LXVI - Where Technology & Brand Align

Having spent the last 3.5 years in San Francisco as a college student(for the second time), I’ve learned to live pretty frugally.  This means cutting out all but the most essential spending (food, rent, cheap beer, and the occasional concert.).  As a result, my wardrobe has taken a turn for the worst.

I didn’t realize how bad things had gotten until last week, when the sky began falling in the normally dry city of San Francisco.  I was walking home when the rain began falling almost as hard as it does during hurricane season on the east coast.  By the time I arrived home, it felt like I had stepped into a bath tub.

Much to my dismay, I looked down and realized I was wearing my “good” shoes which had developed holes in both soles.  The next morning, when my shoes were still soaking wet and the rain was still falling, I frantically searched my closet for something that could keep my feet dry.  Unfortunately, there was nothing.  Every single pair of my shoes had perforated soles and would do little to stop the rain water from entering.

As a designer, I am tasked with keeping up with current trends.  From style to technology, I spend hours cataloging and analyzing the consumer market.  So despite my lack of available funds, I was armed with a vast knowledge of available footwear options.

Along with the knowledge of the market, being a designer has left me with an unhealthy fascination of advancements in technology and the evolution of style.  Of particular interest is where the two meet.  When it comes to footwear, most of this innovation is driven(or is at least most visible) by the big two, Nike and adidas.  In this case I was looking for something different and remembered some work I had seen by a giant in the skateboarding industry.

That giant was Vans and the work was the LXVI collection.  According to Vans:

LXVI is the embodiment of forward thinking, functional designs for the active and youthful lifestyle surrounding action sports. LXVI embraces the freedom to think outside, push the envelope, solve, evolve and look to the future.

LXVI products are grounded in a familiar Vans visual aesthetic, but are free from the constraints of traditional construction methods. This freedom allows for designs focused on comfort, flexibility and lighter weight.

After a morning of running errands(in the rain, again) and doing administrative bullshit(you know the kind of work that takes way too much time, but no one accounts for),  I braved the intimidating environment known as the mall and found my local Vans store.

Here I saw for the first time the LXVI collection in the flesh.  As much as we don’t like to admit it, the action sports industry is actually pretty conservative.  Sure many fashion trends(skinny jeans) start with here, but for the most part the uniform of the skate culture has remained essentially unchanged for at least 30 years... Unless you consider the evolution to the zippered hoodie to be a game changer...

With that being said, I’m sure many of you think that this collection is a bit weird just because it is different.  For that reason, Vans has gone to great lengths to normalize it’s technological advancements by borrowing significant details from it’s heritage and fusing them with new aesthetics and new technology.  From a designer’s standpoint I can respect this approach.  One of the most difficult things we are asked to do is to create innovation while staying true the brand.  Doing either is a challenge, but doing both together is nearly impossible.

Innovation – the development of new customer value through solutions that meet new
needs, inarticulate needs, or historic customer and market needs in new ways.

The first shoe that caught my attention was the Graph.   This shoe captures the essence of everything people love in the Vans Authentic and packs it full of technology.  The shoes themselves are incredibly light, rivaling(maybe surpassing) the Nike Free.  The minimalist upper is constructed almost entirely without stitching.  Instead, the panels are bonded together, essentially becoming one piece.

When I tried them on, I fell in love.  The shoe fits like a sock and the “Pleasure Cuff” heel virtually eliminates the possibility of developing blisters.  This is huge for me, as virtually every shoe I have ever worn has caused them.  So, of course I bought a pair, leaving the mall pretty stoked.

After speaking with some of my sneakerhead friends, I came to the conclusion that it would probably be a good idea to have more than one pair of shoes without holes.  Immediately, I considered buying a second pair of Graph’s.

One thing concerned me with that prospect: the sole.  The sole on these shoes are constructed of one piece using the same material that you find in the Nike Free.  I’m guessing this is a closed cell EVA(?) foam.  The Graph only uses this material, the Nike Free on the other hand typically incorporates more traditional TPR panels in high wear areas.  This means that while the sole of the Graph with not peel apart like many shoes, the foam itself may wear down faster.  I must admit that this is an assumption that I hope isn’t true.  I will let you know when I find out.

I decided to look for something a little more familiar, and hopefully a little more durable.  I decided to stick with the LXVI collection and, upon returning to the Vans store, settled on the Variable.  Like the Graph, the Variable takes many styling cues from classic Vans.  In some ways, the angled, contrasting heel panel is a more daring aesthetic leap, though the construction method is much more typical.

With that being said, these shoes are far lighter and more comfortable than your classic Vans.  The aesthetics, while fairly minimal, definitely make a statement and the sole is constructed with a more common TPR material.  And they have the pleasure cuff, which may actually be more effective in this model.

While writing this article, I took a journey over to the Vans website to check out the whole collection.  There are definitely a few more interesting styles to take note of.  If I were into high tops, I would definitely look into both the Stat and the Secant.  Like the other shoes I mentioned, these integrate Vans heritage and contemporary technology in innovative packages.

In addition to footwear, the LXVI collection includes a small selection of apparel.  With all of the interesting innovation in the shoes, I found the apparel quite disappointing.  Like the bike industry (Outlier, Mission Workshop, even Levi’s), the skate industry is ripe for innovation in clothing.  This collection on the other hand merely represents billboards in the style of the day.  While I’m sure many people want to loudly advertise their brands of choice, I prefer a more subtle approach.  In fact, this is why I was drawn to the shoes in the first place.  They have are striking designs with minimal, tasteful branding.

The LXVI collection is definitely a step in the right direction.  While I know the Vans is owned by the MASSIVE VF Corporation (since 2004), I find innovation coming from somewhere other than Nike and adidas to be quite refreshing.  I only wish that this kind of thinking was applied to the apparel, because frankly, consumers deserve better.


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