The word sneakerhead made the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016.
Fashion mags have long debated ‘which sneakerhead are you?’. And dedicated collectors have been stacking up shoe boxes – from car-boot finds to auction wins – for decades. But, it was last year when the rest of the collectors market really sat up to take note.
The gear shift can be pinpointed quite specifically: Sotheby’s New York, July 2019, the auction of Stadium Goods: The Ultimate Sneaker Collection. Within a matter of days, the whole lot bar one – 99 out of 100 rare sneakers – was secured in a private sale to 61-year-old Canadian businessman Miles Spencer Nadal for $850,000. Spoiler alert: Nadal was not, at the time, a sneakerhead.
He later acquired the final shoe out of the 100 – the extremely rare 1972 Nike Waffle Racing Flat ‘Moon Shoe’, designed for Olympic runners, which the consignor was reluctant to part with – for an additional $437,500. Nadal’s initial motivation was to display the sneaker haul in his Dare To Dream museum in Toronto, alongside his sizable collection of cars (including the first motorized car, the Karl Benz motorwagen, and a 1955 Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing), collectibles and antiques. But since his mega-purchase, Nadal has caught the sneaker bug.
“The thing that I find quite fascinating is when you’re a middle aged person and you dress conservatively, but you have sneakers, it’s amazing how people notice,” Nadal said in an interview with Complex. “[People might not care] if I have on a pair of $5,000 Ferragamo shoes, but they will notice a $300 pair of sneakers.”
While Nadal sits in the record-breaker realm, we wanted to find out more about what’s driving sneaker collectors at a grassroots level – the reason this market exists. Cue, Coco Mell, a London-based fashion stylist, creative consultant and content curator.
“I express myself through the freedom of clothes on an array of varied canvases,” she tells us. “For me, sneakers are an extension of me and my mood on any given day. I love how sneakers have become such a central part of my life that I now have an unspoken rule to dress from the kicks up!”
As for her inside track on today’s sneaker market, she’s not in it to compete with the likes of Nadal, but notes: “All the sneaker drops that large fashion houses like Dior with Kim Jones, Virgil Abloh with Louis Vuitton, etc are doing is about securing that new-money currency, because strategically they’re an investment that will increase in value and rarity, like stocks. You’ve only got to look at the Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan merch that’s so hotly priced right now… Need I remind you of those Jordan’s going for half a million! [The 1985 pair of Nike Air Jordan 1s – game-worn and made exclusively for the legendary basketball player – sold for $560,000 at Sotheby’s New York in May, becoming the most expensive sneakers sold at auction.]
Here, we speak to Mell about collecting sneakers, what fuels the passion and her best advice for future sneakerheads.
How many sneakers do you have in your collection? And have you worn them all?
In all honesty, I’ve lost count now. I have my own personal collection, as well as ones that I sell from, so I’m probably at about 375 – and I have nowhere near worn them all. I have a few sacred pairs I’m saving to wear.
Where and how do you store them?
My favourites and everyday wears are in a very deep cove cupboard in my spare room, and they’re divvied up by brand and design. The rest I keep in storage.
Is it all about the thrill of the purchase, the joy of wearing, or the money-making potential?
For me, it’s never been about the money-making side of things, it’s strictly about the joy of wearing them.
Name your top places to buy collector’s pairs?
I feel that everyone knows about StockX, Depop, etc, but I’ve known people to sieve through car boots for some unearthed gems and come up trumps like you wouldn’t believe.
Tell us the story of your most treasured pair?
It would probably have to be either my Nike x Comme des Garçons Shox TL or my BAPE x Coach pair. Long story short, they both consisted of me striking lucky by just pulling up at the right place at the right time – and the rest was history, as they say.