Food for Thought: 10 Years

I’m a student of the game, and very early on in my career I would study people who carved a lane in this industry. A major inspiration to me during this time was Nigo of A Bathing Ape. By watching him I learned that products were released with purpose, as each collection would be part of a story, a long story – a timeline. When I work with Asics, my design philosophy has always been to create cohesive product that showcases constant improvement and evolution. Over a year ago, I was digging through the archives of some of my old hard drives and stumbled across the very first Asics CAD I had ever worked on. It was dated November 2006, and I was stunned that 10 years had gone by so quickly. With 2016 being both Kith’s 5-year anniversary and my 10-year anniversary of working with Asics, I began putting together a collection of products that would combine the past, the present, and the future.

This collection’s first delivery will mark the release of my 50th pair of Gels with Asics; I never thought I’d be able to say this, let alone write it. It’s important for me to show that even when I’m 50 pairs in, I’m not resting on my laurels. 10 years later, I’m still trying to push the envelope and shift the current dynamic of the marketplace. For my 47th, 48th, 49th, and 50th collaborations with Asics, I will be working on some of the rarest models in the brand’s history so far. This is why I am referring to their release day as Legends Day. The Legends Day Collection is split into two different color themes – Salmon Toe and Militia. I used these two palettes to create a fully rounded collection of some of my best work with Asics ever, but before I delve into the product side of things, I want to share the personal significance behind these colorways and models.

I had actually designed the Salmon Toe and Militia colorways in 2008-2009 and planned on releasing them while still working at David Z. When originally putting together the Salmon Toe, I combined a color palette that I really loved with a new colorblocking style that I had never tried before. Upon seeing the CAD’s David was skeptical, and rightfully so because at the time it was very risky to try selling a pink shoe to men. The shoe was also blocked in a way that people weren’t familiar seeing, so it just looked strange to them, almost alien-like. I proceeded to produce them anyway, and after seeing the first samples I had to decide between using a white or a navy midsole. I loved both, but truth is I loved the navy more. What ultimately determined the outcome was whether the shoe would be released in the summer or in the fall. We went back-and-forth until David and I eventually decided to release it in the summer, which is still early enough for a white midsole in New York.

As time went on, production was held up with certain shoes because I began making my moves to leave David Z. At the time there were three shoes on the burner that were postponed until we could figure out whether they would come with me, or release at David Z. When I officially decided to leave, David and I made an agreement that he would get to keep one of my designs (the Mint Leaf) and I would save two for myself (the Salmon Toe and the Leather Back). The opening of Kith was not until September 2011, but since the Salmon Toe was originally a summer release, the order was placed with Asics using a white midsole and it was too late to switch up. Going into opening day at Kith, I was worried that the white midsole might not have the same appeal as the navy might have had, since the navy had always been my personal favorite. Obviously the shoe was a success, which was relieving, and is something I am still thankful for.

The Militia Gel-Lyte III (formerly known as a different name that began with an “M” that I’m no longer allowed to use) was inspired by my father’s best friend who was in the army and would always wear military green, even on his days off. I reinterpreted the colors of his uniform to create a subtle palette that was very different from what the norm was in 2008-2009, as people sought more vibrant tones. I loved the sample when it came in, but I had a lot of projects going on, so I had some tough decisions to make. Specifically, I had to choose between proceeding with the Militia or the Nice Kicks 1.0. Although the Militia was a gorgeous shoe, I had already begun working on the Trilogy Pack, and knew that the time was not right. As years went by I continued to consider releasing the Militia, but come 2010-2011 the footwear industry began to undergo the trend of the monotone runner in premium materials (think Nice Kicks 1.0, Navy Aqua, Cove, Nice Kicks 2.0, etc.). It seemed like more and more brands/retailers began to re-appropriate this approach, and I didn’t want to release it in the middle of this wave because I felt like it would have been like a candle in the sun. A few years later the fashion world began to gravitate towards more of a neutral palette of earth tones, and it seemed as if the stars were aligning the Militia colorway…

Fast-forward to 2015 and I’m sitting in my office staring at my first Asics CAD from November 2006. My mind began to wander to moments in the past that might have changed the trajectory of my career. What if I had released the Salmon Toe with a navy midsole? What if I released the Militia over the Nice Kicks 1.0? This reminiscing lasted all of about 15 minutes before I snapped back to reality and began conceptualizing how I would commemorate this moment in my life. I began to toy with the thought of releasing some of the greatest “What ifs” of my career, which had a direct impact on this year’s release of the Super Green. It is also the reason I decided to release the original Salmon Toe and the Militia. However, I knew that if these models were to officially release, they had to be perfect, which led me to working with Asics to have these three models handcrafted in Japan using the most premium materials we could source. The attention to detail paid to each pair crafted in Japan is unmatched, and when I received the samples of these three “unicorns” I knew they were as close to perfect as they could ever get. To be able to finally release these colorways in such an elevated manner makes me happier than people will understand.

I chose to release the Super Green earlier in the year, but wanted to hold onto the Salmon Toe and the Militia until November to salute 10 years of working with Asics. Although they are both masterpieces, I still wasn’t content with only releasing these two. I imagined sitting in the same room as the Ronnie Fieg from 10 years ago, and I could hear him say, “These are sick, but what’s the shoe people don’t know they want yet?” because that’s been the approach since day one. 10 years ago I saw an opportunity in the marketplace, and I worked with Asics to fill that void. In the mid 2000’s there was a growing trend of retro-tech sportswear product, but the design language of brands like Asics had changed so much since the early 1990’s that people forgot how innovative these designs had been. In the same vein, these brands moved away from this design approach because they didn’t feel the customer appreciated their retro product. I bridged that gap by releasing the Gel-Lyte III for the first time ever from the archive. Since then, the focus has always been finding what comes next, and selecting which models we can take from the archive and showcase in a new light. We went from the Gel-Lyte III to the GT Quick to the GT-II to the Gel Saga to the Gel-Lyte V to the Gel Sight to the GT Cool Express. There’s a science to how and when archived silhouettes should be reintroduced, and a majority of people don’t understand that. Simply bringing back a discontinued model doesn’t spell success; the design has to speak to the current state of the market. I take great pride in this; it’s important to continue to re-launch silhouettes effectively because it demonstrates the evolution of Asics and myself in relation to one another. So closing in on 10 years, I’m excited to bring back my favorite Gel silhouette outside of the Gel-Lyte III – the Gel Mai.

The Gel Mai was released in the late 1990’s as the “new fit” for running and features a very progressive design, complete with an asymmetrical lacing system and a high-volume midsole for superior cushioning. The Gel Mai is also one of the only retro Asics runners that does not feature the brand’s signature Tiger stripes on the upper, but instead relocates them on the midsole as a jeweled logo. I had come across the Gel Mai in the Asics archive in the past and loved its extreme and dynamic aesthetic, but knew that the market wasn’t quite ready for it yet. Today we are seeing a surge in appreciation for progressive technical footwear, and the Gel Mai is the pinnacle retro-tech shoe to me. So I pulled the Mai from the archive and created two colorways themed after the Salmon Toe and the Militia. I’m beyond excited for customers to get to see this shoe in person, as the details are exquisite.

I looked at my Asics projects for 2016, gazing at the Made in Japan Gel-Lyte III’s and the Gel Mai’s…and still felt something missing. I had the past and I had the present, but I also wanted to create something for the future - enter the Gel-Lyte III.I. I introduced this model back in May with the release of the Super Green, but never really shed light on its history. The Gel-Lyte III.I has been a brainchild of mine since 2009, and I originally tried to launch it as a duo with the first Salmon Toe. I still have CAD’s of the III.I’s in the Salmon Toe colorway and in the Cove colorway from 2009, but they were never brought to fruition. The III.I represents the transformation of retro-tech product, it’s a display of how designs like the Gel-Lyte III would look if they had continued to evolve rather than being left in the archive. I pushed hard to make them a reality for 2016, and I worked with Asics diligently to get them right. However, the production process is so laborious and involved that Asics told me they would help me to create three of them to release this year, but would not produce anymore going forward. After the release of the two colorways that will drop as part of the Legends Day Collection, the public will never see this silhouette again.

At last I had my collection that combined the past, the present, and the future. One cohesive collection that represents the ultimate timeline for both Asics and myself. The first silhouette is the Gel-Lyte III (the most classic and timeless Gel), then the Gel Mai (the pinnacle of retro-tech design), and lastly you have the Gel-Lyte III.I (the evolution of the Gel series). All that was left was deciding how to release them… At the time of writing this I have released 46 Gels with Asics. When thinking about the release of my first 50 pairs, I envisioned how they would appear on a timeline and how many fresh experiences I offered the public in terms of new designs and silhouettes. This vision motivated me to split the Legends Day Collection into two deliveries, and release both pairs of Gel Mai’s and Gel-Lyte III.I’s first to reach that 50 pair-milestone. These four pairs will release in late November. The two pairs of Gel-Lyte III’s will still release this year, but at an undisclosed date and time.

I’m sure a few people will read this, some will skim through it... but when I began writing these Food for Thought posts over 10 years ago, I did it for myself. I did it to take solace in the fact that the truth is out there, and people can find it if they look hard enough. And that’s why I still do it today. I am beyond grateful for the support I have received over the years, and despite my successes, I am still writing this as a kid from Queens who wasn’t supposed to get this far. Believe in yourself, don’t let others’ opinions affect your judgment, and you can take your dreams as far as you are willing to go.

Sincerely,

RF

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