David Hellqvist looks back at Christopher Shannon’s Kickers partnership for our Kickers Forty Document, looking at the footwear brand’s most fashion-forward men’s collaboration and the Liverpudlian designer’s finest footwear moment.
hen British designer Christopher Shannon presented his AW12 collection on the 22nd February 2012, all his characteristic signature pieces were present on the Somerset House catwalk. Having only set up his eponymous label a year and a half earlier, Shannon was still quite new on the fledgling menswear scene in London. Not that the capital had much of an official men’s high-end fashion industry at that time – its independent designers were still forced to show during the cramped Men’s Day at the back of London Fashion Week, as London Collections Men (LCM) – now a roaring success – was yet to be launched.
But Shannon, having recently graduated from Central St Martins (where he studied under the late MA professor Louise Wilson) had already established his sartorial calling card. By now he’s probably tired of that stereotyping – who wouldn’t be when, season after season, the press tries to put you and your clothes in a box – but there was, and still is to a certain degree, a sense of modern sportswear about his clothes.
Shannon reclaimed the tracksuit bottom from sweaty locker rooms and produced them in technical fabrics. He questioned the masculinity of sportswear by injecting feminine touches, like frills and embroidery, adopting it for a fashion-forward audience. Today, fashion and sportswear go hand in hand and, as fashion leans more and more on the casual side of life, that bond will only deepen. Christopher Shannon wasn’t the first to investigate that relationship, but in many ways he was the first of his generation to push it further and really challenge the notion of sportswear as an exclusively macho aesthetic.
But back to that February Wednesday almost four years ago: As his 21 models entered the catwalk, there was nothing out of the ordinary with the looks, merely a stylish continuation of the typical Christopher Shannon aesthetic. But, if you let your eyes wonder down to the shoes, you’d see a type of footwear that had never graced a men’s catwalk before – Kickers boots. The British brand’s famous Kick Chunk style, seen in five colour ways during the show, was the start of a four-season long partnership between Shannon and Kickers. For a runway premiere, the boot was far from avant-garde, or even fancy. Plain and without much detail, it was a subtle introduction to, arguably, Shannon’s most prolific footwear collaboration to date.
The Kick Chunk’s uppers featured suede or leather in a muted and gritty colour palette of muddy grey, dark blue, charcoal or stone. Details included a reverse seam around the vamp, a contrast or tonal heel strap and metallic eyelets: simple yet effective. For the designer himself, and for bystanding industry observers, there was an attraction to the brand’s everlasting affiliation with youthful energy and rebellious attitude. At the time, Shannon explained his fascination with the boots: “For me, Kickers has always been a brand that represents youth and youth culture. I wanted to work with them to add to and rework their classic styles.” And today, looking back at the partnership, Fantastic Man’s fashion director, Julian Ganio, agrees: “Yeah, they both shared a sense of nostalgia and feeling of youth.”
It is that notion of adolescent freedom that brought the two brands together. “Working with Christopher provided the perfect opportunity for getting Kickers designs on the London’s menswear scene, but we also very quickly realised that the urban sportswear vibe of his menswear collections was a perfect casual match for Kickers’ informal, laid-back personality,” says Carol Hopkins, the brand’s designer. “The 90s styling of his collections tied in effortlessly with the brand’s chunky footwear aesthetic.”
Hopkins’ point about referencing the 90s is a valid one. For years now, harking back to that AW12 season, there’s been a constant fascination with the 1990s. Fashion often skips the just-gone decade and hones in on the one that came before it. The Kickers collaboration makes sense from that point of view, as the brand was popular with the pop stars of the time, be it Jarvis Cocker, Noel Gallagher or John Squire from The Stone Roses. “Shannon often references niche youth cultures – especially 90s and early-2000 trends – that come from teenagers rather than the catwalk designers of that era,” says Max Clark, fashion editor at i-D magazine. “Anyone who is into Shannon’s clothes will have probably worn the boots at one point, or remember a friend with Kickers.”
The partnership was meant to begin in time for the SS12 collection but was postponed a season so a ‘proper’ collab boot could be developed. Christopher approached Kickers in August 2011: “We received an email from Elauan Lee, who was styling Christopher’s SS12 catwalk show and, on Christopher’s behalf, she requested we create a limited-edition Kickers boots for the SS12 show. But, given the tight timings, we instead commenced work on a bespoke and unique design for his AW12 show,” Hopkins explains.
From then on the relationship developed over the course of four seasons; for each collection, Kickers offered Shannon a variety of silhouettes from the recent or future men’s collections that he could select from. “Once a style was chosen, he would request as many changes as he liked and we always tried our best to accommodate. Fabrics were specially ordered for him, slices were added to the soles of the boots and special laces and eyelets were sourced from far and wide.” The only condition laid down by the brand was respect for its core design language. “The restrictions were somewhat linked to the maintaining of the Kickers identity and the actual shapes of the sole units, but Christopher never wanted to amend these and was always keen to keep the Kickers signature anyway,” Hopkins says, retrospectively.
So, why did the collaboration work? Looking back, it’s by far Shannon’s most directional footwear partnership and, even though Kickers have worked with other designers, this collab tested their creativity in ways unknown to them. “I think Chris is the dream collaborator for established brands like Kickers as he’s brilliant at working within an existing design format while making it contemporary again,” says fashion editor John Colver, who used to style Shannon’s menswear shows. “It always has some reference point from his relationship with the product in the past, which generally most people shared, but also feels totally new and ‘now’ at the same time.” Clark agrees: “Christopher often shows you a garment that you may have forgotten about, or re-introduces clothes you may have had in the past. What he did well with this collab was that he didn’t just show you what you already knew but created fresh interest in Kickers – it can’t just always be about nostalgia.”
Shannon’s outlook on life, and therefore fashion, seems to stem from growing up outside of London. Born and bred in Liverpool, Shannon had an outsider’s point of view when he arrived in the capital. To a certain degree he still does but these days he is an established, award-winning designer who also creates womenswear. “When we first started collaborating, Christopher had just achieved NEWGEN sponsorship from British Fashion Council and Topman, but by the end of our time with him he was fully recognised as having ‘arrived’ and was seen as one of the most exciting designers at LCM,” says Hopkins. “He’s a key designer of the decade with his influential streetwear style and unexpected masculine sportswear. We are honoured to have been on that journey with him.”
Moving on from the first collab season, Shannon developed his relationship with Kickers, taking in a variety of styles, new and old, but always with his tongue-in-cheek take on the details, silhouette or materials. The second outing, at the first-ever LCM in June 2012, Shannon reworked the Urbo Kicks, a new silhouette inspired by the Kick Hi, and the Urbo Trapper. Mixing pony skin with suede and patent leather, the shoe’s stand-out detail was the multicoloured marbled outsole and thick webbing straps. Next up, Shannon set his sights on the classic hiking boot, again using the Kickers Kick Chunk as a reference, adding details like D-ring ski-hooks, chunky hiking laces, multi-layered stacked soles to bulk-up the silhouette, and fabric combinations of suede and coloured patent leathers. At the time, he commented: “I didn’t want to fabricate an existing style and do something predictable… I love a hiking boot, and they represent the functionality and practicality of the AW13 collection.”
But it is perhaps his last Kickers season that defines the collaboration. For SS14, Shannon decided to rework the iconic Kick Hi profile, creating the Kick Shandal CS and Kick Hi CS. The monochrome Kick Shandal CS was a hybrid that combined a classic men’s summer sandal with the rugged stance and youthful expression of the Kick Hi boot. The second style of that SS14 collaboration was where Shannon finally put his own spin on Kickers’ most recognisable and popular boot. All the tweaks and changes that he chose were like affectionate nods to his previous collaborations with the brand. He thickened the rubber outsole of the Kick Hi CS with additional contrast colour slices, adding hiker eyelets and thicker flecked laces, and he even included a marbled fleurette trim. “I wanted to add the feeling of something a bit 70s with the repeat of the fleurette design, and they went from being a quite hardcore idea on paper to something really refined and identifiable,” Shannon reflected after the show.
Finally, having been shown during multiple fashion weeks, the boots ended up on shop floors, and in the hands of Kickers-loving customers. Whether it was Shannon’s version of the Kick Hi, or another style from the Kickers archive, these were limited-edition and hard to come by. Stylecreep founder Sam Whitlock stocked several generations of the collaboration boots: “The Kickers x Shannon collab was perfect in terms of the aesthetic Shannon wanted to achieve. He’s always shown a strong awareness of street culture and youth movements throughout his collections, and his obsession with sport and street culture from the 90s and 2000s perfectly tied the Kickers brand to his collection.”
Although the collaboration is now over, both brands have clearly been enriched by the experience. Shannon, in every other footwear partnership he enters, can measure his creative freedom against what Kickers allowed him to do. There are also, generally speaking, few brands that fit with his own origins and aesthetic as naturally as Kickers did. The footwear brand, on the other hand, was taken on a sartorial roller coaster by Shannon, allowed a peek-a-boo into a truly creative mind and the studio of one of London’s most prolific designers. In a time where the concept of collaboration is often abused to gain a few extra marketing points and blog coverage, the Christopher Shannon x Kickers partnership can stand tall, proud of the product it created – not only for both partners, but also the customer. That’s the definition of a great collaboration.