Asicstiger x Vivienne Westwood sneakers: Finding the sweet spot between hype and niche markets

Asicstiger x Vivienne Westwood sneakers: Finding the sweet spot between hype and niche markets

Standing ground

Text: Jolene Khor

We're not going to lie. Our first thought when we heard of the mashup between Asicstiger and Vivienne Westwood was "not another collaboration!". Can you blame us? In April alone, we counted five sneaker collaborations (Converse x J.W. Anderson and Nike x Fear of God amongst them) — and those are just the ones we felt worthy of coverage. But when word got out that Westwood's husband and creative-in-chief, Andreas Kronthaler, is a long-time customer of Asics, we sat up. And then we realised we had actually seen the shoes before, only we missed it at the Vivienne Westwood spring/summer 2019 show last year in Paris, we changed our minds. 

There might be a story here after all. 

"Asics are brilliant technicians — known for their expertise, they are the best in their field," Kronthaler told press. "We love the look of their trainers because they are form following function, which attracted us to this collaboration. We wanted to create something real. They are not just decoration or a fashion statement; they are functional. With this collaboration we wanted to bring together both." 

While Kronthaler wasn't able to fly to Shanghai for the global launch of the revamped of Asics' Gel-Mai Knit MT and Gel Kayano 5 OG, we were, and so was Global Brand Director of Vivienne Westwood, Christopher Di Pietro — with whom we sat down for a HTHT about the sexiness of sneakers, the business of hype, and why this is a partnership you should care about.


Asics and Vivienne Westwood — talk about an unlikely pairing!
Andreas Kronthaler has been wearing Asics trainers for a long time, and is drawn to them precisely because they are not fashion items. Asics trainers are all about performance, and Andreas loves that their designs are dictated purely by function; it gives them a look that nobody else in the market has. You can recognise an Asics shoe when you look at one, even without seeing a logo.

How did this collaboration with Vivienne Westwood, which is an equally iconic brand, come about?
Shared values. Neither Asics nor Vivienne Westwood look closely at trends, and both brands focus on uniqueness instead. Vivienne, for example, never copies anyone — she lives and works entirely in her own little world. She doesn't 'do' the '60s in one collection, then the '80s in the next; she develops her signature designs over many, many seasons, which is how Asics operates, too. Both brands have a catalogue of iconic shapes that are constantly being refined and improved upon.

That makes sense.
Yes, Asics and Vivienne Westwood may seem to be of very different worlds, but for us, they aren't. It's been great to work with people who possess a completely different skill set, but similar goals; we've created a truly unique product that neither of us could have realised on our own. It was a difficult process, because we [the Vivienne Westwood team] had to re-learn how to design shoes, as trainers are a very specific, performance-oriented category. There were plenty of limitations, for obvious reasons, but also lots of new options we weren't aware of previously, such as new types of knits, leathers and suedes. We had so many permutations to choose from, it was overwhelming. [Laughs]

That sounds like a steep learning curve. How long did developing this project take?
We first discussed the collaboration in 2017, so around two years.

What was it about the world of performance that was sexy to Vivienne Westwood?
Performance shoes are definitely not throwaway fashion, they take a great deal of time and thought to make, which aligns with Vivienne Westwood's ethos of sustainable product design — customers buy them because they're durable, well-made, and they perform. 


Let's talk a little bit about the designs.
You are looking at two of Asics's classic styles, the Kayano and Gel-Mai shoes from the '90s. We combined them with aspects of our own heritage, namely the squiggle print from 1981's Pirate show. Of the two colourways in this collection, the red, white and orange is derived from the original collection, while the strawberry-raspberry palette is a newer interpretation.

Why this squiggle print specifically?
It's one of the most instantly-recognisable prints we've ever done, and we just wanted to match our most iconic pattern with Asics's most iconic designs. The result is tradition transported to the future; the new shoes are very futuristic, but at the same time have a historical feel to them, which I love.

What is fashion's relationship to sport?
Contemporary sportswear is a very interesting phenomenon that's transforming the way we dress. I think is a natural progression from everyone reordering their priorities towards more active lifestyle— we now understand that keeping active is crucial to mental and physical health.

Is athleisure is here to stay, or do you think we'll see it evolve into something else?
I don't like that term, nor do I like the look of it either, unless you're at the gym or in yoga class — Vivienne hates leggings and stuff like that too. But the one thing I'll say is that fashion has always moved like a pendulum. So there's probably going to be a reversal towards formal dressing at some point, just not in the same forms as it took in the '80s or even the '90s, because the world has fundamentally changed. Sportswear and technical fabrics will continue to play a central role in fashion, because of climate change and extreme weather.

Is this collaboration a sneak peek into the cool, technical fabrics in Vivienne Westwood's future?
I hope so, I mean it's definitely the future. But we're also looking at sustainability from several different angles; it's not just about sustainably-sourced textiles — the most important practices are to buy better and to buy less. Organic cotton, for example, is great in that it's pesticide-free, but it still consumes gallons of water, so unless we shop more conscientiously, it won't make a difference.


Speaking of buying less and better; have we reached peak collab? There are so many out there to shop from these days.
Collaborations are really exciting because they're meetings of the mind that produce items which would never have existed otherwise. They reflect the collaborative ways of the business and design worlds of today.

Do you think limited quantities and hype are sustainable business models?
Vivienne Westwood doesn't over-produce, not because we want to inflate demand, but because we want to avoid surplus and discounting; it's a difficult balance for brands to strike. Hype and rarity have been extremely successful strategies for some brands that I won't mention, but it also has its downsides. If you limit the amount of product you manufacture, you leave the door open for counterfeiters to meet that demand. It also turns things into rare commodities, or collectibles that people buy and resell, but don't wear. We now have a sub-economy of products that nobody's using, and I'm just like, "What's going on?!".

Fashion is wearable art, after all — it's not just art.
Exactly, it's an applied art that needs to be wearable and worn for it to come to life. We design product for it to be worn, and while I love that there are people with Vivienne Westwood heels from the '90s sitting on their mantlepieces, that's a different kind of consumption. What designers aim for is for their work to be worn and to be used, because we have used the earth's resources to create them. It's a shame when great fashion just sits in a box somewhere.

Asicstiger x Vivienne Westwood is available online and at Asics Plaza Singapura.