THE SHOE ISSUE : SNEAKERHEADS’ HOLY GRAILS : L.A. sports shoe fanatics lace up and run us through their most prized and desired editions.
In sneakerhead parlance, the term “Holy Grail” refers to a collector’s ultimate wish list -- NiceKicks.com’s founder and editor in chief Matt Halfhill likens it to a “bucket list” of sorts: the things you want to experience before you die.
“Every sneakerhead has one,” he says. “Sometimes, when they post in [online] sneaker forums, you’ll see the list at the bottom with check marks next to the ones they’ve already gotten.”
The coveted sneaks aren’t just the elusive ones you haven’t found yet, explains Liz Sanchez, manager of the Holy Grail, the aptly named sneaker consignment boutique on Pico in downtown Los Angeles. “They’re the shoe you’ve got that you want to be buried with.”
We asked some of the city’s sneaker cognoscenti -- collectors, store owners and employees -- to share the most covet-worthy kicks on their lists. And if you notice the list is nothing but Nike, there’s a reason why, says Richard Torres, owner of the Holy Grail: “When Nike started including a tag in each shoe with the date of manufacture, it gave a real edge to the collectors. It made it easier to keep track of releases and reissues. Now it’s like the company’s just printing its own money.”
Nike Air Force 1 Black Album. This pair is Sanchez’s prized possession. She explained that the all-black version was made solely for rapper Jay-Z and his personal friends to celebrate the release of his “Black Album.”
“I got them in New York and keep them framed with a copy of the Black Album and tickets from the show,” she says.
Nike Air Jordan 1, OG. (Among sneaker collectors, “OG” refers to an “original” issue as opposed to a “retro” or “reissue” of the same style at a later date.) For many, there isn’t anything more holy than the shoe that started it all in 1985. This is the choice of Blends owner Tak Kato. “Never worn and in the original box. I got them when I was a kid in Japan for about $15, and I think they were selling for about $3,000 then,” he says.
Eddie Cruz, co-owner of sneakerhead paradise Undefeated on La Brea, pines for the same shoe. He describes the early black, white and red kicks (the very first pair Jordan wore were predominantly red and black, but later a white toebox was added) that were an important turning point in athletic shoes.
“For the first time,” he said, “there was a basketball shoe that didn’t look so technical; it was a low-profile shoe that didn’t have a thick midsole, so you could wear them out with dark denim. And skaters took that shoe and went wild with it. If I had the money, I’d buy a dozen pair and then wear them every day for the rest of my life.”
Air Jordan 1 “Black Toe,” OG. This is the choice of sneaker-collecting legend Ben “Baller” Yang (who claims an EBay auction record for selling a single pair of customized shoes for $33,100 -- proceeds went to benefit the charity of a murdered friend). “If I was to be buried with one shoe, that’s what it would be. But I’m not even going to search for it since they’re damn near impossible to find.”
Yang explains that what makes this 1985 shoe different from the more common black-white-red color scheme is that the red leather that horseshoes around the toebox was briefly changed to black -- hence the nickname “Black Toe.”
“They thought it was so weird they altered it” back, Yang said. “So these are rare, rare, rare.”
Nike Dunk Low Pro SB SBTG. These were “at the top of my Holy Grail list for the longest time,” says Flight Club Los Angeles employee Bobby Araujo, who recently bought a pair of the sable green/metallic gold low-profile (“low pro”) skateboard sneakers (“SBs”). These marked the first time corporate Nike had collaborated with an underground sneaker customizer -- in this case, Singapore-based Mark Ong, aka SBTG (pronounced “Sabotage”) -- essentially giving him carte blanche to customize Nike Dunks with his artwork.
The 2004 Kobe Bryant Air Force 1 PE. And what’s at the top of the Holy Grail owner’s Grail list? Torres says it’s this pair he scored a few years back -- fitting, as Torres’ shop at 604 W. Pico Blvd. sits practically in the shadow of Staples Center.
Torres says just 24 pairs were made in 2004 to commemorate Bryant’s signing as a Nike athlete. Nike’s swoosh logo and the heel are rendered in Los Angeles Lakers purple. “What makes it so cool is that it’s got this yellow embroidered logo on the heel, which was Kobe’s own logo at the time,” Torres says.
Despite the prevalence of classics on this list, not everyone is quick to carry a torch for a vintage pair. “I’m not so much looking at the past as I am looking into the future,” says NiceKicks.com’s Halfhill. “I’m into the new technology and looking into the future, so I’ll have to say my favorite pair hasn’t been created yet.”