Redesigning the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star is a risky proposition. We’re talking about the most classic American sneaker, whose design has gone relatively untouched since 1917. A true shoe of the people.
Think about it. Which other garment is worn by young and old folks alike so prevalently? And in various stages of pristine or tattered? Chucks are like Levi’s 501s for your feet.
And yet: Converse designer Damion Silver was faced with a problem. Foot fatigue was an issue. Especially if you’re trying to wear them every day, All Stars have always been a little hard on your dogs.
Enter Lunarlon, Nike cushioning technology.
That’s just one way Silver–a visual artist who shows his own paintings at galleries all over the world–created the Chuck II, a stellar and more comfortable sequel to Chuck Taylor All Star.
We spoke with Silver on the phone at Converse headquarters in Boston proper about shoveling snow, his unrealistic fantasy of one day skateboarding on a frozen golf course–and the pressures of redesigning the brand’s #1 seller worldwide.
Nordstrom blogs: So you live in Boston, where Converse is headquartered. How many shovels did you break this year?
[Laughs.] Three. With my son included, four.
What breaks when you break a shovel?
Usually it’s just the lower section. It all depends how bad it is. If it’s really bad, it might look like a smashed guitar.
And do you help your neighbors shovel their walkways?
Sure, I go across the street with a snowblower. You gotta try to help people out, look out for people.
OK: So what did you do with this shoe? How much of the design of the Chuck II is from Damion?
It’s a tough question, because you’re talking about something we’ve been doing for 100 years. So really it was a reengineering from that. From the core Chuck model. I’ll take you through the process, and that that’ll give you context.
So, we took the original model, chopped it all apart, and examined that. And then used that as a basis to pair with the inputs we got from consumers, saying they wanted more from a Chuck Taylor, more from Converse, more in that silhouette. From a design standpoint, we decided what to do about comfort, which started underfoot. Which we addressed by adding the Lunarlon. And then we added–I guess I can say I added–gore webbing to the tongue. We stabilized the tongue with the gore webbing as well as added foam to the tongue itself so you have comfort overfoot as well as comfort underfoot. And when you get into the upper patterning, we added a little foam around the collar, as well as all the way down trough the heel.
We looked at the canvas, the eyelets, all the tiniest details. I could give you a pointed checklist. But as far as design, it’s more in subtlety. Rather than, Oh, I put a big padded collar on it, or made some drastic change. What we did was really all about subtlety and refinement.
As a designer, is it nerve-wracking to be asked to redesign a classic item? Were you worried about it being not broken, therefore not needing fixing?
To succinctly answer the question: yes. You have something that’s 100 years old, that’s iconic around the world. How do you change that without pissing people off? And our consumers are pretty fickle around the product, the Chuck Taylor. It was really an exercise in restraint. I focused on, What do we need to do in order to answer the customer? And that was to provide comfort. So that was our guiding light and we stuck to it. Basically I took myself out of it and tried to listen to our customers, and show respect to an icon. I mean, our company wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Chuck Taylor.
What do you respect most about the design of the original?
The overall simplicity. The Chuck is so simple and oddly complicated at the same time. It was designed with intent, which I really enjoy about it. There’s purpose in the product.
How did you settle on Lunarlon?
Lunar, to be honest, I can’t recall how we arrived at that. But it was early on. It might have been just leveraging the technology of our parent company. It’s tried and true, it’s in millions of pairs of shoes. From there, the Lunar conversation inspired us to think deeper and harder about all the other peripheral attributes of the sneaker. That’s what made us consider the interior lining, which we made out of ultrasuede so it would have a great feel.
Before you were brought on board to Converse, what was the best thing you designed?
My own paintings.
And you’re still showing in galleries.
Yeah: Boston, New York, L.A., Amsterdam…wherever.
What about at Converse: What are you most proud of designing?
The Chuck II is my highest-profile design. I’ve done others, but none have been so in the limelight.
Did you wear Chucks as a kid?
Yeah, oddly, I did. Chucks skateboarding. Chucks chilling. All sorts of Converse products, whether it was baseball cleats, or basketball shoes to skate in. So yes, I’ve been linked to them long before I thought I’d work here.
Where did you grow up?
What kind of terrain would you skate? Parking lots?
Oh, no. We’d got to New York City, college campuses. We were fortunate that in 1987, one of the first indoor skate parks opened near us. We’d skate anything. You name it. Ice.
Yeah, sure. East Coast you do what you gotta do. You get someone to plow a bank out. I’m not saying we did that for days, but we’d do it. You get something to roll on, put on a down coat, push around on a skateboard and try and skate a little curb. Because that was all you could shovel out. Maybe a little ice hump. Frosted ground. I’ve always personally wanted to go skate a frozen golf course. If you could ever completely freeze the ground. Because the grass is so well manicured. If you could press it down, there’d probably be some rad banks, pockets and bowls in there.
Have you ever had a dream where you were doing that?
Every time I drive by a golf course.