Not too long ago, the sneaker wars was a battle of innovation and technology. Nike was to Air as Reebok was to Pump. But shoe companies these days aren’t just selling shoes; they’re selling history to those willing to pay the price.

Five years into the new millennium, “retro” is the word when it comes to the art of buying sneakers. Even Will Smith’s character in I-Robot was wearing a pair of futuristic Chuck Taylors while fighting wayward androids. Hollywood, rock stars and the rest of the fashion cognoscenti are to blame – and local sneaker fetishists are of course, following suit.

“Whatever is a hit in the US is also a hit here. It just shows how fashion-forward Filipinos are,” says Jake Ramirez, local sales and marketing manager for Converse, whose classic Chuck Taylor sneakers remain the company’s biggest selling shoe of all time. More than a billion pairs of “Chucks” have been sold all over the world.

Not bad for a shoe that was created for basketball – almost a century ago (1917 to be exact). It was named after Charles “Chuck” Taylor, a basketball player turned Converse salesman, making him the first ever sneaker endorser although nowhere near famous as Michael Jordan born decades later. But while its popularity on the court waned, it became a fashion icon.

Chucks have made resurgence lately, owing partly to the current 80s revival in music. Think Orange and Lemons or better yet, imagine what Aga Muhlach and the rest of his Bagets crew were wearing to go with their screaming-80s threads.

“Before only basic colors like black and white are being sold. Lately, there’s been a demand for pink even for men along with new models that have printed designs,” Jake says, noting that, as a sign of popularity, every outlet of Shoe Salon sells as many as 15 pairs of Chucks a day.

And as a true sign that the Chuck has leapt from its basketball roots to being a fashion icon, Converse recently introduced a “distressed” model last year. Riding on the retro craze, other classic Converse sneakers, which likewise have a story to tell, have been re-issued like the One Star (worn by Kurt Cobain when he committed suicide) and the Jack Purcell tennis shoe (worn by Hollywood rebel James Dean).

Music, of course, has a lot to do with it. In the case of Chucks, it actually transcends musical genres, whether it’s the bubblegum rock of Avril Lavigne to alternative acts like Incubus and hardcore bands like Deftones. It’s almost the de-facto sneaker of choice for any skinny teen who dreams of being in a band.

Rock stars oftentimes become unofficial (and unintentional) endorsers such as in the case of Adidas. When legendary rap group Run D.M.C professed their fascination in a 1986 song, aptly titled “My Adidas” (Me and my Adidas do the illest things/We like to stomp out pimps with diamond rings), it enshrined the shell-toed Superstar sneakers into cult status – from old-school hip-hop and b-boy groups and later worn even by metal bands like Anthrax (again, proof that sneakers transcend music genres).

The Superstar, which also traces its roots to basketball and was popularized by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is the biggest selling Adidas sneaker of all time. To mark its 35th anniversary this year, Adidas released 35 special edition models divided into five series, including a music series that includes designed by music icons like Red Hot Chili Peppers (the image of Anthony Kiedis and Flea appear in the sole), Ian Brown of Stone Roses, Missy Elliott and of course, Run D.M.C. Some of these special edition models were sold locally.

Adidas prides itself with tradition (it has a museum in Germany that keeps a relic of every model the company produced) and have been re-issuing classic models regularly since it introduced its Originals line about three years ago. It even opened concept stores in major cities like Tokyo, New York and Hong Kong that have the appeal of mini-museums complete with stories and trivia about each model.

It took some time, though, before the Originals line was launched here in the Philippines. Some of the standard Adidas models were being manufactured locally and that had to be phased out to make way for those that are from abroad. Loyal Adidas fans will rejoice at seeing the ultra-retro Trefoil logo that preceded the now familiar three-stripes. Yes, even those Stan Smiths your balikbayan uncle from Saudi used to wear are now making a comeback.

“At first we were a bit hesitant because people might find them more expensive. But what we found out is that there are a lot of Filipino collectors so our old models are still selling well. For the younger generation, it gives them something they can connect to with their dads, for example,” says Toti Wong, who manages the Originals line in the Philippines.

What makes a visit to an Adidas store these days a lot more interesting is reading some of that history that comes along with the sneakers on display. Out of curiosity, I asked a young store clerk once who Wilhelm Bungert since he had a signature shoe on display. He told me he was a tennis player from the 60s who played in a Wimbledon final but never won a tournament in his career. I wonder if his dad knows as much.

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