There’s a funny thing about the internet these days: Every subculture can be accessed online. From Hypebeast forums to TikTok Eboys and EGirls—or the more leftfield furry fandoms and flat earthers on Reddit—it can seem like the underground isn’t quite so elusive and site-specific as it once used to be. Bernard Koomson, a 30-year-old cultural consultant originally from England, is fascinated by how all of these disparate milieus, over time, have gradually melded together through the tangle of social media networks. “Like the Army or the Black Panthers, I love this idea that you dress in one way and you represent a collective feeling or an idea,” he tells me.
As someone who once dabbled in the same sneaker forums as Highsnobiety’s founder David Fischer and then established his audio-visual collective deadHYPE in Amsterdam in 2009—only to relocate to Berlin to throw larger-scale activations with Zalando’s Bread & Butter, HVW8 Gallery, and, of course, Adidas—Koomson has built his career on facilitating cross-cultural communities rather than siloing himself into one category. So, naturally, when Adidas approached him for a deadHYPE sponsorship—making him one of only a handful of music collectives short listed for such a collaboration—he designed a sneaker to unite them all.
“You know the Prada America’S cup?” he asks. “You can get married or get into a fight in the shoe. It’s an all-rounder. Like a Kicker or Clarks, it’s just so minimal, but has real character, because the person’s character defines the shoe.” It’s these protean qualities that he channels in his own design. To wit, Koomson created a sneaker warm enough for the kids queuing up in the cold for product drops, for shop owners who “walk forever,” for fashion designers creating new collections, and for stylists on everyday shoots. It’s also for DJs at the club, artists on tour, and the avid festival goer, too.
The popular aphorism “walk a mile in someone else’s’ shoes” applies here; Koomson’s design plants itself at the intersection of subcultures as much as it steps into iterations of his former selves. Long before being tapped for collaborations, Koomson strode back and forth on the Adidas sales floor as stocking shoes in Amsterdam, the only job he could land without speaking Dutch, and he tells me he remembers lining up outside for Yeezy 750’s at 4AM, waiting so long that he missed his flight home, thinking to himself, “Imagine if I had a shoe that was warm right now.” When he finally learned how to DJ, he repurposed his sneaker reseller name deadHYPE into a title for his new music platform that held a residency at the local high-end retail boutique Supermarket and a regular club night at NYX. Koomson wanted the sneaker to look fresh, unworn in the box for his inner collector at heart, but, as someone who regularly bleaches, paint splatters, and rips holes in his own fits, he also ideated a wearable blank canvas for the Jackson Pollock-inclined artists.
Nodding to the young, screen-savvy demographic to which he belongs, Koomson replicated a pale “digital” purple from the 3D rendering program Blender as the shoe’s base tone with darker purple accents. The colors white and black have been too overdone, he tells me, and orange, his second favorite, was “maybe too brash.” The sneaker itself, the ZX 8000, is a Bundeswehr leisure trainer and came about thanks to Koomson’s near-archival knowledge of Adidas’ history. “From the internal information, I knew there was this type of white label model that the company made for the German army,” he says.
Overall, his design has an “indestructible” vibe with CSA-approved safety features, a steel toe cap that will start to reveal with age, a metal steel heel counter instead of rubber, and a “textile exoskeleton to make it look luxury but durable”—meaning that its simple exterior will wear well with time.
In 2016, Vetements stylist Lotta Volkova told Business of Fashion, “there are no subcultures to be discovered anymore, at least not in the Western world. It’s more about the remix of information.” This may very well be true, if we think about the ways in which Instagram in particular flattens underground aesthetics into easily-digestible and replicable content. It’s a death knoll to those with a penchant for the hyper-obscure, and Koomson is well aware of these facts. His remake of the ZX 8000 touches on this “remix” that Volkova refers to, managing to cover a broad demographic of tastes while remaining relatively discreet with its direct references. To the question, “have subcultures entirely disappeared?”, he disagrees, offering one final social group he’s read extensively about, but will likely never dip into: “I don’t know if I can say this on internet, but organized crime could be the very last one that we know of.”
The deadHYPE x Adidas ZX 8000 sneaker launches globally on July 10th. Attend the pre-launch event, in partnership with OVERKILL Berlin, at Autokino Cinema on July 9th from 18:00 till 00:00.
Whitney Wei is the Editor-in-Chief of Electronic Beats. Follow her on Instagram here.
Published July 03, 2020. Words by Whitney Wei, photos by Nti & Zion Koenig.