couldn’t do it without going backwards and finding a starting point that made sense. You can’t do a book called “Sneakers” without talking to Clark Kent or Bobbito Garcia, who is responsible for writing the first and best book on sneakers ever. He’s been there from the very beginning. And one of the things I had in my head was: Would somebody put ours next to Bobbito’s book on their shelf? Would it be a nice companion for that book, coming some twenty years later? That was my standard from the beginning. Bobbito was also the very first interview we had scheduled. After that was done, we felt we could move forward.
Since the book has come out, we’ve been to many events and discussions and had the luck of meeting amazing people all over the world. It’s great to see design students pick it up and use it for inspiration. It’s cool to meet somebody who drove four hours to come to an event and chat about something they saw in the book. We’ve had some great open “town hall” conversations, just talks about creativity. Recently, the book was published in Tokyo, in that version there is also some extra Japanese content. It’s being published in Russian. Of course we’d love to see the book in German and are looking for a German publisher.
We wanted it to be global. It was important to us that it reflected the fascination around the entire world. We wanted it to be not overly dedicated to one brand or another, while also recognizing that it’s a culture by brands. We wanted there to be both men and women, we wanted black and white people. One of the cool things about the sneaker culture is that it represents one of the most diverse and inclusive spheres within modern pop culture. This is definitely not a world whose thinking stops at the foot.”
Thanks to Howie Kahn for his time and the pictures from the book!