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It’s Gotta Be the Shoes

Published: April 13, 2006
MY deeply hip stepson sounded vaguely amused that I was planning to
check out Flight Club, the sneaker resale boutique in NoHo. Who knows
what they’ll make of you, he said, his voice stopping on the “you” with
just a bit too much force. The emphasis made me realize that he thinks
I’m a total loser.

There are pros and cons to having stepchildren. One of the cons is that
you get to relive all the terrifying insecurities of high school over
and over and over again. It’s one thing if your own progeny think
you’re uncool: you’re the parent; you’re supposed to be uncool. But we
stepparents have only our status as potentially cool people to warm us
at night.

Thus humbled, I walked into Flight Club several days ago. I was not the
coolest person in the store. Then again, the people who frequent Flight
Club are sneaker freaks, mostly men who are addicted to buying
limited-edition vintage athletic footwear. They speak in highly
technical language, tossing around terms like “tongue graphic” and “toe
boxes” with the gravity of men discussing tractor engines or team

At the heart of Flight Club’s existence is the paradox of sneaker
fetishism. Sneakers used to be things we wore until they wore out.
Since the 1980’s, when Nike transformed sportswear into a lifestyle,
sneakers became status symbols, and tender young shoppers began to
covet sneakers, and protect them, and tuck them into their little boxes
at night, and even — horribly — kill one another over them. This is the
economic force by which sneakers manufactured five years ago become
more, not less, valuable as time goes on.

As a consumer culture we suffer from acute eBay-itis, meaning we can
buy and sell vintage wares with ease and believe we are participating
in some sort of communal art form. The sneakers in Flight Club
represent that piquant, rapid recycling of nostalgia that marks so much
fashion today, except that these shoes are nothing so crass as
reconceptualized, new versions of old sneakers. They are actual old
sneakers, artifacts transported as if through a time machine, still
fresh in their boxes. Vintage models in “as new” condition are referred
to as “dead stock,” the preferred resale condition, complete with price
tags and tissue paper.

Other factors also raise the price: if a shoe is a “quick strike,” that
means the manufacturer made only a limited number of the shoes. “Hyper
strikes” refer to even more limited editions, often as few as two dozen
pairs. At Flight Club, a bare long hallway of a store, the rarest shoes
are in a glass case toward the back. This is where I found a pair of
Reebok Court Victory Pump “Ball Out” sneakers, in size 10. They are
made of the fuzzy, fluorescent fabric that covers tennis balls, and
cost $600.

Other shoes cost more: the Nike Air Force 1 “Sakura,” painted with
delicate Japanese flowers, was marked for sale at $1,400. The Nike Dunk
Lo Supreme “This Day in History” sneaker in tan and black, brand-new in
the box, costs $800 in size 13. A Nike skateboarding shoe, the Dunk Lo
“Pigeon,” in gray and white, with a small orange-footed pigeon
embroidered on the heel, is $2,500 in size 13; $2,000 in size 10.

THE entire back wall of the store is devoted to Air Jordans, the
sneakers that revolutionized footwear. But, I asked one of the clerks,
why Michael Jordan? “Because before Michael Jordan there was none of
this,” he said, sweeping his hand along the wall of shrink-wrapped
individual Jordans as if showing off his new Picasso mural. “Back in
the day it used to be all about the Adidas. Then Nike came along, and
Michael Jordan came along, and that was that. Everything changed.”

What’s intriguing about Flight Club is that unlike most other sneaker
boutiques, it sells sneakers on consignment. Consignment is a term I
usually associate with tiny second-floor stores on the Upper East Side
where formerly grand ladies of formerly grand means bid farewell to
their Chanel suits, consigning their couture goods to the next
generation, so they can pay the phone bill.

But consignment works downtown too. Potential sellers bring their new
or gently worn sneakers to Flight Club, fix a price with the sales
staff and receive 80 percent of the sale. While Air Jordans appear to
make up Flight Club’s bread and butter, the store also sells shoes from
Puma, Visvim, Adidas and the Japanese company A Bathing Ape. I figured
the name was some sort of anagram, but could only wrench “Beat hag
pain” out of it. The name actually derives from a Japanese expression,
“to bathe in lukewarm water,” which the brand’s designer has said
refers to the shallow, comfortable lives he sees Tokyo teenagers

As uncool as I was — I was wearing Merrell hiking boots, which means I
might as well have toddled in wearing white orthopedic shoes — the
staff members were helpful. Maybe they were just amused by the sheer
void of cool I represented. Maybe they were nice to me because I told
them I was thinking of surprising my incredibly cool stepson with a
pair of vintage Air Jordans.

The guy in charge handed me a card listing the vintage Air Jordan
models, brandishing it with a flourish as if he were the sommelier with
a list of rare wine. He was proud. I was cool.

Flight Club

254 Greene Street (between Eighth and Waverly Streets); (212) 505-2330

ATMOSPHERE Bare-bones utilitarian showroom so anonymous-looking you can walk right past without seeing it.

SERVICE Friendly, but I had the suspicion they were so friendly to me
because I was such an obvious neophyte that they took pity.

PRICES About $200 to about $2,000.


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