Our Sneakers, Ourselves – Stalking the Shoe for You

“Supergas or Converse?” Runway models du jour state their allegiance in a questionnaire regularly published in a blog of The New York Times Magazine. This is not a new question. The two classic sneaker brands are far older than most realize: Superga debuted in 1911 Italy as state-of-the-art tennis shoes. Converse, the classic American brand, transformed the sport of basketball back in the 1920s.

PAAR carries unusual brands including more ‘adult’ varieties | Photo: Paar

PAAR carries unusual brands including more ‘adult’ varieties | Photo: Paar

But the choice implies a bevy of other allegiances: “Euro or American?” “Tennis or basketball?” “Prep or – something else?” If one’s choice of sneakers makes a statement about where one, well, stands relative to significant cultural codes and traditions, then what sort of footwear statements are available in Vienna’s international mix?

Born from the sport
“Sneakers always refer back,” says Edoardo Ricordati, owner of LA BOTTEGA, Vienna’s newest sneaker boutique. Most fundamentally, their shape is “born from the sport.” A fashion sneaker today still bears the morphology demanded by a particular athletic pursuit in the past – basketball, running, training, tennis…
Ricordati shows how a sneaker can have a decades-long “soul.” Upon seeing the shop’s Diadoras, clients will spontaneously reminisce about the Diadora-wearing professional UK footballers they idolised as kids. It’s happened more than once, according to Ricordati.

Each shoe in La Bottega sports a tag that specifies the design’s original release year. The late ‘70s and ‘80s dominate. The shoes in their selection – including Vans, Nike, New Balance, Diadora, Saucony, and Superga – are rarely dated later than 1990.

Old-school designs, however, don’t mean old-school materials. Ricordati shows me a pair of 1980s basketball shoes whose neoprene cracked after only a few wears. There is none of that now. But I do notice the “white” foam of one pair of sneakers is a little off – to capture the yellowing of the past.
“So what sets La Bottega apart from ­Vienna’s other sneaker shops?” I ask.

“Research,” he immediately says. “Research and selection.” Ricordati, who worked for years as a buyer in cities such as Florence, Berlin and Paris, aims to carry lines and models no one else carries. Clearly driven, he works to give his clients a creative edge. “The other stores,” he says, “will have to look to me.”

An oasis afoot
Given the city’s now-vital sneaker scene, it’s hard to believe that only eight years ago, Vienna was a “sneaker desert.” David Rüb, co-owner of the boutique ZAPATERÍA, describes himself then – a 23-year-old trudging around the city in the rain, going from department store to department store trying to find a cool pair of sneakers. Frustrated at so much trekking and so little choice, he and 22-year old Severin Rogl decided to open a sneaker store. They called it Zapatería – Spanish for “shoe store.”

“We liked the straightforward simplicity of the name,” Rüb explains.

Zapatería’s selection is wide, and includes favorites such as Nike, Adidas, Puma and Asics, as well as more conscientious brands such as the German-designed, Portugal-produced Ekn and the France-designed, Brazil-sourced and produced Veja. Shoe the Bear, a Danish line, offers pretty suede wedges as comfortable as sneakers.

PAAR carries brands I don’t see elsewhere, including some favorites from my own past – KangaROOS: perky sneakers with zipper pockets, and Toms, reasonably-priced canvas shoes by a company with an activist soul. Another brand, Pointer, particularly appeals to my adult side, with its unisex sneakers in summery linens.

STIL, Paar’s sister store, makes me instantly nostalgic for my teen years, running around the beaches of Southern California. With the classically tailored L.A. street wear line The Quiet Life (“on and off since 1997”) on its shelves, and walls of skateboards, Stil features an array of Nikes and Vans with the thick, even foot bed typical of skate-inspired footwear.

The salesperson at Stil laments that the new shoe models arrive here later than in the United States. I reassure him, saying that most of us don’t follow sneaker trends. (Okay, I did smirk at the three-inch-wedge hi-tops that hit the streets last summer…)

Trending trainers
People do follow sneaker trends, Rüb of Zapatería assures me.
“What’s hot now?” I ask.
“Late 1980s running shoes.”
He shows me examples. Cushiony and fat, they’re a radical departure from the lean trainer-style designs my female friends in San Francisco used to call “city sneakers.” I can’t imagine pairing them with street wear.

Ricordati of La Bottega – whose clientele is 70 per cent men – sympathises with female would-be sneaker-wearers. “Boots and heels are often easier [than sneakers to match with women’s clothes],” he notes. He glances down at my three-inch grey suede wedges. “If a woman wants to wear sneakers,” he admits, “sometimes she has to start there and build her look around them.” Men have more flexibility. “The right man can wear sneakers into the office,” says Ricordati.
Double standard or no, I plan to return La Bottega to buy a pair of blue-grey Supergas. I may have married a Converse man, but I grew up with these. And in Supergas I will, nostalgically, remain.

7., Kirchengasse 26, (01) 9235585
office@zapateria.at, www.zapateria.at

La Bottega
6., Nelkengasse 8, 01 9297831

PAAR Sneakerboutique
7., Siebensterngasse 52
(01) 923 13 16

shop@paar-laden.at, www.paar-laden.at

7., Lindengasse 51/2, (01) 522 3784
info@stil-laden.at, www.stil-laden.at

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