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XXL: The Shoes Our Feet Are Fucking With

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SSENSE
Oct 26 2019

Breaking Down the Impact of Chunky Sneakers feat. Balenciaga, Nike, Eytys, and More



Long before the rise of Balenciaga’s Triple S, before Eytys’ Angel or Acne Studios’ Manhattan, bulky shoes were thriving. Their prevalence and array of corresponding shapes continue to evolve with whatever mainstream silhouettes and lifestyles catch wind. To occupy more space than necessary—by way of your shoe—is to make a statement of how you wish to be perceived within the world. And today, more than ever, our generation seeks to claim itself. But also to self-preserve. Amplifying our footprint, and disguising our true forms, chunky sneakers allow us to never go unheard, without putting too much on the line. To indulge in our ideal existence with every move we make.


Consider Nike’s Air Max 1, or Reebok’s original Pump. Both released in the late 1980s, the decade of excess and extravagance, teased perms and shoulder pads—creating shoes with more cushioning and shock absorption than ever before only followed suit. Next, the 1990s and corresponding height of girl power introduced us to Buffalo London’s not to be missed platform boots extolled by The Spice Girls (which render an equally effective message via SZA today.) In the early 2000s, Phat Farm’s shell toe sneakers peaked—styled best with straight, barred laces, exaggerating their already-cartoonish build and clunky sound. In an era that relied on the speed of dial-up internet and LimeWire downloading, how could one not get in trouble for “dragging your feet” while wearing a pair? And of course (because who could forget) around the same time, Osiris released their iconic D3s, amid the early ascent of skate culture appropriation. With a structure comparable to that of a watermelon—especially if you didn’t even skate, bro—the joke was on you.Our modern obsession with chunky sneakers outlives its “trending” status. We can interpret this by looking towards a greater shift in fashion. Why is it that, for several seasons now, we have rejected what is dainty in favour of what is unwieldy? With the increasing presence of billowing silhouettes, superfluous, even disproportionate layers, and memes about giant puffer jackets, fashion Instagram accounts confirm this theory. “It’s pretty funny how we’ve moved away from tiny and thin,” says Julien Boudet, the New York-based photographer behind @bleumode. “When I was in high school in the 90s I would buy my Air Max a little smaller to make sure they didn’t look too big on my feet,” he says. “Now, it’s the opposite. We’ve had to go back to the ‘uncool’ and make it cool.” Owning two pairs of the Triple S himself, he’s right. There’s comfort in feeling extra squish beneath your step. In adding solidity—like the cumbersome weight of nubuck leather and three stacked rubber soles—to your stance. As our outfits advocate for abundance, it’s only natural for our feet to follow.But as our shoes become chunkier, they are met with more hesitation. “People are always talking about ‘sensible’ shoes,” says Eytys designer Max Schiller. “Who likes to be sensible?” If being deemed via mainstream fashion coverage is the latest game to be played—“ugly but fabulous,” or rather, “all-around ugly”—chunky sneakers take the prize. With an endless albeit eclectic list of resembling shapes—egg cartons, bricks, loaves of bread, hippos, helmets, mountains, monster trucks—it’s not difficult to understand why they’re an easy target. But that’s part of their appeal. Like the opposite of strappy stilettos, they exude comfort in their childlike forms. Their unconventional aesthetic is a product of extraordinary size and protective measure. And it’s the very impact of their volume that inspires Schiller in his designs. “I like that a shoe can have some serious drama and define a style, rather than just compliment it,” he says.



Our inclination towards chunky shoes today can also be linked to our millennial fixation with nostalgia. We’ve become obsessed with romanticizing our youth and reviving bygone eras via our wardrobes. Chunky sneakers further cater to this by infantilizing our feet, and tying us—quite literally—to our pasts. Remember Julia Roberts’ platform Vans in ? Paired with a black beret and tiny sunglasses, her entire look holds up today as though it were plucked straight from Tumblr. Or what about Jim Jinkins’ ? Who, in his knit sweater vest, khaki shorts, and white chunky socks with giant red sneakers, could easily pass for Demna’s modern day muse. That’s not to mention Skechers’ monumental ad campaigns, in which X-tina debuted the original fishnets paired with sneakers trend, and the Kardashians sported athleisure proudly before its time. Every pair of chunky sneakers today feels like a remake of our childhoods.From Jerry Seinfeld to Tracee Ellis Ross, chunky sneakers have far surpassed hypebeast territory. They have instead become an ever-evolving retort to popular culture and our broader landscape. Deputy editor of The Wing’s , Laia Garcia, puts it best: “The whole thing is a giant 'fuck you'. And honestly, if there is a prevailing feeling towards the world in general these days, it's basically 'fuck you',” she says. “They're the perfect shoe for these current times.”


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