Kicking it old school
Sneakers and street culture continue to drive the style conversation, but it’s the seminal days of hip-hop that permanently cemented the relationship between upscale and downtown souls, and Bally was there from the very beginning, writes Jian DeLeon
Richard Martin Lloyd Walters was born and raised in south west London and as an infant was blinded in the right eye by a piece of broken glass. When his family emigrated to the Bronx in 1976, he found his calling. Meeting rapper and producer Doug E Fresh, Walters adopted the name Slick Rick and developed a knack for lyrical storytelling. His eye-patch, layered gold chains and inimitable musical and personal style fast earned him the moniker Rick the Ruler.
When he appeared on Doug E Fresh’s 1985 song La Di Da Di, Slick Rick turned the regimen of getting ready in the morning into a legendary anthem, famously rapping: ‘Fresh dressed like a million bucks. Threw on the Bally shoes and the fly green socks’. Indeed, Rick’s lyrics later inspired the title of Sacha Jenkins’s 2015 documentary on the evolution of hip-hop style, Fresh Dressed. And Doug E Fresh famously sports a pair of Bally Competitions on the cover of his 1986 LP Oh, My God!. One of the album’s songs, All the Way to Heaven, has a video featuring a stop-motion scene in which a high-top pair of Competitions takes on another popular hip-hop sneaker in a Wild West-style shootout.
In this particular style realm, Bally was the connoisseur’s sneaker. When so-called ‘sneaker culture’ was in its infancy, it wasn’t enough to wear kicks that were different from your peers; the real power was in rocking a pair that they either couldn’t find in the stores in their area, or they couldn’t easily afford.
Trainers such as the Bally Competition, Super Smash and Vita-Parcours were originally designed to withstand the rigours of sport. But the silhouettes’ elegant simplicity, versatile comfort and hard-wearing nature made them perfectly suited for the then-seedy streets of the Bronx or ready to go toe-to-toe with b-boys and b-girls at a party where the sound system was as immense as the personalities on the mic.
The Competition, in particular, features a shock absorbing polyurethane sole, a flexible rocker heel, cushioned tongue and an extra inner sole. Finished with Bally’s signature side stripes on the upper and a sporty rubber-gum sole, it was the kind of upscale trainer that signified membership of a more elite club of sneaker fiends. To the dilettante, it may have just been another white plimsoll, but to the cognoscenti, it marked you as one of their own.
The new Competition takes certain cues from its predecessor. Like hip-hop’s penchant for sampling disco hits into rap anthems, it blends the old sneaker’s appeal with a more modern sensibility. The upper stays true to 1983, but the angular sole and curved toecap clearly channel 2018, providing a balance between the purists and progressives.
The new retro sneaker capsule collection also revisits the Super Smash 1 and 2 (a low-profile sneaker from 1965), 1974’s Vita-Parcours, and a reimagined version of 1983’s Galaxy Runner. Keeping with Bally’s origins in elevated sportswear, the Galaxy mixes luxury suede with a breathable canvas, while a sporty treaded sole provides traction.
The Super Smash stays true to its roots, but is reinterpreted in a super-soft nappa leather version in addition to the classic canvas, making it the most comfortable version of the shoe Bally has produced. Thee Vita-Parcours retains its classic checkerboard motif, keeping the spirit of the iconic shoe intact.
As unofficial Bally ambassadors, Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick were pioneers who bridged the gap between the Bronx and Madison Avenue. They didn’t need any peer validation that the shoes they wore possessed a certain sense of cool; they’re the ones who made them all the more covetable for a specific, highly discerning set of people. And now that so much of sneaker culture revolves around obsessing about limited-edition releases that not everyone can get, this collection brings back artefacts of a simpler time – when the wearer imparted meaning to the shoes, and not the other way around.