Photo courtesy of Converse.

Converse's New Collabs Reference Everything from Lobster Rolls to Russell Westbrook

“The new womenswear is genderless-wear.”

by Nick Remsen
Apr 26 2019, 8:35pm

Photo courtesy of Converse.

Today, Converse—the Nike-owned, Boston-based footwear and apparel brand that has long been a cornerstone of the all-American wardrobe, particularly when it comes to knock-around sneakers—is expanding its footprint with the introduction of a women-led, three-pronged collaborative drop. The partners? Paris-based Koché, by Christelle Kocher; Paris-based Faith Connexion, the design cooperative helmed by Maria Buccellati; and London-based Feng Chen Wang, named for the label’s founder. Each was tasked with filtering their own ascendant aesthetic through Converse’s prism of athleticism and utility—and, by default, everyday appeal.

The results are a polychrome menagerie of layered, patched and agreeably eccentric head-to-toe pieces, comprising a fits-together wardrobe that stakes a distinct claim in Converse’s evolution. Most importantly, in that: while much of the company’s history has been male or unisex-centric, this project’s nexus has always been guided by the idea of items made for women, by women. (Though each participant will mention the importance of keeping genderless shapes and silhouettes in mind, and indeed, the aggregate output—this Converse “reimagined”—can absolutely be worn by all.)

To celebrate the launch, Converse’s team found and converted a graffiti-striped, unused building on London’s bustling Great Marlborough Street (it will be open on April 26 and April 27 only; the collaborations will also become available online from April 26). There, upon entering, one will have found a phalanx of suspended mannequins featuring the three collaborators’ work, refreshingly styled together. Behind this, each label was given a sort of boxing ring setup to display what they’d created; the collabs are very tightly edited, with three footwear options per partner, and no more than six apparel pieces in each, with a few bags in the mix, as well. Koché is the first in view.

“Since the beginning of my line, I’ve used Converse shoes for styling the shows,” said Kocher, fresh off the Eurostar from Paris. “I feel very matched with the image of this brand.” Her products have a neo-badminton vibe, and are rife with patchworks and color-blocks and lace stripe insets, which add an elegant juxtaposition. A tracksuit boasts the Converse logo, blown-up and printed so as to almost mimic a flag. “I wanted to bring what I’ve developed at my own label, this kind of young-sports-street element combined with draping, knowhow and expertise.” She then adds, to echo the sentiment mentioned above: “It’s feminine, but it’s unisex. The new womenswear is genderless-wear.” A rugby shirt features a deep-V panel in tangerine, reinterpreting a collegiate piece from Converse’s archives, while her shoes, arguably, reflect the most variety in the trifecta: there’s a sneaker-ballet flat hybrid, a Velcro banded tennis shoe, and an All Star totally reformatted with faux-python and hammered metal-clipped straps. Funky-fresh, through and through. Kocher noted that she enjoyed visiting Converse’s headquarters in Boston—she had never been before. “The food—the lobster! The lobster sandwiches. I needed to try them,” she said, laughing.

Feng Chen Wang followed—she, too, has been working with Converse for a while in her runway shows, and she said that this collaboration felt more like a “continuation.” This “continuation,” however, is her very first dedicated womenswear capsule. (Wang is—by the fashion week calendar classification—a menswear designer, known for slick shape-work and dimension.) “My inspiration was born of a women’s basketball team,” she said. “You see some embroidery that says ‘Girl Power.’ I thought about girls on a team, working together, winning together.” She traced the arc of a multi-tonal pink windbreaker, the curve mirroring the lines on an actual basketball. A hoodie shows a detailed textured hand embroidery. “The hand is shooting a free-throw, but it also represents reaching for a goal,” said Wang. A mesh jersey and high-waist track pants were also in her roster, along with high-top variation sneakers in milk chocolate brown or reflective silver. Her third footwear model is her most striking: based off of Converse’s ERX, it is graphic, thick-soled, and, in Wang’s case, mostly hot pink. Does she have any favorite basketball teams or players? “You know,” she answered, “Russell Westbrook is a fan and a friend.”

Last but not least: Faith Connexion. Faith Connexion takes an interesting approach; they are serial-collaborators, in ways that have paid off greatly (the brand is reportedly flourishing). From the brand Kappa to the DJ and fashion fixture Sita Abellan, the house makes its uncommon mark by constantly rotating and adapting its collaborative wares, using a fluid team to produce rather than a more traditional top-down, creative-director-at-the-peak structure. Maria Buccellati oversees it. “Our relationship with Converse started by chance, actually,” she said. “We had bought Converse shoes to use in our fashion shows, and I had one woman on my team who was so creative and skilled—she distressed each and every pair. This is something we did for a while. One day about a year ago, leaving the showroom, the Converse guys saw these shoes that we had customized… and here we are!” Those worn-in kicks are revived in the collaboration, in off-white or in navy. There’s also a thick-soled runner; the apparel ranges from a camouflage parka to camouflage underwear (inspired by a Converse jacket from 1979) to a star-patched basketball skirt. “The look is almost like a warrior woman,” added Buccellati. “She’s feminine, but there’s nothing that stops her.”