The NikeCraft Mars Yard Shoe from Tom Sachs – An OG vs 2.0 Comparison and Critique

Fig. 1 – OG (top) vs 2.0 (bottom)

Interest in Tom Sachs’ NikeCraft Mars Yard shoe has gone into high orbit these days (see what I did there?). As you probably know, a 2.0 version was launched at a Sachs’ conceived “Space Camp” on Governor’s Island in New York. A lot has to do with how the original version (released in 2012 to coincide with a Space Program exhibit at the Park Avenue Armory) has achieved near-mythical status.

I’m fortunate enough to own both – the differences are striking in many ways, so I thought I’d take time to talk about them. My interest is to understand and articulate how something so similar might yield such divergent impressions. And I’m a fan of thoughtful design, Tom Sachs and shoes, so I thought it’d be fun to share.

Before I get started, I want to emphasize – these shoes are not for sale. This is also lightly edited, so apologies for any oversights. Oh, and if you like this, I wrote more regularly for Heddels – here’s a piece I wrote on sneaker culture, for instance

The Packaging

You can’t judge a book by its cover – but sometimes, the cover is part of the book. And in this case, the packaging sets the tone.

Fig. 2 – The boxes

Backing up a bit – in a large way, this project purportedly came from a conversation between artist Tom Sachs and Nike CEO Mark Parker about the relative merits of handcrafted items vs those that are mass-produced. Sachs definitely has a horse in this race – the hand that produces his pieces is often visible in the final production, and shows a bias towards transparency for the way they were produced. For the OG shoe, this is carried through in its box, which is built to look like a stock Nike box (using a design from the early-to-mid 2000s – see below), turned inside out and patched together with duct tape. It has a fastening system fashioned from duct tape and velcro, with an X box stitch in contrast thread. It looks like something that was improvised by somebody (perhaps disinterested in standard corporate branding).

The interesting thing is, the box was specifically manufactured to look that way – the box doesn’t show the signs of stress that it would if it was actually folded inside out, and the printing on the bottom is on the outside, as expected. This imagined process is a Sachs move, through and through. As a final note, the cardboard is thicker, more similar to the weight of a Jordan Brand box.

By contrast, the 2.0 box is a standard box with custom printing. The duct tape pull-tab remains, but without fastening. There’s a nice bonus graphic on the bottom, as well as directional arrows on the inside.

Fig. 3 – Boxes (Bottom Look)

Looking inside, the tissue inside of the original features custom printed artwork…

Fig. 4 – Inside the OG Box

…whereas the 2.0 is standard.

Finally, I thought one of the nicest touches of the original is the line of swatches of each material utilized in the construction of the shoe (including the tongue tag). It also featured a hang tag (not pictured).

Fig. 6 – Swatches

Extras aside, I’d say these are two different approaches to repurposing a Nike box. And the tactile sensation of opening (and closing)the velcro fastening system of the original is pretty pleasing.

Accessories

Both pairs come with a standard mesh sockliner (footbed) and an extra pair. The original featured leather footbeds. The 2.0 replaced these with cork footbeds. NikeCraft explained it thusly:

We provide an optional cork sock liner because many users rock the shoe sockless and research shows that cork has natural antimicrobial properties. Try it and see if you like it.

Fig. 7 – Footbeds

The Shoes

The unavoidable question is, how do the shoes themselves compare? I sort these differences into the major, the minor and the incidental. In rising order of significance:

The Incidental:

The eagle-eyed might spot differences in the way the leather looks. There’s both nubuck trim and leather lining. Part of Sachs’ aesthetic is to include untreated material, so each appear in their natural state. Unless a designer is being exacting about material, it’s normal practice to specify the general attributes / grades required and see what the procurement chain delivers. As an example from the world of groceries, Grade A large brown eggs aren’t all the exactly the same, but are similar enough to know generally what you’re going to get. I believe that the variances in leather are the result of that sourcing process.

The nubuck on my OG pair is texturally different and its leather lining has a slightly pink tinge. Ms. Crossfire says the OG nubuck is “better” (someone has to, right?). And it’s possible that other shoes from these runs differ from pair to pair in this department; it’s all a part of life’s rich pageant.

Fig. 8 – Leather Variations (OG on the left)

The Minor:

I’ve noticed three minor differences, two are functional and one not functional.

The two functional differences are both covered in the NikeCraft statement (see Fig. 13 – “Failure Is Always an Option,” below). The tongue donning straps weren’t reinforced properly by the factory that produced the original, so this was strengthened in the 2.0 (it’s not easy to see, but I verified this). Also, the protruding nipples on the outsole tread were inverted for better wet weather traction.

The non-functional difference is from a bit of an Easter egg that was incorporated into the original design – in the middle of the outsole, there are some glyphs debossed into the tread. I didn’t even notice this until I looked at the original SFB Chukka boot that this unit was borrowed from. I’m not hardcore enough to understand the significance of these marks (they don’t make any sense in Morse Code), other than the Swoosh that ended up in 2.0.

Fig. 9 – Outsole (OG on left)

The Major:

By far, the defining difference between the shoes is the material of their uppers. The original was fabricated from Vectran, which is a ripstop fabric used in the airbags (in the inflatable parachute sense) for the Mars Excursion Rover. Its attributes include excellence in tension (so it can’t be stretched apart), abrasion resistance and heat resistance. Like all products of the space-age (Tang, anyone?), it has a charmingly dated look to it. It also has a nice unstructured slouch to it, that accentuates the vintage aspects of its design.

Fig. 10 – OG upper in Vectran

According to NikeCraft, the testing of the material didn’t include creasing – which anyone who’s worn out a pair of sneakers knows is one of the first things to give on a pair of sneakers (a pair of Nike Maharam Oregon Waffles failed within a week of wear). To solve this problem, 2.0 utilizes a more thoroughly tested polyester warp-knit tricot mesh. It looks tremendously breathable, like something you’d see in, well, a sneaker.

Fig. 11 – The 2.0 Upper

This is the crux of the difference between the original and the 2.0. Vectran is the last material you’d normally make a shoe with, so it perfectly expresses the illusion of being hand-crafted from materials scavenged in a well-equipped space lab (consistent with the paracord used as shoelaces). Whereas the mesh material in the 2.0 is what you’d use if you actually produced the shoe in, well, a Nike factory. In fact, all the changes in the 2.0 are improvements to its utility.

That is terrific for me, because I’m going to wear my 2.0 pair once it stops raining (I don’t like to get my feet wet). It’s also important to note that it serves very different purpose – to illustrate how failure makes you stronger (which is also the theme of the Governors Island Space Camp). For me, though, the original shoe is immediately powerful in a way that its successor isn’t – much in the same way that the Apollo 11 mission holds a space in our collective memory much larger than, say, the Apollo 14. There is an aura to being first, a true OG.

Hopefully all of the above helps you understand why.

Appendix: Original Specs

Fig. 12 – OG specs, 2012

 

Fig. 13 – Failure Is Always an Option (via NikeCraft)

Somewhat of a Personal History c. 1997-2008, via Shopping Bags (Part One)

I have an appreciation for well-designed shopping bags – they’re branding made utilitarian, a logo given life on the streets.

I don’t profess to collect them – in fact, these days I just throw everything into a bag I bring myself.  However, over the years I have kept a few that I found unusual or appealing.  The funny thing is that it’s less likely than not that I still have whatever I brought home in these bags, but in a way that’s kind of the beauty of it.

Here are a few that I particularly connect to, along with some recollections.  As a disclaimer, this is mostly from memory – I’ve tried to confirm certain details where possible, but not strenuously so.

#1 – Liquid Sky, New York City, circa 1997/8

Liquid Sky

Fig. 1 – Liquid Sky, New York City

Liquid Sky was a clothing and record label expatriated from Brazil and based in New York in the 90s (among other things, the label was: responsible for breaking DJ Spooky, an early proponent of  junglism in the US and an experimental variant of IDM called “illbient”).  Their boutique on Lafayette Street was an early streetwear pioneer in the neighborhood and is probably now most famous for employing a pre-Kids Chloe Sevigny as a sales assistant.  The clothes were laid out in the front and the records were in the back and maybe downstairs.

This bag brought home a Liquid Sky hoodie for Ms. Crossfire.  I remember it cost $85, which was expensive at the time – I remember the woman who sold me it saying that she wished her boyfriend would buy her expensive hoodies.  I’d like to think it was Ms. Sevigny, but the timing doesn’t match up.

In any case, the store was replaced by the boutique for Issey Miyake’s prepper lifestyle brand Final Home a year or two later.  I think Liquid Sky had a short-lived and somewhat depressing existence on St. Marks before going back to Brazil after September 11.

#2 Helmut Lang, New York City, circa 1998-2002

helmut

Fig. 2 – Helmut Lang, New York City

What is there to say about Helmut Lang?  Among other things, he helped re-invent menswear basics and was at the forefront of a number of retail innovations.  Most notoriously among the latter, he was the first designer to take advantage of the new advertising space on top of New York taxis in the late 90s (in a move considered controversial in fashion at the time).  He was also one of the first ready-to-wear designers to post lookbooks online – at a time that Prada’s website only had a landing page and phone number you could call to find your nearest Prada store.  And – he was ahead of the pack in terms of getting away from bulky shopping bags in favor of plastic ones.  Minimal, sleek and functional – the epitome of Helmut Lang.

I was basically obsessed with this store from 1998-2002.  On its day, the staff could vibe you on par with Supreme.  Regarding this bag, I remember Agnes B up the street copying it and the staff having a conniption about it.  Another memory was overhearing a crisis when Brad Pitt’s assistant ordered something for him over the phone but wasn’t given the appropriate discount.

If I’m honest, this brand’s influence is still being felt throughout Soho – including these bags (see Part Two; in the meantime you can also use your imagination).

#3 Het Modepaleis (Dries Van Noten), Antwerp, circa 2001-2

Modepaleis

Fig. 3- Het Modepaleis, Antwerp

Ms. Crossfire spent a year doing research in Antwerp starting September, 2001.  At the time, I was a consultant on full salary working for a company who were struggling with sales.  I had lots of time on my hands and the timing couldn’t be better – the dollar was at an all-time high against the Euro (almost twice as strong as it is now) and direct roundtrip flights to Brussels were about $300.

Het Modepaleis is the flagship store for the Dries Van Noten brand and is located in his home town of Antwerp.  If you know the brand, it is needless to say that it is housed in an impeccably furnished 19th Century building from the Belle Epoque. (If you don’t know the brand, suffice to say that it’s the kind of brand to be housed in an impeccably furnished 19th Century building from the Belle Epoque – but not insufferably so).

This bag features the above building (literally translated as “The Fashion Palace”) primarily and the brand secondarily.  Which is as it should be.

#4 Mode 2001 Exhibition, Antwerp, 2001

Mode2001

Fig. 4 – Mode 2001, Antwerp

2001 was also the year that the Flanders Fashion Institute put on the Mode 2001 exhibit, a civic celebration of the Flemish contribution to global fashion.  Curated by Antwerp visionary / eccentric Walter van Beirendonck, it was sort of a giddy, city-wide version of a Costume Institute exhibition.  The exhibition was commemorated with a handful of museum exhibitions and related publications.

This bag brought home: the Mode 2001 catalog (which I’ve embarrassingly never opened), the Antwerp fashion walk guidebook, a capital “A” floating keychain, a WvB designed long sleeve t-shirt and the inaugural “A” issue of a magazine that apparently evolved into A Magazine Curated By (said issue was edited by Dirk van Saene).

#5 Wouters & Hendrix, Antwerp, circa 2002

Wouters & Hendrix

Fig. 5 – Wouters & Hendrix, Antwerp

Rounding out the Antwerp section, this one’s kind of cheating since I’ve never been to this store (of which there are now three).  Ms. Crossfire ended up there somehow and bought me a pair of abalone shell cufflinks to go with a French cuff shirt that I had bought at the Modepaleis (I still have both).  I still think of it as more art gallery than jewelry boutique – the story Ms. C told me involved a small paper animal sculpture that one of the staff placed in her hand and was seemingly animated by its trembling motion and warmth.  The bag appears to be hand stained.

(to be continued)

NOT a Supreme 2011 Fall/Winter Recap

“Are you doing what you did two years ago?  Yeah?  Well don’t make a career out of it.”

What had made the past few years so interesting for fans of the Supreme brand is that they were always pushing the limits of “streetwear” out towards actual street fashion.  Yes, they had good t-shirts, beanies and caps (still do) – but also good, wearable basics with an upmarket fit and sharp eye for details at a reasonable price.  Cotton MA-1 in royal blue made by Alpha with the correct details (leather pull, orange safety lining)?  Check.  Indigo canvas chore coat ripped straight from Carhartt but didn’t fit like a sack and less than $200?  Fall/Winter 2008, way before Carhartt in the US had caught onto the program (more on that next time around).

Nowadays their cut and sewn is a lot of stuff from past seasons that they’ve done before, especially with outerwear.  It’s a fine line between a house style and the monotony of a dutiful, planned obsolescence – but with the upward cost pressures on the cost of material goods, there’s a real danger of ending up in a rut far off from where they meant to be.  Sneaker Freaker published a great article about how the same challenge has basically killed the ability of the sneaker industry to keep producing limited product with premium materials at a reasonable price and it’s a story worth bearing in mind.

Like all other businesses out in this economy, it’s either a matter of trimming costs, lowering profit margin or rethinking the model.  With the OddFuture-fueled resurgence of interest in the brand, the lower cost items that were always popular with the younger crowd have regained prominence – I’m sure it’s handy for a quick influx of cash, although the rumor that the NYC store missed its sales target for opening day may be a worrying sign of the long-term results of catering to this kind of customer.

In short, times are tough – but for a brand whose peak years exemplified the Dorris motto of “built up to a standard, not down to a price,” it’s disheartening to see shoddy product like the leopard-lined trench coat and “merino” scarf.  The former was a decent idea rendered practically unwearable – a pile lining down a sleeve adding injury to the insult of an unflattering fit.   The latter a single-faced itch factory made of a wool/nylon(?!) blend(*).

Collaboration-wise, there was a lot of “last verse, same as the first” – Clark’s, Vans, Nike SB et al.  Levi’s was a good move into a new space – the raw black 505’s and the suede trucker almost prove the point of how far the rest of the season’s pants and coats have fallen off the high standard that I once associated with the brand.  But it’s really the North Face that illustrates the evolution of Supreme over the 5 year course of their work together.  They’ve moved from an eye-popping stock fit Summit Series shell sold for below RRP, through a series of custom fits (highlighted by a brilliant mountain parka in Millerain waxed cotton) and then back to a stock fit coat – this time, sold well over RRP.

The (really) short list: Paisley hoody, Santa Fe beanie, Polartec fleece, merino fingerless gloves, Snow White decks (Andy Warhol x LSD, holla), various camp caps (especially Real Tree, Canvas and Tribal), green Nuptse, the aforementioned Levi’s black denim and truckers.

(*) I want to thank eBay for their painless access to international secondhand markets – in this instance, you’ve earned your usurious selling fees.

Fig. 1 - Some Rare Highlights from Supreme F/W 2011-12

ps – if there was anything interesting or unexpected about the season, it was a handful of weird references to the west coast and the southwest, almost completely removed from any sense of the underlying culture.  It’s a cool look, though interesting that a brand can make a t-shirt explicitly referencing the 1871 Indian Appropriations Act but push a faux-Native design as “Sante Fe” not two years later, no?

Tone Poem for the Air 180 – #9 Evolution (Finale)

#9 - Evolution

Colors: Dark Charcoal / Pimento – Photo Blu
Style Code: 313376 061
Released: 2006

And we end with the beginning – these were my first Nike quickstrikes (two thousand and late) and a good one to start with.  Based on a Cordura style nylon toebox with nubuck overlay and a suede toe bumper.  Other nice details include a ripstop heel, leather sock liners, a metallic swoosh and dual-colored oval laces.  It’s crazy to think all this cost $90 – a testimony to the rising cost of raw material.

I bought these at Classic Kicks on Elizabeth St (RIP) – if you scrutinized a vinyl copy of Slayer’s Reign In Blood, you’d know that their address was those of the Slaytanic Wehrmacht.

Here’s some more ad copy for you to enjoy for the New Year.  Hope you all had a good 2011 and see you soon.

Tone Poem for the Air 180 – #7 & #8 – NikeID

I’d been kicking myself for not having done some custom Air 180s back when they were available from NikeID five years back so jumped at the opportunity earlier this year.

There’s always some unusual options available for each retro – in this case, a ripstop upper and speckled soles.  I should note that the standard material make up is a mesh upper with faux suede trim and a weird rubbery swoosh.

One of the main design challenges is to avoid going overboard – not sure if I succeeded but pretty happy with the results.  I kind of wish I went for the mesh option on the gold on black one but it’ll do.

These models are usually only available for a limited time so will have to jump back in for a Buckeye makeup and a mostly white one.

#7 NikeID

Colors: Summit White / Dark Grey – Binary Blue – Cyber
Style Code: N/A
Released: 2011

#8 NikeID

Colors: Black / Metallic Gold – Summit White
Style Code: N/A
Released: 2011

Tone Poem for the Air 180 – #5 Baroque Brown and #6 Hot Lime

#5 Baroque Brown

Colors: Baroque Brown / Bone – Light Bone
Style Code: 311080 221
Released: 2005

Kind of a seasonal offering in a butter leather with perforated toebox and tweed side panels.  Thought it could use a splash of color so hence the (Product) Red laces.

#6 Hot Lime

Colors: White / Hot lime – Blue Sapphire
Style Code: 310202 131
Released: 2005

On the opposite equinox, a women’s make up using the +1.5 size rule for Nikes.  No additional color required.

Tone Poem for the Air 180 – #4 Size? (?)

#4 Size? / UK? / ???

Colors: Black / Photo Blue – Ink
Style Code: 310155 003
Released: 2010

This one’s already a mystery to me – I had originally thought it was part of the UK sneaker boutique Size?’s 10th anniversary celebration, but it may (merely) be a UK exclusive.

It is unusual but not ground-breaking…  mostly going to show that the willingness for Nike to sustain niche runner retro models in the US over the past 5 years has almost completely died.  Killer releases like the PSG Air Classic BWs and the Huarache ACG pack have died off in favor of doing endless versions of the same models (mostly AM 90s) and otherwise throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks (last year’s V-series, Lunar / Free hybrid everythings)