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