Sneaker Envy

Girls' kicks shop answers boys' prayers

The day after Christmas, I witnessed a sad sight at a Foot Locker store downtown. An immaculately turned-out young man in baggy jeans, several layers of color-coordinated T-shirts, and a hooded sweatshirt—all so crisp they looked as if they'd never been worn—headed straight for the women's section. He picked up a (recently re-released) Nike Air Max 95 in lavender and asked someone in a referee uniform if they had his size, a nine. This is a fairly small foot for a man, but its equivalent, a ladies ten-and-a-half, is hard to come by, and this was just not his day. Dejected, the poor thing hung his head and moped towards the door.

Having ended many sneaker-shopping trips the same way, my heart went out to him. But my problem has always been the opposite: to me, men's sneakers (and sweaters and jeans and jackets) come in nicer colors and better shapes. Since I do not have giant feet, I have forever depended on boy's sneakers, the selection of which tends to be limited. While I pitied the lavender lover, I have to admit that part of me relished the turning of the tables.

Four years ago, the rapper Cam'ron took to wearing pink all the time, and gave it a surprising masculinity. (It takes a real man to wear pink, especially head-to-toe, with gigantic diamond earrings.) Recently, he has moved onto purple, a perfectly natural step in any young girl's development. Though he didn't do it single-handedly, Cam'ron has helped expand the Hip Hop color palette, and it seems that many American sneaker brands can't keep up. Since matching is so important in street wear, some men, who have taken to wearing clothing in the bubblegum color range, have begun to lust after women's sneakers to complete their ensembles.

On December 16th, Louis W. Colon III, a Bed-Stuy-bred entrepreneur and lifelong "sneaker guy", opened a store that might save us all. Laces, a fancy looking boutique in Nolita, carries only women's sneakers, but has most of them in the full range of sizes, meaning that men who wear a ten-and-a-half or smaller might get lucky there. Fighting a territorial instinct, I alerted the Foot Locker guy to its existence. A few years ago, Colon's goal was to open a men's sneaker store, in the same vein as Alife Rivington, Clientele, or Nom de Guerre. But the timing didn't work out, and instead he started a magazine called Kicksclusive, a quarterly available by subscription only.

Thinking about sneakers full-time turned out to be a wise business move. About a year ago, it dawned on Colon that a hip sneaker store for women "would really hit big." After talking to girls about where they shop for footwear, he saw an aching hole in the market. "All the stores are geared towards men," he said. He knew New York women would appreciate a sneaker store with a little more class than Foot Locker, and a focus on fashion. The store is opened by appointment only on Mondays and Tuesdays, when customers sip champagne and learn that "there's a story behind every sneaker."

But did Colon foresee that men would be drooling over the pastel colors and fancy metallics too? "I foresaw and I knew firsthand that guys would come to shop for their girlfriends," he said. "If they're into the culture, they want to share that." That is true, but, lucky for Colon, it seems the guys can't help but horn in on our fun while they're at it.

 
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