TOKYO — Sports equipment and apparel-maker Mizuno will soon release the second iteration of its design collaboration with Hajime Sorayama, who reimagined one of the brand’s classic running shoe silhouettes as an ultra-cool daily sneaker.
Looking to strengthen its position in the footwear category, Mizuno first collaborated with Sorayama earlier this year, releasing a silver version of its Wave Prophecy shoe. The company did a limited production run, which sold out almost immediately. This time, the artist has created a black version of the sneaker, which will hit stores in Japan on Saturday, before being released in other Asian markets on Sept. 4, and in the U.S. and Europe at a later date.
Sorayama, who is known for his often erotic artworks depicting “sexy robots,” is no stranger to fashion collaborations — his imagery was even prominently featured in Kim Jones’ pre-fall 2019 men’s collection for Dior, which also used one of his artworks as the runway set piece. But this is the first time the artist has designed a fashion item from start to finish.
“When I attended the Dior show, David Beckham was there and he was wearing a Dior suit with sneakers. He looked so cool, and I wanted to make a pair of sneakers that looked cool and formal even with a suit, but [that] were also comfortable,” Sorayama said. “At the age I am now, I often have funerals to go to, so I have to wear a black suit and black shoes. But if I wear leather boots after not wearing them in a long time they hurt my feet. So I wanted to make something that feels good but can also be worn for formal occasions.”
Sorayama’s initial concept for the sneakers was that they should be like walking on air, both in terms of look and feel. So he began by removing the cushion air pockets from the Wave Prophecy and replacing them with a void that allows air to pass through. He also replaced the tongue of the shoe with a sock-like collar.
“The cushion and shock absorption is not only functional in that it makes the shoes comfortable, but it’s also a design element,” the artist said.
The other major element in Sorayama’s design concept was transparency. Just like his artworks incorporate the notions of light and transparency, he wanted to imbue the shoes with these same elements, with a transparent gradient that became black at the heel. Since he was limited by the existing materials available, the result is a shoe with a a translucent black body and metallic gunmetal heel counter. The Mizuno logo is featured on the side of the shoe in a matte metallic gunmetal color.
“My idea was to make a version of Cinderella’s glass slipper that could be worn by athletes,” Sorayama said. “I thought it would be cool if you could change the look of your shoes to match different clothing, just by changing the color of your socks. And women could show off their pedicures even when wearing sneakers. It looks erotic when women wear sheer black stockings over a fresh pedicure, and I wanted to apply that same concept here, making sneakers look sexy.”
Sorayama has worked with Mizuno on the project for more than two years, knowing he would create something that he himself would want to wear. It is for this reason that his own name doesn’t appear on the shoes in a prominent way. Instead, his logo is printed on the insole next to Mizuno’s, as well as inside one of the openings in the sole.
“I didn’t want to use my name in an obvious place — that would be uncool. I didn’t do this project to make other people happy, I did it more for myself, for the intrinsic rewards,” Sorayama said. “And if I did it well, people will recognize it as my work, even without my name or art being featured prominently.”
Takeshi Saito, a product planner and designer for Mizuno who worked closely with Sorayama on the collaboration, sees it differently: “Sorayama says that the shoes don’t feature his art, but in reality the shoes themselves are the art.”
Aside from specialized sports footwear, Mizuno only started making shoes from 2018, and the category still represents a very small portion of its overall business. But Saito said the company plans to continue growing the category, and that the collaboration with Sorayama represents one step toward doing that. He said that while Sorayama is a tough act to follow, the company is interested in collaborating with other artists and brands in the future.
As for Sorayama, he is already working on the third stage of his partnership with Mizuno. While he declined to comment on what the next version will look like, a spokesman for Mizuno said it will hit the market sometime next year.