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Where the Ladies At?

by Ami Kealoha in Culture on 11 October 2005

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From Rotterdam to Boston, tracking down some of the girl sneakerheads who care more about Blazers than Blahniks.

The international legions of sneaker collectors are looking a lot more like fixtures than passing trends. But, despite this year's debut of a documentary on the subject, Keep female fans are starting to get their due. After all, for every Jordan afficionado or Clyde addict, there's the quintessential fashionista with a closet full of Louboutins; women practically invented the art of collecting shoes.

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But these girls aren't necessarily the same group who would otherwise covet the season's latest strappy sandal. Nor are they simply mirrors of their male counterparts. So what sets female fans apart from both the stiletto-obsessed and dude sneakerheads alike? What we found was that girls who love kicks are as diverse as the styles they wear, some snapping up $1300 limited editions and others sourcing the most out-there colorways they can get their hands on. What they do have in common is the near fanaticism shared by all collectors.

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Sneakers cast their mysterious spell on many girls at a young age, whether for athletics or as fashion statements. For any kid growing up in the U.S. in the last 30 years, tennis shoes have been a normal part of suburban and urban living. With the mainstreaming of hip hop, graffitti, skate culture, and house music, sneakers have been standard parts of youth culture over the last couple of decades, even reaching beyond U.S. borders. B-girl and project manager of the Rotterdam hip hop collective HipHophuis Aruna Vermeulen attests to the popularity (and rarity) of sneakers in Europe when she was a kid. Growing up in Rotterdam her parents forbade her to wear sneakers, but in the early nineties American neighbors hooked her up with exports from a German Army base. "I was a 14 year old girl, wearing the hottest sneakers of the entire school," explains Aruna, "Imagine what that does for your self-esteem as a teenager."

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Often the tendency to bring back the styles of the past means a collection focused on particular brands. For all the six women interviewed, two or three labels formed the basis of their collection. Nike, predictably, is the major player, with most citing specific pairs that were early inspiration for their habits. Flash designer and the blogger behind Lady Kickz Carrie remembers first paying attention to sneakers back in high school when Air 180s were coming out and laments not saving them. (See some of her current collection pictured above.)

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Other than a line-up of styles that have become classics, Nike's success no doubt draws from their numerous collabos, limited editions, and otherwise prolific innovations. Beyond fashion, and contrary to assumptions about collectors, many favor the brand for its comfort and practicality when it comes to athletics. Lori Lobenstine, basketball coach and the founder of Female Sneaker Fiend, got hooked on kicks as a young athlete and continues to base her collection on which shoes are best for balling. (See her collection in part, left.)

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For Carrie, a sometime house dj, sneakers were part of club culture - better for dancing, hauling crates, and "looking good without having to suffer for it," although she has (and regrets) standing in line for hours in a snowstorm. Lori, who says, "it's always been about sneakers," isn't immune to the hype either, succumbing to an unannounced release of brown Laser Dunks at the Sole Collector show in Boston which she plans to offer as a prize on her site. "I don't even love them," Lori explained, "They look too much like shoes."
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Native New Yorker Daisy is less concerned with their status as shoes and more concerned with simply status. For her it's "the fame. Everybody knows you. It's like a contest of who has the most on your feet. It's just fun. People sometimes hate you for having so much." Her 500-pair collection (pictured in part, below left) reflects her exclusive tastes, costing the 26-year old exhibition designer around $15,000 yearly, sometimes upwards of $1,000 on a single pair. "I don't hardly eat at all," she says, "it's just shoes." Her two prized possessions, Paris Dunks and Denim Dunks, are the most expensive that she owns and have appreciated in value. At its height, Claw Money's collection has set her back tens of thousands of dollars yearly. Her most outrageous splurge? The LL Cool J Troops that set her back $800 in a bidding war. (Pictured, above right.)

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For Mary, a fashion designer featured last year in Kicksclusive for her collection (pictured in part, below right), her high-end fashion preferences and a need to change up her style led to $400 purchases of Christian Dior kicks and other luxury brands. Generally though, Mary usually lets her personal taste and friends in the industry fill her collection with samples and unique styles that fit her lifestyle. "I don't care what other people wear. It's more about the style," she says. Like many of the female collectors interviewed here (and probably like most serious sneaker fans out there), Mary picks her sneakers before she chooses her clothes. Claw Money sees kicks as, "the roots of your outfit."

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After all, simply defined, sneakers are footwear. Whether adding style to an outfit, function on the court, status to a wardrobe, or value to a collection, shoes are part of the wearer's individuality, an expression their personal tastes and character. For these obsessive females, collecting is a part of who they are, making them unique both among male sneakerheads as well as among the non-obsessed.

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