Bobbito Garcia has worn a lot of shoes, studied a lot of shoes and designed a lot of shoes, but there’s a soft spot in his heart for a style he first saw in the New York neighborhood where he grew up.
The author of the seminal 2003 book “Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987,” as well as the host of “It’s the Shoes” on ESPN, Garcia has worked with some of the sneaker world’s biggest brands on exclusive projects. But it was a call last year from Pro-Keds about collaborating on the relaunch of an off-the-market shoe called the Royal Flash that really got his creative juices flowing.
“I was gassed, I can’t even front,” Garcia said about his first meeting with reps from the brand, a division of Lexington, Mass.-based Stride Rite Corp. “With the Royal Flash, I looked at it as an honor because it’s not going to be an easy shoe to sell. It was a shoe that was popular in the ’hood, but it didn’t transcend that time. It’s like this mystery shoe that was recorded in my book.” Garcia was hands-on with the reissue of the style, lending the brand his cherished pair of Royal Flashes (bought in Spanish Harlem in 1990) and reviewing prototypes for accuracy. “They shipped [my pair] off to the factories, they measured them, smelled them, did all these other things,” he said. “The reissue is as close to the original as you could possibly get.”
The resulting collection, retailing for $100, features four colorways of the suede mid-cut silhouette. It delivers Oct. 25 to select retailers including West, Vault and Sportie LA.
Here, Garcia talks about the collaboration, what he’s wearing now and why 2009 is a great time to be in sneakers.
1. What attracted you to this collab?
BG: In my book, I professed a profound love for the Royal Flash, which I first spotted on the [basketball] courts of Spanish Harlem in 1981. I’d like to think that the fact that I wrote [about it in the book] helped influence the decision to reissue the Royal Flash. And it was a natural selection on [Pro-Keds’] part to consider me to collaborate to bring it out. I mean, if anyone is known for digging the Royal Flash, it’s me.
2. Was working on the Royal Flash different from your other projects?
BG: I’ve done collabs in the past — probably most notably the Nike Air Force One 25th anniversary and the Adidas Superstar 35th anniversary — but those shoes have been the biggest sellers of the past 20 years. With the Royal Flash, I looked at it as an honor because it’s not going to be an easy shoe to sell. It was a shoe that was popular in the ’hood, but it didn’t transcend that, and it hasn’t been available since its first introduction.
3. Aside from some personal tweaks and a new color palette, the fall styles stay pretty close to the original. Were you tempted to make more changes?
BG: Because it’s being reintroduced for the first time in 30 years, [the new version of the Royal Flash] had to come out as close to the original as possible. Any other manner of introduction would be disrespectful. You have to pay respect to my generation.
4. Who do you see reacting to this shoe?
BG: The first wave of people who I want to react to it are those who wore it back then. With that said, after being posted on my blog and on Hypebeast.com, it’s getting a good response from the younger sneakerheads. But even Hypebeast, which is such a phenomenal site for information today, didn’t know the name of the shoe. They called it the Bobbito Royal Flash El Barrio, or something like that. [Editor’s Note: the Bobbito x Pro-Keds El Barrio]. So it’s going to take a little bit of education to tell the story.
5. What do you think shoppers are going to respond to most: the history or your name attached to the project?
BG: You know, a beautiful shoe is a beautiful shoe. It doesn’t even have to have a story. People are just going to see the shoe and say, “That’s a gorgeous sneaker, I want to wear it.”
6. So you want people to pick up this shoe even if they don’t know who you are?
BG: I mean… [pauses] I’m pondering right now because I’m trying to be humble. If you watch [the] “Just for Kicks” [documentary], I’m one of the main talking heads. I wrote the first article on sneakers, I wrote the books on sneakers, I hosted a TV series. I feel like if you’re a sneakerhead, you should know who I am. But I mean, how many people wear sneakers around the world? So no, you don’t have to know who I am.
7. What kicks are you into these days?
BG: I’m always trying to wear things that are a little different. I just saw a pair of Mizuno running shoes that this kid had on, and I had to stop him and give him a pound and say, “I really like your sneakers.” I’ve never owned Mizunos, but I have often worn Brooks and Asics and Saucony and other hardcore running brands to DJ in, or to chill in. I wear everything. I like to wear comfortable shoes that not everyone else is wearing, and not for what [people] think they should be worn for.
8. Having written a book on the birth of sneaker culture, do you ever feel nostalgic for the old days?
BG: This is the greatest time ever for people who are into sneakers. There are more choices, more brands, more colors, more models, there’s access to old shoes, to deadstock via eBay, and it’s just a great time.
9. Some say it’s not as special, there’s too much hype. You don’t feel the sneaker game has changed for the worse?
BG: Oh, get over it, you know? I always hear that. [When I started writing my book], I was very critical and grumpy: “They don’t make ’em like they used to, blah blah blah.” I got over that. I’m not mad no more. I got it out of my system.
10. Do you consider yourself a collector?
BG: I don’t consider myself a collector. I do get a lot of sneakers, and I do go out and shop — I like the experience of being in a store, trying on a shoe, being undecided about which ones to get — but I don’t collect. I wear every shoe, and the ones I haven’t worn get donated. But I respect all the different kinds of people who are into sneakers. You have your connoisseurs, your historians, your collectors, your resellers and your wearers. I come from the era when we wore our shoes. There was no Internet, so the only way people would know you had cool sneakers was to wear them.