When you speak to 'original sneaker heads' (mostly now grown adults that once had a fierce interest/problem accumulating athletic footwear that they didn't/don't have space for) - they remember a time before online raffles, reselling, and that StockX website. You'll find that they all have a similar story to tell about how it was the surrounding culture from the time that first pulled them in and ignited the fire within.
The entry point was likely interwoven with music, sports, graffiti, skateboarding, or in many cases, maybe it was just an older friend or relative that gave the heads up and introduced them to the unfolding journey. It was normally a combination of or all of the above that led to dedicated hunters wandering down back streets on a tip about an old sports store, and scavenging through old stock rooms to seek out rare finds and original releases.
For our latest 'People & Product' entry, we sat down with Northampton resident - originally South London native, Keith Taperell. Now Keith has been around the block a bit in terms of the brands that he's worked with. His CV includes stints at Timberland, Carhartt, Levi's, Nike, Converse - So he's covered a lot of ground, gained a lot of knowledge, and experienced the growth and directional changes to the brand market whilst working on the job.
A very astute and well-connected operator in his field, Keith is currently the VP of Sales & Retail at Bravado, which is the merchandising arm of Universal Music Group, who have artists on their roster including Stormzy, Bob Marley, Public Enemy, Nas, Jamiroquai, Mary J Blige, Tupac and The Rolling Stones just to name a few. If you see one of these huge artist's images, branding, or names on any associated merchandise in a store or at a concert then it's likely that Keith helped broker the deal.
With a keen eye for merging fashion with music through interesting artist and brand collaborations, recent projects that Keith's headed up include Beastie Boys x Champion, The Rolling Stones x Foot Patrol, and the bizarre yet brilliant collaboration that no one saw coming - Elton John x Palace Skateboards.
When choosing his Crown Northampton product, Keith kept it classic and understated with an All White Box Calf Abington Toe Cap Sneaker with a custom request to match the grained toe cap with the back strip. As all of our footwear is fully made to order - No problem Keith.
Once his order was complete, we dropped them off personally at his house. Over a cup of coffee, our Brand Manager Mark Higgs sat down for a chat with Keith to discuss some other classic white sneakers he'd pulled from his personal collection. All accumulated over time, along with some of his current favourites, and also some more rare and obscure pairs that have a bit of a story attached to them.
Keith's kindly written some words with his take on what makes a classic, timeless, sneaker, and his thoughts on current favourites from more recent sneaker releases.
Take it away, Keith...
The first pair that changed my perception and ignited my interest in the sneaker (trainer) world was my first pair of branded sneakers, a pair of Nike Waffle Trainers. Before that I wore what everyone wore, black elasticated slip-ons, the go to and only gym shoe at the time. Moving to those first Nikes, they didn’t leave my feet as soon as I got them. When they got wet camping with my family, they hung near the fire drying out; with myself waiting beside them. As those days you had one and only one pair.
The stage was set from that point, as was my obsession. I became a Nike head by default and their design. I used to do a fair bit of track and field at school, so was down at Cobra Sports and other retail stores trying to convince my parents to kit out my athletics attire with the latest and greatest. My running spikes weren’t the norm, they were Nike Omega Flame (much more well known for the Trainer version, with the graduated colour way on the upper). Can’t say they helped me win races, but they definitely looked the best on the start line.
Nike was the go-to, but I dabbled with others on the way. Hi-Tec Green Flash, we all had them at some point. A pair of Puma GV Specials, tennis trainers (I lived near Wimbledon Tennis Courts. So, all of us local kids were influenced by that). When from the other side of the river in Herzogenaurach (the town that birthed two sneaker giants), Adidas brought out their ZX range; that was all we wanted. I had enough money for the ZX350’s, but they had sold out of my size. The store owner (of Morden Sports. an institution that is sadly no longer in existence), taking pity on my plight, let me have a pair of ZX 500’s for the price of the 350’s. You wouldn’t get that type of service anywhere these days. Even had a pair of Reebok Pump Omni Lites, basketball shoes. As the pump tech fascinated me, although I wasn’t really a fan of Reebok.
I always, eventually, went back to Nike. The introduction of the Air Max was a complete game changer. The Air Max 1’s, the Air Max 90’s (my feet were small enough then to fit into the women’s versions, they always had the better colours) amazing. Then Nike came with the 180’s; and they blew everyone’s minds. Adidas Torsion and ZX introductions had a similar effect; paired with oversized Chipie chino’s, with a pin roll; and Burlington argyle socks. But the constant delivery by Nike of innovative tech, housed in ground-breaking design has kept them as my go to. Which is why in my current rotation, Nike is not the only brand, but remains dominant.
Current rotation favourites are, unsurprisingly, a cross section of Nike’s. Stash x Nike Air Force One Low, from 2006. Yes, these trainers are seventeen years old and still being worn. Colour combination on these is genius. If you want these now, you’ll have to go on to StockX and pay thousands of pounds for them. In 2006, all I needed to do was walk into London’s Footpatrol in the week of release, say what’s up to Wes and buy them for retail (also got the 95’s at the same time, just to rub it in, sorry).
More up to date are a pair of Undercover x Nike React 87’s from 2018; with translucent uppers and a sole unit that’s straight off a lunar landing.
Then we have Sacai x Nike Vaporwaffle’s in Black. And the Sacai x Nike LD Waffle in triple white. Everything Chitose Abe (Sacai’s founder) touches is elevated to a new level of excellence. The detail, the expansion of original design to create something new, fresh and unique; whilst at the same time honouring the original design are works of genius (look out for her take on the Nike Footscape coming out end of 2023!).
Finishing the current rotation list, we go back a way. A Retro version of a 1987 classic, Nike Air Safari. Last retro was 2018, but these pairs are from a previous release, 2012 if I’m not mistaken. Designed by Tinker Hatfield, with faux ostrich skin print pattern. And immortalised by Biz Markie on the back of his album ‘Goin’ Off’.
To honour the Crown Northampton All White Box Calf Abington Toe Cap Sneaker, I also brought out a selection of all white (well, white and some mostly white) sneakers from the collection. You have Converse Chuck 70 collaborations with Andre Saraiva. Supreme x Nike Tennis Classics. Nigel Cabourn x Converse First String CT Plimsole Ox’s etc.
Standout ones include the rightly revered Stash x Nike Air Force 1 High from 2003. NYC, London & Tokyo versions were introduced. Each with their own flight box. My pair have seen better days. Denim bleed on the tongues, sole cracking and failing in places, upper wanting to remove itself from the mid. But there is simply no way I can part with these. Still want to wear them, but there’s a strong fear that I’ll be in the middle isle of Aldi with only uppers and no soles. The fear is real, as this previously happened to me with a retro pair of cement Jordan IV’s. Only difference was that it was TK Maxx and not Aldi.
A non-Nike moment is a pair of Visvim FBT’s, from around 2007 when it was $2 to the £1 and I was in LA for work. Got these from Union, when with the then retail pricing and the exchange rate Visvim’s were affordable for us mere mortals. The uppers on this pair are made from Elk skin, simply the most soft and comfortable leather uppers I own. Shoes are of the moccasin construction. As the ex-Burton Snowboards designer, turned founder of Visvim, Hiroki Nakamura, is heavily inspired by Native American design and construction. Moccasin construction being one of the most simplistic yet comfortable, as it wraps the foot and moulds to your foot shape over time.
Hidden in the mix of white are a real pair of grails, and one of the very few pairs of sneakers that I haven’t worn. I was in Paris for work, and we were comp shopping stores, checking out trends, what products were dropping, what customers were wearing etc. Walked into the infamous high fashion and streetwear store Colette; and they were just putting on display the first BAPE x Adidas collaboration release. This was summer 2003. Couldn’t believe my luck and purchased the white colourway of the Adidas Superstar (also released in black and camo versions). The updated spec of clever intricate details, debossed BAPE heads on the upper, multiple tongues and “The Respect Is Mutual” slogan printed on the heel. Limited to 500 pairs. Could never bring myself to wear them, too good and too clean to ruin.
I’m not going to lie. The Jordan 1 thing when they were first introduced in 1984, passed me by. I slept on Jordans until the Jordan IV was released in 1989. These retro versions of the original Fire Red Colourway (one of the four colour variations in the original release) are the one pair, that when I wear them, I get compliments on without fail. Still turning heads 34 years after they were first released.
And the most recent pair in the collection, the Crown Northampton All White Box Calf Abington Toe Cap Sneaker. Living in Northampton for the past twelve or more years has meant I have had the fortune to see first-hand the amazing heritage, talent, craftmanship of Northampton and Northamptonshire footwear factories. Crown Northampton are up there with the very best. Albeit with their focus on the causal side of the market, over the more traditional goodyear welted shoes that this town is famous for. The quality of materials used, and the artisanship in the build is industry leading.
The white trainer, from its humble beginning, has come a long way. It’s fitting that it was also a Goodyear, Charles (the father of Charles Goodyear JR. who invented Goodyear Welting), that invented vulcanised rubber. Where many decades later this invention was used by US Rubber Company Keds to bring plimsolls to the world. Then made popular by Converse, who added coloured uppers into the range. Starting with white before moving on to more varied colour options. The differing fashions and trends have moved this shoe from the sports fields to the streets. And now companies like Crown Northampton are taking it to new heights and making product that is timeless and can be worn with any style, on any occasion.
Choosing the Abington for its Derby construction, open lacing method, that was also popular as a sporting boot in 1900’s; and one that I find very comfortable and well fitting. Trying not to over complicate nor over design an exceptional modern version of a classic. Flat laces, punched eyelets without any metal reinforcements for simplicity and clean lines. With the only nod to a twist on a classic being the cross-grain effect on the toe cap and heel strip. I very much hope to still be wearing these in another twenty year’s time.
We hope so too! Thanks for your time Keith!
Phototgraphy: Ben Lloyd & Alex Natt