Dispatches, April 1997
Etchings? Fabergë eggs? No, fetid sneakers. Over the past year, old Nikes like Kakamu's fluorescent orange 1980 Roadrunners have become objets d'art among Japan's twentysomething bad boys and girls. Mint-condition rarities, such as the actual high-tops Mr. T wore in Rocky III, can fetch upward of $5,000 in Tokyo's chic Harajuku district, and enthusiasts have been known to spend hours debating the relative merits of $900 floral-print Alohas and $1,500 red-and-silver Discos, the latter made two decades ago to be worn at employee parties.
"In the early days, Nike was quite a radical company," notes Tace Chalfa, whose Seattle resale shop, The New Store, is the largest American exporter of vintage sneaks. "The shoes have grunge appeal." Connoisseurs, Chalfa explains, are a bit like cigar snobs--"picky and arrogant"--and while illicit Cuban imports are not their thing, they do support their own brand of shadowy smuggler: Nike employees, who are technically forbidden to give away old prototypes. Chalfa claims she pays these deep throats in cash and sometimes even begs them for autographed photos. "I'm hoping Geoff Hollister will sign an eight-by-ten," she says, citing a no-name Nike cofounder. "He's a star in Japan." The company, meanwhile, seems rather amused by the cloak-and-dagger routine. "Frankly," says spokesman Jim Small, "we're more concerned with footwear in the year 2025 than 1975."
Still, to some, any remnant of Nike's humble origins is a relic worthy of sacrifice. Chalfa recently spent four months trying to find a pair of platform-soled boots that Nike once crafted for rocker Alice Cooper. "I tracked the shoes to a guy in Montana," says Chalfa, "but he'd already chucked them." Unlucky for him, to be sure, but also further proof that any weekend warrior with an attic full of old cross-trainers might want to start rummaging around in boxes--provided that he doesn't wear size 13. "I'll buy most vintage Nikes that come my way," Chalfa says. "But unfortunately, the Japanese have very small feet.
Photograph by Rex Rystedt