Chris Law questions for Gear There Everywhere.
Asked by Josh Parkin.
1. How did you get to this point, what was your route into becoming a footwear designer?
Well it wasn’t the ‘proper’ way of achieving a product design degree etc. So the quick version goes like this, I left school at 15 with a few GCSEs, became a YTS postman, did that for a few years, got the sack (I liked going out, not getting up).
Became a white van man delivering car parts, that didn’t last long so then I was on the dole. (you ever heard of that adidas ‘Doley’, that was me haha).
So then with not much future and not wanting to work at the Burton’s warehouse I decided to go back to college and study graphic design.
So I did a 2 year HND in graphic design first, then got myself in and put myself through a graphic design and typography degree for 4 more years.
After that came all the Crooked Tongues stuff, through that i started doing product (The New Balance 576 co-lab for example) and eventually got a job at adidas in the US doing colour and materials. Whilst at adi I taught myself actual footwear design and started figuring it all out (Im still figuring it out) through spending a lot of time in the sample room and learning from the likes of Danny Kinley and Brian Foresta.
2: How did you find it, having to pick a top 10 for us? I imagine you unearthed trainers you hadn’t seen for years?
Well, apart from going through all those bloody boxes again it wasn’t too bad. Over the past 8 years I’ve moved quite a bit (abroad and back twice) so Ive sold off quite a lot of what I’ve accumulated over the years.
I think at one point I was close to a thousand pairs probably. I’m way lower than that now which is fine with me, it’s not about how many nowadays at all, my taste has matured a lot, especially now knowing how much goes into making them, the levels of material costs etc etc.
I based my 10 on shoes that I actually own, that makes it a bit easier. I also left out a few real icons like the Chuck, the Superstar as they’re too obvious.
If it was based on my top ten favourite designs regardless if I owned them, then the list would be different, adidas Mexicanas, adidas Bermuda, adidas Cords, and the adidas Diamant, would be ‘in’ potentials.
I could go on for days, but some other notables would include DiaDora Borg Elite, Puma Navaratalovas, Dallas, California and Crack. Adidas Gazelle, SL76, Columbia, Fire, Silberwind, Marathon TR, Triest. Nike LDV, Internationalist, Escape, Mowabb, Presto, Son Of Lava Dome, Wildwood, Humara, Air Max ’96, Wildedge, Mayfly, Free 2, Koston 1, Flyknit Trainer & Chukka. Visvim FBT, New Balance 996 + 998, Saucony Shadow & Courageous, Asics Gel Lyte III & V, Northface Berkeley, Mephisto Rainbow, Hi Tech Tecs & Patrick Colorissimo all appeal to me for various reasons.
As a designer myself, there’s other shoes that I like the design of but wouldn’t wear them if you paid me too.
3: Is your top ten based solely on the look of the trainer, or did you consider the story behind the model, for example, are there trainers in your top ten solely because you worked on the launch?
I think I based it off of my relationship with the design in some cases and in others on the overall coming together of the parts, the last, the style lines and form. Others were based on their cultural relevance.
There’s none of the shoes I’ve worked on in there, not that I’m not proud of my designs, its just a lot of the time you’re designing to a specific brief, it’s not like you can just go off and do what you want, that would be a dream job. I’ve got shoes in my folio that i designed or directed that have sold over a million pairs so you’d know some of them, the adidas ‘Seeley’ for instance, it does the job it was briefed to do.
It’s probably going to be nice to see a top 10 with no Jordans in it, Ive never owned a pair. You see a lot of these ’Sneaker shopping with … “. video things and they’re always the same, boring, figure out your own tastes and stop being sheep. Out Of Step, that’s fine with me.
4: You’ve worked for some of the biggest in the game. Your last 5 roles have involved working for the likes of Unorthodox Styles / Crooked Tongues, adidas Originals, ADDICT, Converse and now Clarks Originals. Which brand took you most ‘out of your comfort zone’ and challenged you to be most creative?
I think coming out my comfort zone could go to probably Clarks as its a brown shoe business, so its a new way of thinking for me, plus getting to grips with the company culture and the other side of the cool stuff like Wallabees and Desert Treks.
Addict was a learning curve too as I went from a big brand like adidas with all that back up from a production and sampling stand point to an apparel company, so when it came to actually producing the shoes, that was a challenge working directly with the factory and working only from taped up shoes, photographs and explanations of what i wanted over email. The shoes turned out ok but it wasn’t going to last, but again I learnt a lot from that.
I’m definitely pleased that I’ve worked at a few brands now as you always learn a lot from the differences in many ways. I’ve worked on quite a few icons too so it really gives you a respect for those silhouettes and the brands that they sit within.
4a: Were there any particular times you can remember having to take a step back and think, ‘I cant believe I get paid to do this’?
All the time, Im very aware that I’m a jammy git, but I’ve worked my bollocks off over the years, I have a true passion for design (that can also be a hindrance) and a love of footwear so.
Put it this way, Monday mornings don’t bother me at all. They only downfall is all the meetings, red tape and people that don’t know what they’re doing that do my head in, and that can be said for any of the brands. The brands can be their own worst enemy at times, saying that, I’ve done the small independent route too and that has a whole different set of problems.
5: Crooked Tongues. Tell us about that. How did it all begin? What did you guys offer that wasn’t already out there?
CT, yeah, ok. So going way back now to ’94 probably when I started College at the Elephant and Castle at LCP. There on the first day I met Chris Aylen (CT, The Drop Date, Isle Skateboards & Diggers with Grattitude) through jacket and shoe admiration. We became flat mates as we shared the same interests and were both studying graphic design.
During that time and funding ourselves through college, Chris and I both worked part time at Bond International (now defunct iconic street wear shop in Soho London). There we met Russell who was a regular at the shop. Fast forward a few years after Chris and I had done a stint each at website design companies after college. Russell wanted to originally set up a clothing label called ‘Spine’. This lead into conversations (meeting up at the Bond bench) that formed what became Unorthodox Styles.
Spine morphed into a website that celebrated stuff that we were into, clothing, music, art etc etc, street culture stuff. We wrote, designed and put out digital features on these topics, one being trainers. I can’t remember the name of what the feature was now. This became the idea for an online trainer shop that would have editorial stuff around trainers. There were a few things out at the time that we’re doing similar things but not as intense. To name a few I would have to say the ‘Dead Shoe Scrolls’ (easy MC), the Mo’ Wax forum and Nike Talk.
The idea really of Unorthodox Styles was to create a platform for bringing in design work based around the things we were into. Crooked Tongues and Spinemagazine to name a few were projects that showcased our editorial, design and coding skills. That was it really. I did most of the design for Crooked in those days with Chris Aylen.
I think what we offered at the time as a community that came together online and chatted about trainers. We were the first UK based forum that did that, we bought together all sorts of people who like trainers way before any blogs, tumblr, news sites such as Hypebeast etc, pretty much trainer ‘boutiques’ didn’t really exist then either, we’re talking pre Size? days which seems weird now.
5a: Do you think the likes of Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram contributed to the end of Crooked Tongues? Specialised Communities forums seem to be a dying trend, with the likes of social media mentioned above, offering instant interaction, with the ability to like, share and comment within seconds.
Definitely, Im pretty sure we invented the sad act (yes i do it too) of taking pictures of what you’re wearing that day and post it for others to comment on. (What One’s Wearing).
6: How did ‘The End’ go down? Was it something you’d pondered over for a while? Something discussed between yourself and co- founder/ OG members?
Ah, TBH I was well out of it by then, I left CT early 2007 after 7 great years. Obviously I was a bit gutted when it went down as the likes of Chris, Kev, Steve Bryden, Charlie Morgan, Gary Warnett, Mubi, Bee, Roy, Mike, A-Cyde, Rambo, Metal, Rick, Russ and I put blood sweat and tears literally into it for so long.
Not to mention it became bigger than us that just worked there, it felt owned by lots of the hardcore forum members who in their own right made it what it was. That community is still tight and there’s a big network of friends that have stayed together, attended each others weddings and funerals (Mark RIP).
Russ really only ever owned it financially, he still owns parts of it in some ways. It probably needed to be put to rest as the heart had gone out of it ages ago and other things took over. Gaz held it together for quite a while till the point where he was probably sick to death of it.
7: We are seeing a lot of ‘sneaker’ books been re-released and updated. Is this something you’d like to do with ‘Sneakers’ The Complete Collectors Guide?
Yeah, re-do it, i’d love to re-do it. It was cool at the time but now parts of it annoy me.
I’d like to do a Complete Collector’s Collector Guide, that’s on my bucket list. But Andrew I want proper money this time.
7a: A lot of creative’s (myself included) constantly redevelop and rework their style. Do you ever pick up the book and give yourself a mental critique. You know, pick out things you’d like to change. Or think, ‘Why the hell did I use that font?’ ‘Those colours would look better toned down’
Design wise it still stands up pretty well, I designed probably 90% of it, and I think it will stand the test of time. I reckon I could do a better job now, but it tells a tale of a certain era, it’s sold shit loads and in quite a few languages now. Still waiting on those royalties 😉
If I could re-do it i would definitely use a lot less re-issues. That was one thing we got pulled up on at the time, which is fine. It is what it is, we got paid peanuts for doing it and on a tight time schedule so getting the time together to source original issues of everything wasn’t on the cards. Most of the shoes in it either belonged to Steve Bryden, Chris Aylen, Gary Aspden and myself.
I’ll go on record and say the 2nd one was maybe cleaner but less care was taken.
A massive thanks to Chris for doing the interview and a special thanks to Josh for the brains behind the questions.