Why This Cool Parisian Brand Wraps Its Sneakers in Rubber

The Both brand may have launched for spring ’17, but the unisex footwear label has some 30 years of heritage behind it. It started as a Japanese rubber company, founded by chemist George Zhu. “Rubber is a physical representation of great vitality,” said Zhu, “and we aim to restore its beauty and respect its incredible natural properties.”

Both’s creative studio is now based in Paris, manned by a changing roster of collaborators, many 
of whom hail from luxury design houses in the city. Their identities, however, are shrouded in Margiela-esque anonymity.

The brand’s signature is its ingenious use of rubber. Core styles include high- and low-top sneakers with leather or canvas uppers that have been partially or wholly covered with a layer of latex — often laces and all.

Both Paris installation.
Both Paris installation.
CREDIT: Both Paris

The natural polymer is sourced from rubber trees in Southeast Asia. Blocks of the raw material are flattened into sheets and then vulcanized onto uppers. Soles are crafted from strips of foxing tape that have been cut into minimal graphic patterns and applied by hand.

For spring ’18, core shades of black, white and natural tan are augmented with orange pops. The body of the shoe is done in vegetable-tanned horse leather lined with calf. There’s also a new fabrication, Ventile, a high-density cotton canvas sourced in the U.K. that is both breathable and water-repellent — a version of the technical fabric is used by Mackintosh for its raincoats.

This season, there’s another British influence at play: The line includes galoshlike styles inspired by the overshoes worn by businessmen to protect their footwear.

Other key spring looks are plimsolls and Chelsea boots with elastic sides. Their easy access makes them especially popular in Japanese and Southeast Asian markets, where removing one’s shoes is a mark of respect. “I am interested in exploring the spiritual idea of East-meets-West through the purity of rubber,” said Zhu.

Both’s shoes, which retail for $320 to $510, are available at spots such as L’Eclaireur in France, Tsum in Russia and Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong. Expect an exclusive red, white and blue capsule to debut at Selfridges in London in October.

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