The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto recounts the innovations that pushed the design, materials and meaning of sneakers after the creation of new aesthetic territories and revolutionary developments in materials and sustainability to the new illusory environment of the metaverse. [Forecasting the Complicated Future of Footwear – Surface]
Though some innovations may have been predictable at the turn of the millennium—stepping up the green factor with reclaimed ocean plastics or using 3D printing to create inventive forms—few would have predicted that sneakerheads would be shelling out thousands in cryptocurrency on exclusive drops to dress up their virtual avatars in the metaverse.
Now, an all-encompassing exhibition opening today at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum is shedding light on how footwear has evolved through the years—and predicting where the category is headed next. According to the museum’s director and senior curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, who co-authored Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks (Rizzoli) that will accompany the exhibition in June, footwear’s foray into the metaverse is carving out new possibilities for the category’s next frontier.
“There’s a huge opportunity for imagining things that don’t exist,” she tells Complex. “In the metaverse, you don’t need shoes to do anything for you. Just think of what can happen if we continue to move forward with fashion in the metaverse. The sky’s the limit.” She also notes that these innovations have pushed sneakers into the realm of artistic objects. “Sneakers have become collectible, if you think about the trajectory of footwear having an athletic function but being part of a wardrobe or expressing an identity, to sneakers that aren’t even being worn.”
Lately, sneakers even wield political power. Kerby Jean-Raymond, the founder of Brooklyn fashion label Pyer Moss, often mixes politics and fashion. The label’s first in-house sneaker, the bulbous Sculpt, speaks to his efforts to remind the world of history’s Black innovators while ushering in a new generation of talent. And when Olympic track and field athlete Allyson Felix faced gender-based injustice related to her motherhood, she launched her own sneaker company Saysh. She donned a bespoke pair of running spikes designed by Natalie Candrian, Mike Friton, and Larry Eisenbach when she won gold at the recent Tokyo Summer Olympics, making her the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history.
Given shows like “Sneakers Unboxed” at the London Design Museum, Nike and Louis Vuitton’s current Virgil Abloh exhibition in Brooklyn, the rollout of Lil Nas X’s controversial Satan shoes, and the booming collector’s market, footwear is entering the realm of fine art. As Abloh put it: “My philosophy is there’s a line in the sand. This generation may value sneakers more than a Matisse because [the Matisse] is not attainable.”