A couple of years ago, the Eames Office had an announcement that had little to do with your home. It was a partnership with Reebook on a lineup of its iconic Club C that featured the Eames name in place of the sneaker giant’s, with some covered in the dot pattern Ray Eames designed in 1947. It was pretty much the same old sneaker, but the collaboration underscored streetwear culture’s growing awareness of midcentury design as a north star for good taste.
Now, a new sneaker collab has taken that cross-pollination to its inevitable conclusion. In celebration of New Balance’s 35th anniversary of the 998 shoe, clothing designer Ronnie Fieg, the founder and CEO of hypebeast label Kith, announced this week on Instagram a redesign that takes inspiration from architecture’s G.O.A.T. You’ve likely heard of him.
"Frank Lloyd Wright is effectively a household name, about equal to Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart," says Stuart Graff, CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, citing aided awareness studies by the organization. "People do know a bit about his story."
It was only a matter of time before streetwear glommed onto the biggest name in architecture. However unsurprising the choice, Wright’s ubiquity makes sense for a clothing label looking to make a splash outside of the lakes and rivers it’s used to. His name is synonymous with good design, even if you can’t explain why. There’s a store of appeal for a crowd that prides itself on tastemaking but hasn’t yet grown weary of Wright’s name.
Still, Fieg had more in mind than selling nice-looking shoes in colorways evocative of the desert landscape surrounding Wright’s Arizona home, where the foundation now operates. On a visit to Taliesin West on other business, the designer was able to meet with the foundation to discuss how a sneaker could serve as a device for spreading some of Wright’s ideas. Specifically, Fieg wanted to shed light on Broadacre City, the architect’s concept for a back-to-the-land development that was meant to promote democracy through design.
"Broadacre was Wright’s way to address inequality, to distribute and use resources fairly, and to be gentler on the Earth [sic]," Fieg posted to his Instagram in a buildup to the announcement. "These kinds of forward thinking ideas are what we need in today’s society more than ever."
But can sneakers really get all that across? Graff thinks they might be able to. "We're already actually seeing it happen," he says. "We had people [at Taliesen West] today who were here for tours, but they wanted to find out about Kith. And then they wanted to find out about Broadacre City."
As for their part, Kith is following the hypebeast playbook with a three-phase release this weekend. The first is at Kith’s Tokyo store, some 6,000 miles across the globe from Arizona. The second is at Taliesen West, where the foundation will host a "Broadacre City Experience" for visitors, architecture enthusiasts or otherwise. The last will be via all of Kith’s brick and mortars, as well as its online store.
They’re disparate worlds, the one Frank Lloyd Wright came from, and the one streetwear is living in. He finished out his career envisioning a rural utopia where everyone had what they needed; hype culture is predicated on mass consumption, frenetic and capitalistic. But perhaps bringing the two together can create a middle ground.
"That’s what we hope to do with the foundation," Graff says "Create these channels of connection for people to think differently and to embrace this set of connections with nature, with art and design, and with each other."
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