“It was an art project. Period.”
The photo of a pair of fresh white sneakers emblazoned with a familiar Fact 10 pattern were posted, somewhat anonymously, to a New Order fansite a few months ago. That post set off a swarm of blog and mainstream media attention, to such a point many people assume the Joy Division sneakers to be a real pair of shoes. This week, the rumor was revived once again, when sites like Gigwise and Yahoo Music reported them to be in production. The widespread attention even deterred merchandisers from pursuing a similar collaboration surrounding the release of Anton Corbijn’s upcoming band biopic, Control. To clear the matter up, New Balance issued a statement to the Daily Swarm today saying: “We don’t have any official affiliation with Joy Division or the artist and have no plans to bring this shoe to production for retail distribution.”
Montreal-based Dylan Adair, a graphic designer who keeps himself busy creating projects for himself, had created a similar pair of shoes once before, The Nike Blazers, for a traveling gallery show. These were similarly posted, discussed by sneaker geeks, and then forgotten. The newest creation had come at the request of New Balance, a company known more for their corner on the white-collar runner market than for any street cred hipster wear. So, it wasn’t unusual for Adair to hear them say “no thanks” to his commemorative design.
Dylan, seeking perhaps some validation after the rejection, and recognition for his hard work, sent pics to friends who posted them on New Order’s fan site (www.neworderonline.com). Suddenly, bloggers from around the globe picked up on it, to the point of stirring Gawker, E! Online, New York magazine, and the UK’s Guardian to run stories on the shoe, many reporting as if they were already for sale.
What started as a fan’s expression of admiration and devotion, became an online feeding frenzy of response from fans—some praise, some mocking, often crying sacrilege. New York dubbed the pairing “despicable.” The Guardian asked “Is an Ian Curtis Happymeal next?” All in all, this mysterious pair of white sneakers are a real phenomenon, so we talked with the designer that set it all off.
TDS: This has become a pretty famous pair of shoes, how did they come about?
DA: Sneakerpimps – a traveling exhibition of customized and limited edition sneakers – came through Canada and stopped in Montreal in October of 2005. I had the opportunity to be involved as a local contributor and decided to give it a shot. I had never customized shoes before, but I’m a sneaker “enthusiast” and thought the opportunity to do a theme shoe was an interesting challenge. It was the 25th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death, the rumors about a film on his life were already circulating, and I’ve been a Joy Division and New Order fan since the age of 10. The fun really started when it came down to actually trying to translate all the details (Ian’s lyrics, Peter Saville’s artwork, Factory catalog numbers, groove notations from the vinyl release, and the anniversary of Ian’s death 1980–2005) onto the actual skin of the shoe. I used a Nike Blazer for the initial project and used a variety of techniques, including screen-printing, laser engraving and embroidery for the custom work. A really talented cabinetmaker friend of mine named Ben Billick made the display case for the shoes. It really helped to complete the project.
TDS: What was your plan for them?
DA. To be completely honest… nothing. It was about the challenge of applying the kind of visual storytelling that made Factory so innovative at the time to a specific medium and having it come off successfully. I feel the shoe accomplished that. It happened that the challenge was to use a shoe: the kind of shoe that the band would never have worn at the time for that matter. It could have been an oven mitt or a dog bowl and it wouldn’t have mattered. It was about trying to apply the same degree of thought, the same attention to detail, and the same consideration to thinking the project through that any of the designers working for Factory would have.
Once the project was finished, I started to think that it would be really cool if the band members saw the shoes. I remember actually considering FedEx-ing them to a Stussy event in San Francisco that Peter Hook was DJing at just to get them into his hands. I figured if Peter Saville or Tony Wilson saw them that would be the most I could expect. I’m sure that by now they have all heard about the project, but I won’t speak for them as to what they think: I don’t have the first clue. Outside of that, this was a great opportunity for me to work with my hands again. This project reminded me how important it is as a designer to get away from the computer on a regular basis. Seriously dude… put the mouse down and walk away (laughs).
Why did New Balance pass on them?
It’s tough for me to comment on that. I never really got an explanation, so you’d be better off asking them. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that it is a difficult process on a good day in the music industry to license product in a manner that keeps everyone happy. Artists, A&R people, industry execs and independents do that dance every day. Perhaps that was where the disconnect was. More likely in my mind would be that New Balance are a running shoe company for runners. They make no bones about that and it’s how they have built their reputation. They have a dedicated following among lifestyle shoe enthusiasts as well and have done some collaborative work in the past, but it is never about gimmicks, flash or endorsement. Perhaps this was a little bit out-on-a-limb for them, and I can understand that.
What started the landslide of blogging posts about them?
Who knows what starts any blog posts? Hype? The prestige of being the first to have or post info? It’s amazing to me how much press time actually got devoted to this and how much of it was completely inaccurate. It was an art project. Period. It made me really wonder how much of what we see and read is actually true. It’s amazing the spin that can be put on things and how quickly and easily they can be taken out of context.
It seems you even got Peter Saville concerned that these were real.
I doubt very seriously that Peter was concerned about anything other than the mountain of projects he deals with on a day to day basis. The sense that I got was that there was concern – about the very things that I just mentioned about licensing – among current holders of rights to Joy Division artwork and merchandise. They just wanted to know the deal with the shoes. I can understand that given the level of piracy that goes on.
Do you think that fans want to believe that these are real?
My sense is that most fans want me dead and buried (laughs). I think that the most interesting thing about this whole thing has been the reaction of Joy Division fans. It’s been a mixed bag to say the least. It’s that age-old debate about music and artists being co-opted, commercialized, and taken advantage of. No one came right out and said it, but I’m sure that more than a few people figured that was my goal. Not at all. People pay tribute in different ways all the time. Raf Simons got access to Peter Saville’s graphic archive in 2003 and used them as the basis for his Autumn/Winter couture collection. Supreme used the artwork from Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album and New Order’s Blue Monday 12” for skateboards and merchandise just a couple of years later. The fact is that the band were great and people find different ways to express their appreciation for the bands they love. For as much as I love Joy Division and New Order’s music, I love their sense of play and irreverence. I remember reading that the band – in the months following Ian’s death – used to see fans showing up at gigs wearing Ian’s signature trench coat and standing – brooding – in the corner. It aggravated them enough that they would just end up playing more “disco-y” or electronic based tunes to shine them on. I think that’s a riot, and I think it’s the mark of a band that’s never lost the ability to laugh at themselves, even while making what I feel is an immeasurable contribution to modern music. I’d like to think that the band are laughing equally hard at the idea of a Joy Division shoe as they are the fans making such a huge deal out of it.
Or are there just too many sneaker heads fiending for more exclusive, limited editions?
There probably are, but there’s a lot of garbage out there as well. I think it depends what turns you on. Do you wear a pair of Eminem Jordan IV’s because you like Eminem, because you’re a Jordan IV fan, because they look spiffy, because Tinker Hatfield is a god, or because you’re one of a REALLY small number of people lucky enough to have a pair. It could be one or all of the above. Who cares? Wear what you like. Just because I’m an Air Max kinda guy doesn’t mean I can’t like listening to Vini Reilly or the Cocteau Twins on rainy days.
It really set off a lively discussion between sneaker heads and Joy Division purists. What do you think about the critics?
I think that they are all at home wearing trench coats, smoking cigarettes and watching Werner Herzog films… I’m kidding! They are simply expressing their own passion for a passion I share with them… while wearing trench coats.
Is Ian Curtis rolling in his grave?
Oh man, I’m never going to live that down. I hope not. Does Peter Hook take names every time another aspiring bassist starts choking up on the fret board and playing like a lead? I’m guessing not. So much of his (Ian’s) life is still a mystery to those closest to him. Who can honestly say what he would think about this or anything else. It’s often said that he couldn’t take the pressure or that the attention was too much. I think that’s bullshit. I think he would be equal parts thrilled and annoyed by how many bands today sound like Joy Division did in ‘79. What I do know, having had some experience of a loved one suffering from illness and depression, is that you never know and to assume anything about really knowing what it’s like to suffer and struggle through, that is futile. Whether his death adds to his mystique doesn’t make a lick of difference to me. He was an innovator, a great songwriter and a true performer. Given their popularity 30 years later, I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so.
Do you think a band like Joy Division is too precious for this type of pop ephemera?
No. What I do think is that the band members should be the ones to decide. I was joking about this with a friend not long ago saying that It would have been more appropriate for the band mates to each have some soccer casuals done up for them in the color of their favorite clubs. Maybe that would have more to do with who they are today. I think the problem with merchandise is often that it is not done with the band in mind. The Rolling Stones and KISS are great examples of bands that control their image with an iron fist. Sure it comes across as excessive at times, but you never get the sense that things are being handled with reckless abandon. I think that Joy Division fans especially would expect that the band’s interests, integrity and their involvement be essential in whatever product is made.
In essence, this is the ultimate limited edition sneaker, as there is only one pair in existence. What price would you set for them?
The New Balance mock-ups are somewhere in Manchester. I seriously have no clue where. Those were rough prototypes to use as a guide for color and graphics. They would make lovely bookends or maybe a pencil case. The original Nike pair in the display case are in my office and are a reminder of just how much fun I had actually “making” them. For me, that is what makes them priceless.
Will you wear them?
Someday… and likely paired with a trench coat.