Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Bordeaux opens major exhibition featuring the design of sneakers

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Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Bordeaux opens major exhibition featuring the design of sneakers
Installation view of Playground: The Design of Sneakers. Photo: madd Bordeaux / Alastair Philip Wiper.

BORDEAUX.- Basketball shoe, tennis shoe, trainer or sneaker, regardless of the name, they have influenced the way we live, and the way we dress, since the early 20th century. Worn by millions of people the world over, sneakers have, in just a few decades, become a mass-market product that transcends gender, age, and social and cultural background. But how did a simple sports shoe make the leap from the pitch to become a genuine fashion accessory or even a piece of art?

With over 600 pairs, films, archive documents, photos and personal accounts, the exhibition presents all the facets of this iconic object, from its success with New York breakdancers to the cutting-edge technological research that goes on with that.

Through a selection of around fifty emblematic iconic models from 1900 to the modern day, the visitors discover the key markers of what constitutes the history of the sneaker. Worn by sports stars, demonstrating breakthrough technological innovation, promoted by famous rappers or skaters, or produced by major fashion designers, stylists or iconic artists – each of the selected models has a story to tell. They reflect a moment in time, an era or a social phenomenon.

Then the exhibition allows visitors to discover the story behind this rise. Long the preserve of the sporting arena, sneakers gradually expanded beyond this field to play a major role in urban culture and fashion. The transfer from sport to street is closely linked to emerging counter-cultures in the United States and Europe in the 1970s. Symbols of rebellion against conformity, tools of distinction for hip-hop and break dancing icons, or of social and cultural affirmation for certain minorities, sneakers could soon be found on everyone’s feet. But the archetypal democratic sneaker becomes in the 1980s the object of all desire. Prices flame and Sports Illustrated magazine headlined “your sneakers or your life” in the 1990s. Films, photos and testimonies trace this dazzling success.

The second part of the exhibition looks back at the key innovations that have shaped the history of the sneaker industry since its inception. Visitors will discover the research carried out by major brands’ dedicated departments that, for many years, have been engaged in a race to bring new technologies to market. This trend today addresses the imperatives of ethical fashion and sustainability and inspires the imagination of students at leading fashion schools.

Key figures in the world of sneakers take centre stage, including collectors (so called “sneakerheads”) and designers who have contributed to the biggest successes – names like Jacques Chassaing, designer at Adidas since 1981 and the brains behind the Forum basketball shoe, among others, and Tinker Hatfield, the designer of the Nike Air Max 1 and the ultra-famous Nike MAG from the film Back to the Future Part II.

With the participation of major brands archives and reference institutions, more than 80 lenders and more than 600 pairs and documents presented, Playground is the first exhibition of this scale in Europe to present this cultural phenomenon.

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