Just in Time

Like many of my generation, I grew up with the Back to the Future movies. For any of you out there who haven’t seen them, they centre on Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), a slacker teen who accidentally travels back to the year 1955 in a time machine DeLorean car.

The first movie is from 1985. Marty wears the tight jeans and workman’s vest that were trendy at the time. His outfit causes confusion for people of the 1950’s, asking him if he’s a sailor who’s jumped ship. Growing up in the ’90s, by which point fashions had already changed, I also wondered about the purpose of Marty’s puffy vest.

The sequel (1989) finds the protagonists propelled into the then-distant year 2015, in which plastic surgery is commonplace, TVs are flat-screen, and desktop computers gather dust in antique shops. (There are also flying cars, which we’ve been promised for the last fifty years. We should probably give that one up.)

The designers of the film had fun creating a deliberately retro-futuristic vision of 2015 — The Jetsons filtered through the ’80s. Pedestrians wear tights, New Romantic crinolines and fluorescent-coloured plastic caps. A gang of petty hoodlums dress like intergalactic punks. One of the more surprisingly accurate predictions of Back to the Future II is the 21st century’s ongoing interest in the ’80s: Marty wanders into ‘Café ’80s’ which features Michael Jackson tunes, stationary exercise bikes and, acting as waiter, the computer-generated visage of Ronald Reagan.

The Reagan era infuses the design of the shoes Marty later straps on: grey and white high-tops with a comically large tongue. For decades, such sneakers have been coveted by fans, with requests growing louder the closer we get to the actual year 2015. Finally, Nike relented, releasing a limitation edition replica of the footwear called the 2011 Nike Air Mag, designed by Tinker Hatfield and Tiffany Beers, who had a hand in the design of the original pair.

Like the shoes in the film, the Nike Air Mag features LED lights on the sole and heel and a glowing “Nike” on the strap. Unlike the shoes in the film, the laces do not strap themselves. (To achieve this effect in the movie, Fox had an electrical wire running down the inside of his jeans.)

Nike is producing only 1500 pairs of the Air Mag, sold exclusively on eBay, some going for as much as $10,000. All of the proceeds go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

What’s intriguing about the design of the Nike Air Mag is not how futuristic it looks, but how retro. Rather than reflect utopian visions of the next decade, the high-top design harkens back to the era in which the movie was made. Nostalgic revivalism trumps dreams of the future. Turns out the best prediction of Back to the Future II was how much tomorrow can look like yesterday.

text by Max Mosher

4 thoughts on “Just in Time

  1. I think everything that goes futuristic unconsciously deeply reflects the current zeitgeist, especially on an aesthetic level. The sixites futuristic look? SO SIXTIES. The nineties futuristic look? SO NINETIES. And so so good. I love looking back at futuristic themes from any era for that reason! And I have complete and undying love for Back to the Future because of that too.
    Also, now that I’m at it, probably the whole ~future predictions from the sixties deeply reflected the sixites positivism and whole golden era, too, no? I mean, flying cars? Having lunch on the moon? :D

    Also do these shoes come out in 2015 for plebs? I would kind of seriously have to buy them and go all female Marty McFly, because yes.

  2. Agreed with above the same way that, in many cases, the PAST looks like the present. I remember laughing the first time I saw Julie Christie in Dr Zhivago. SO SIXTIES. Heh. I think we see everything through the filter of the present; in that moment, we are absolutely positive we are the best we could be.

    This, of course, is a fallacy UNTIL I GET MY FLYING CAR, DAMMIT.

  3. Strap a few lights on any current fashion and call it the future. I agree with what everyone has said above, but just want to highlight the beauty of your closing sentence, Max: “how much tomorrow can look like yesterday”. lovely.

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