Thursday, May. 13, 2010

Sneakers Pimped

Best Retro Makeover

Originating from Shanghai in the 1920s, Feiyue sneakers have long been the durable, lightweight and (perhaps most significant) cheap footwear of choice for sporty Chinese school kids, Shaolin martial artists and workers migrating to China's fast-moving cities. But in 2005, recognizing the brand's potential appeal to youthful hipsters perpetually prowling for the sneaker du jour, a small team of French entrepreneurs struck a deal with the manufacturer to roll out the brand to Europe and beyond. Could they have stumbled upon the Chinese Converse?

Quite possibly. Quality standards and materials have been improved and new designs created in collaboration with contemporary designers and graphic artists. The first Sino-European collection was launched in France in February 2006, with the shoes flying off Parisian boutique shelves (rather aptly, since Feiyue means "flying forward") for an impressive $65 a pair.

Since then, the revamped marque has been rolled out worldwide, and — with the unwitting assistance of a paparazzi photograph of Pirates of the Caribbean actor Orlando Bloom sporting white canvas Feiyues — the brand has been gushed over by cool hunters and fashion editors from Kowloon to Knightsbridge and even championed in French style bible Elle. But budding entrepreneurs (as well as Chinese children, wushu practitioners and construction laborers) will be pleased to note that the original mass-produced sneakers, with their distinctive scarlet-and-royal-blue trim, can still be found in down-and-dirty Shanghai hardware stores for as little as $5. On your next trip, take an empty suitcase.