Sneaker Cultures Fading Love Affair with Ronnie Fieg
By David Blackmon / @jusdave3_2
Any commensurate sneaker aficionado worth their salt is familiar with Ronnie Fieg. Synonymous with subtle, bold, yet modern designs, Fieg has been behind some of the cultures most captivating sneaker offerings in recent memory. With Puma, Ronnie teamed up to offer classic shoes like the R698 high and low “Sakura”, the “COA” Atlantis and Coral, and the High Snobiety/Puma collaboration on the R698 and Blaze of Glory “A Tale of Two Cities”. With New Balance, he’s dropped more culture defining footwear like the 997.5 “Mykonos Cyclades” and “Mykonos Archipelago”, NYC inspired 530 “Central Park” and 850 “Brooklyn Bridge”, 999 “Steel Blue”, and the 998 “City Never Sleeps” just to name a few. Other sneaker brand collaborations include Adidas, Filling Pieces, Timberland, and a slew of others. Where Ronnie Fieg has really influenced and made himself a staple within the sneaker community is with his Asics collaborations.
Before the dawning of his self-labeled brand, Kith, and the nearly endless roster of sneaker collaborations, Ronnie Fieg, teamed with Asics through the ranks of David Z to single-handedly revive the Gel moniker for the Asics brand. Between 2007 and the summer of 2011 Ronnie paired with Asics to bring nearly twenty gel models to market. Several if not all of these first twenty Asics are considered by most sneaker/runner enthusiasts to have achieved coveted “grail” status with timeless models like the “Super Red”, “Cove”, “Mint”, and Nice Kicks gel-lyte III’s. In the fall/winter of 2011 Ronnie opened his first two Kith stores, introducing the original “Salmon Toe” GL3 and then the “Leatherback” GL3’s sequentially with each opening. In subsequent years Fieg jumped to other brands expanding his sneaker influence to the other brands listed above, but never failing to “return home” to Asics with additional masterworks like the “Eclipse”, “Flamingo” Gel-Lyte III’s, and “Volcano” Gel-Lyte V. Ronnie Fieg’s greatest Asics collaborations came by way of the Gel-Lyte III, a model Fieg single-handedly revived to prominence and elevating the silhouette to the level of the Air Max 1 in the eyes of the runner community.
The sneaker community is a finicky bunch to say the least. Colorways, silhouettes, materials, price points, or any number of other factors can and will turn off sneaker enthusiasts to a collaborator designs. Numerous designers have come and gone after one or two releases; dismissed within sneaker culture for a horrific colorway or a piss poor release. Ronnie Fieg eluded the ire of the sneaker community for the better part of ten years. In fact, sneaker enthusiasts clamored for each RF release from 2010 on. Sellouts for every release became commonplace and resell prices for each Fieg collaboration soon began to hit quadruple digit numbers. By 2015, Ronnie Fieg was a sneakerhead household name, and a deity to Asics fanatics as he was poised to celebrate the release of his 50th Asics collaboration
However, 2016 for Ronnie Fieg began with a slight hiccup. In March of 2016, his first collaboration with the Asics brand of the year on the once defunct Asics GT-Cool Express released. The sneaker community seemed unimpressed. The subtle colorway and new silhouette didn’t possess the draw of previous Gel models adorned by Fieg. Although the new silhouette sold out eventually, resale prices remained somewhat low compared to previous models. The follow-up to the Cool Express, the “Super Green” Gel-Lyte III, was a return to the usual frenzy for the RF X Asics collaboration. Simultaneously released alongside the “Super Green” GL3 was the 3.1 version of the Gel-Lyte III. This new silhouette also met mixed reviews. Sales seemed to be attributed more to the Ronnie Fieg name than any true excitement over the new silhouette, colorway, or materials. While always on the hunt for the next new footwear trend, sneaker enthusiasts seemed stand-offish in regards to these new and refurbished model offerings.
2015 and 2016 saw some of Ronnie Fieg’s greatest transitions away from a primary focus on just sneaker collaborations and a more encompassing approach with clothing and footwear designs being offered with each new release. Things like the Nike X Kith shop became more commonplace for Ronnie’s interactions with other brands. Simultaneously, Ronnie began to be more ambitious with sneaker collaborations by making changes to sneaker silhouettes beyond just color and material adjustments. The Fieg X Puma “A Tale of Two Cities” and Fieg X Puma X Colette models saw minor changes to the Blaze of Glory model construction in addition to the colorway changes. Ronnie Fieg’s first collaboration with Diadora saw him making changes to the V7000 paneling, converting its familiar structure to a more “Ronnie-fied” RF7000 silhouette.
With this new confidence, Ronnie and his Kith brand jumped in to the deep end and pursued arguably the biggest collaborative partners in his history with Adidas and Nike. After wowing the sneaker community with a re-release of the Salmon Toes and releasing a long-awaited colorway of the Gel-Lyte III, the Militia (or Mossad), Ronnie and Kith teamed up with Adidas to release the Response Trail Boost and Consortium Ultra Boost Mid. The Ultra-Boost Mid was a hit as the Ultraboost wave was still at full peak. The Response Trail Boost, although a boost shoe, received a slightly less warm reception.
Kicking off the 2017, Ronnie turned to Asics, seeking to bring the Gel Diablo to the fore as a new footwear hit. Pairing the Diablo with the famed “Volcano” colorway and releasing a Gel-Lyte III model adorned in the Gel-Lyte V “Volcano’s” original hues and color-blocking failed to spark any lasting appeal for the model. Even the Volcano Gel-Lyte III failed to have a lasting draw for the sneaker community. Four months after the Gel-Lyte III Volcano’s release resell prices had fallen from the $500-600 range to just over $300. Sneakerheads complained in message-boards and social media comment sections about materials and colors being “off” compared to the original Gel-Lyte V release. These complaints seemed somewhat unfounded given the similar changes on the 50th anniversary release of the Salmon Toe Gel-Lyte III. Such a decline in appeal and hype over a Ronnie Fieg Gel-Lyte III release seems tantamount to watching Michael Jordan play basketball for the Wizards, or David Beckham play football for the LA Galaxy. There’s still excitement about the chance to watch greatness, but saddened to see an iconic great competing at a diminished level.
2017 continued for Ronnie with a myriad of other releases for Adidas. Full on silhouette reworkings with the Copa Mundial Ultra Boost and Ace 16+ Pure Control Ultra Boost, along with several other Kith branded trainers and even two soccer cleats proved to be niche releases, attracting only diehard Kith, and Adidas Soccer fans. Fieg’s signature Salmon, or Flamingo as it was taken from the Kith Flamingo soccer club, was not enough to sustain lasting appeal for this first Adidas Soccer collaboration. Summer 2017 brought a collaboration with a more long-standing partner, New Balance. As the first to grab a hold of the 574 Sport, Ronnie and Dover Street Market ambitiously created three variants of the shoe that came with interchangeable Velcro “N’s”. This interchangeability and new silhouette again only seemed to have a minimal appeal. Each color of the 574s was up for resale at near the $160 initial retail within the first two weeks of their initial release.
September 2017 arrived, and with it the long-awaited and much anticipated Kith X Nike X Ronnie Fieg collaboration. Rather than be predictable and play it safe by attacking a runner silhouette like the storied and well-worn Air Max 1, Ronnie stepped far out on a limb and reached back to one of his childhood inspirations, Scottie Pippen. Despite Nike’s steady two-year stream of varying Uptempo colorways, Kith and Fieg took on the Air Maestro II. A long, dead model, the Air Maestro II represented something storied, yet original. It was the perfect model for Ronnie to bring to market with Nike. Ambitiously, Fieg went about stripping down the original shoe and doing what appeared to be a complete structural change from the sole up. New paneling, a new lacing system, a side zipper, soft touch nubuck/suede, lightweight sole, inner sock support, and subtle Kith branding embossed on the heel and cleverly reworked into the previous “Flight” logo, signaled Ronnie had poured more heart, soul, and ingenuity into this first sneaker collaboration with Nike than anyone could have anticipated. Release time came and went. Within a week of release resale sites like StockX and GOAT had pairs of both Maestro colorways sitting for $140 a steep drop from the retail $190. A week later Kith released the Air Pippen 1 models of the collection. These pairs, while arguably more ostentatious, represented what appeared to be less creative work than the Air Maestro II. The original Air Pippen 1 was reworked with pony hair panels in solid black and a more flamboyant multi-animal print. Sneaker culture indulged in the Pippen 1 revival. Resale for the Chimera Pippen 1 soured in the following weeks even as Maestro resale plummeted. Anomaly would be an understatement.
The fall of 2017 saw further stumbles from the sneaker culture throne with the second Adidas Soccer collection. The Adidas Nemeziz Tango 17+ Ultraboost failed to make a dent in mainstream and hype sneaker chats. Again, only hardcore Adidas and Kith fans seemed interested in this release. With cold weather looming, the brightest spot in very recent footwear for Ronnie Fieg and Kith appears to be the Nonnative Ultraboost mid. Before years end, Fieg is poised to drop his second Gel-Lyte III release of the year, a teamup with Asics and upscale brand Montclier. A shearling lined Gel-Lyte III seems like something that would be appealing as inclement winter conditions materialize. Solid blue, red, and tan colorways would also appear to be widely appealing and uncontroversial. Alas, this is not the case. Ronnie Fieg’s end of the year Gel-Lyte III release seems to have minimal allure. Are we poised to see a further fall from sneaker culture favor?
Hypothesizing the reason for Ronnie Fieg’s waning appeal within the sneaker community is a difficult proposition. Looking at a timeline of his design aesthetics there’s a clear progression from his early bold and bright colors to more muted and pastel hues. His color-blocking progression transitions clearly from somewhat disjointed color-blocking to complimentary color pallets that take advantage of one or two tones. As any great artist or designer, Ronnie has elevated himself from slapping colors on different sneaker silhouettes to adjusting sneaker paneling and merging models to create style cues that encompass an entire capsule collection rather than just a single sneaker release. In many instances, Fieg’s journey has taken him away from sneakers. His love for design has allowed him to make treks further into the fashion space than many other designers. Well-weathered designers like Tommy Hilfiger sing Fiegs praises for his innovation, while athletes, influencers, and spokespeople like Lebron James have become ardent fanatics for the Kith brand and its collaborative fashion offerings. This newfound success has seemingly driven a wedge between the appreciation of longstanding sneaker community followers and newfound Ronnie Fieg zealots.
The gap between the adolescents clamoring for the next “Salmon Toe” or “Super Green” Gel-Lyte III release and the fashionistas buying jackets from the Moncler X Kith collaboration is an ever-widening chasm. There’s just not enough Ronnie to go around. The irony of his journey is that even as hard-core sneaker culture chastises him for not bringing back his classic designs, they clamor for the next new big thing. As we look at his upcoming Moncler X Asics collaboration it’s hard to really look at the designs and think in what way the aesthetic could be better while still being innovative and also uniquely Ronnie Fieg. Ronnie could easily have simply offered only Montclier pieces with his current drop and not have included Asics in his release, but he didn’t. What we’re seeing from Fieg is something rare. Straddling the line between fashion great and sneakerhead deity is a tough act to pull off, hopefully the sneaker community doesn’t mind sharing.