Ten’s To See: ‘Sneaker Collabs’ at Mudac, Lausanne
A place where the finest of chocolates, watches and cheese come together, Switzerland is a gourmet promise land and a tax haven – but that much you already know. What if I told you that Switzerland has now become a hypebeast hub? In perhaps the biggest twist since the final episode of Fleabag, the picturesque city of Lausanne is hosting the first major European exhibition on sneaker culture. I bet you didn’t expect that one? One of city’s most important art spaces, the Mudac (Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts), is the location for the Sneaker Collab exhibition, a show dedicated to exactly what it says on the tin – partnerships in footwear design.
Since its opening in 2000, Mudac has had an eclectic run of projects which broadened the field of contemporary design by incorporating stand up comedians and ballet performances along its more traditional exhibitions such as specific product categories or glass art. But by far, Sneaker Collab is their most radical exhibition yet, focusing on what most high-brow curators would consider redundant or mundane. That’s not Marco Costantini though. “I had a wish to organise an exhibition about young, street culture and a year ago, Swisssneaks contacted me and proposed to collaborate in organising a show about sneakers,” explains Costantini, the gallery’s curator who is one half of the team behind the idea. The other is made by David Berguglia, Julian Bessant-Lamour and Philippe Cuendet, the co-founders of Swisssneaks, a community of trainer lovers which originally started as a Facebook group in 2011. In the eight year since, they have expanded into becoming one of Europe’s biggest sneaker platforms, with yearly conventions and plenty of projects related to all things kicks. They are basically the Swiss posterboys of sneaker-loving, and therefore just the right people to steer the cultural conversation into this new direction. “It’s really difficult for a museum to organise an exhibition for the young public,” Costantini said on a private tour of the show, explaining why the topic of collaborations within the sneaker world felt particularly poignant and focused enough to curate a cohesive selection of works and attract this new audience.
The worlds of arts and streetwear collide within two rooms on the ground floor of the museum, as Sneaker Collabs explores different topics seen within this subject, such as music, fashion, innovation and art. Over 40 projects from 1980s until today are set within different categories of a global market that’s worth an estimated €90b. In the first room, you will be able to find some impressive urban legends of sneakers – including the “Bonjour – Au Revoir” Colette Nikes made and given to only friends and family of the store when it closed its doors for the final time in 2017. Plenty of other rarities make their appearance too – Nike’s collaborations with A-Cold-Wall and Virgil Abloh; Cottweiler and Reebok; Jordan with Travis Scott; Adidas and Kanye West… Actually, Kanye is one of the most important names in the exhibition, tracing his path from the first partnership with Dior in 2009 and into creating his own Yeezy universe. While not exclusively dedicated to streetwear, the show does put a lot of its focus on the biggest players in that field, declaring the extremities of the success of its community. One of the tables in the middle of the first room sees hype monuments including the cult Supreme brick and the special edition of the New York Post with the famous red box printed on its cover. These artefacts complete the bigger picture of the ridiculous levels of popularity not only the skatewear brand has risen to but the understanding of this space. A definite highlight of the exhibition is a pair of trainers specially commissioned for the show from Helen Kirkum, the Royal College of Art graduate best known for crafting one-of-a-kind pieces out of old trainers. The pair, which is also on the poster for the show, were created out of 15 different shoes as the ultimate sneaker Frankensteins which elevate the idea of collaborations to the next, even more conceptual level.
The second part of the space, however, brings in a broader sense of sneaker collaborations, less focused on hype and more on the impact these objects and their function had in this world. Since the exhibition is part of Lausanne en Jeux! cultural programme celebrating the city as the host of the 2020 Youth Olympic Games, Costantini and Swisssneaks included a part dedicated to special editions of footwear created for different sports on the Olympic schedule – from bobsledding to basketball to football. Each of the exhibits in the show are accompanied with a unique tag accurately categorising each of the items as a glossary of the culture, with specific name of both collaborators, year, category, the actual owner of the pair as well as a QR code which allows you to explore each of the pieces in more detail. But don’t even think of interacting with them physically – there’s a clear no touch policy. This is a museum after all. But it’s also a Swiss museum – you can buy a pair of mini trainers to take home, in chocolate of course.
Swiss luxury watchmakers Hublot are one of the main supporters of the exhibition which also includes a watch they created in partnership with master tattoo artist behind Sang Bleu studio Maxime Plescia-Büchi. His works appears in the exhibition twice more, with trainers – Converse hi-tops carrying his signature graphic visuals and a pair of New Balance trainers customised and worn by the Lausanne native himself. “Street culture in particular has democratised the interest of the mainstream for culture in general,” Plescia-Büchi shared us at the tour, acknowledging just how important an exhibition like this is for the society as a whole.
‘Sneaker Collabs’ is on display at the MUDAC gallery in Lausanne, Switzerland until January 26th.