In the pre-internet days of sneaker culture, things like regional variation existed. What was popular in the Midlands wasn’t necessarily the biggest thing in, say, Liverpool or Leeds. On this side of the pond, the shoes stirring up a commotion on the streets of New York weren’t simultaneously being sold in a shopping mall in Dayton, Ohio. Of course, there were massively popular shoes that, generally, everyone wanted regardless of geographical differences, but it was a far cry from the climate today, where you can circle the globe and find everyone vying for the same shoe.
The all-encompassing nature of sneaker culture means there are few secrets and fewer limits on what can be acquired, especially when it comes to retro product. It’s difficult to imagine there are many shoes that the major companies haven’t pulled out of their archives. It turns out, however, that these archives are vaster than the average consumer could imagine, so even though anything from the past is fair game for a second act at some point, the sheer volume of product means there are some true gems being overlooked.
To find a shoe, in 2016 that has actually gone untouched for nearly thirty years is something of a thrill. To be sure, it’s a nerdish thrill, on par with archeologists finding an especially interesting tablet, but a thrill nonetheless. That shoe is the Asics Gel Trendy, retooled for 2016 as the Gel Classic.
Any history of the Gel Trendy would have to start with the Gel cushioning system itself, and to get into the Gel cushioning, a detour through the history of running shoe design is absolutely required.
There is a reactionary element in the larger, sneaker buying public that is, at best, skeptical of performance technology. This line of argument usually reasons that since the buzzcut, short-shorted athletes of the 1950s didn’t need “fancy” shoes, no one else does. But anyone who has ever run knows that shoe technology makes a tangible difference.
Technological advancements in running shoes are a comparatively recent phenomenon. Specialized running shoes like track spikes and racing flats existed, but that’s about it. The advent of nylon uppers, which dried quicker and was more breathable than heavy leather, in the late 60's was considered a bona fide marvel of modern design back then. There wouldn’t have been an abundance of people to complain though. Before Frank Shorter’s 1972 marathon victory at the Munich Olympics, brought the sport into the public spotlight, recreational running was practically unheard of.
After this long period of relative stagnation, the 70s, 80s, and 90s each saw technological leaps forward in shoe design. Not only was there an influx of newly minted runners, but they were running on paved areas like roads and sidewalks. From a shoe design standpoint, this was all, pretty much, brand new, and it meant that running shoes had to satisfy an entirely different set of needs. In the 70s, this led to the advent of improved cushioning, shock absorbing elements like heel counters, and new, synthetic upper materials that were breathable and dried faster.
One of the earliest examples of a shoe dedicated to recreational road running was the Onitsuka Tiger California model. The mesh upper also made its way to more traditional racing flats, but the 3m heel, and focused arch and toe support were specifically designed for joggers.
The technological push continued in the 80s, with special attention paid to the midsole. Several new materials were experimented with in various forms, but the most lasting innovation was ethyl vinyl acetate, or EVA, which not only offered further progress on the cushioning front, but was a more responsive material to boot, setting the stage for the footwear giants of the world to introduce their respective motion control and stability technologies. This combination of superior cushioning, energy redistribution and guidance was the true birth of the modern running shoe. It’s also around this time that the respective running silhouettes of the individual brands really started to develop distinct aesthetic identities.
For Asics, the Gel cushioning system was what made their permanent mark upon the industry. Even the casual observer will notice that the prefix ‘Gel’ is affixed to the model name of a myriad of Asics shoes. Because sneakers are so firmly established as fashion, it is easy to take for granted, or just not think about the performance element that went into the original design. Gel is not just a catchy name. A soft material (it’s obviously proprietary, so it’s not getting more specific than that) injected into the forefoot and heel of the shoe, Gel cushioning absorbs landing strikes and reduces the force applied to the foot upon each new step. The Gel cushioning system is the underlying foundation of Asics performance runners to this day.
From a historical perspective, the Gel Trendy is one in a very long line of performance running shoes to have borne the Gel name. The 1990 catalog description simply reads “designed for the mid mileage runners who desire stability and anti-overpronation in performance shoes.” The colorway was a typical of the era, white, blue and a green heading towards teal. Physically, the Gel Trendy doesn’t have the extra rear-cushioning present on many other Asics models from this time, most notably, the Gel Lyte III, which differentiates it, slightly. Ultimately, though, the Gel Trendy is a standard, stability running shoe that a recreational runner could walk into any sports store in the country and pick up then wear into the ground before replacing them.
The nondescript nature of the Gel Trendy is what made it such an appealing choice to work with. There are no gimmicks, hype, or preconceived notions surrounding the shoe to live up to; it will stand entirely on its own merit.
For the Trendy’s transition into the Gel Classic, the original upper has been replaced with lush suede, while the famous Asics tiger stripes are rendered in leather. The toebox and side panels of the shoe are perforated, not just as a visual distinction, but as a subtle nod to the breathable nylon upper of the original Gel Trendy.
The new color palette features neutral earth tones accented by soft pastels, which all serve to highlight the sensations of the open road. All the colorful sights in the great outdoors are varied and plentiful, but it all comes back to having to actually be out there, with the earth beneath your feet, to truly experience them.
The Gel Classic is a running shoe slowed down to walking pace, but on the road, pace doesn’t always matter. We all get to where we’re going in the end.
The Bodega x Asics Gel-Classic 'On The Road' Pack will come with custom branded packaging and a disposable camera, releasing exclusively through Bodega and bdgastore.com on Saturday, January 9, 2016.
Words: Dan Alvarez