Sneakerheads Love to Show Off Shoes

The Associated Press
Monday, January 15, 2007; 12:30 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Matt Halfhill is crazy about sneakers. He worked in a shoe store as a teenager, buying shoes on clearance. He has charmed his wife with kicks, buying limited edition pink and red Nikes for her on Valentine's Day. He collects them obsessively, lining the walls of his home with about 500 pairs of shoes.

Welcome to the world of the sneakerhead, where shoes reign supreme.

Collectors range from casual fans of sneaker fashion to those who buy and sell shoes like a cardboard-encased commodity. True fanatics will camp out overnight for the latest pair, buy multiple pairs (in case one gets scuffed) and sometimes even wear them.

It's an obsession that has been gaining traction in recent years, even as sneaker sales have grown only slowly. There are Web sites, magazines, books, movies and radio shows dedicated to sneaker culture. There have even been television shows, like ESPN2's "It's About the Shoes" that included tours of collectors' enormous closets.

"I think people are more aware (of sneaker culture), the general public, because of the media and Internet," said Alex Wang, creative director for Sole Collector magazine and admitted shoe aficionado.

Sneakers have been a part of urban culture for decades. Run DMC rapped about "My Adidas" in the 1980s, and it remains a part of hip hop culture with famous sneakerhead artists like Missy Elliot and Fat Joe.

But sneaker love has spread. British teen pop star Lilly Allen sings about her "trainers" and rocks them onstage while wearing a posh dress.

Everyone from Manhattan businessmen to Midwestern teens are coming in with a hankering for shoes, store owners say.

"You can tell so much about a person by what they have on their feet," said Andre Speed, 36, at a Portland specialty sneaker store called Lifted. "You might not have the freshest outfit but if you have the kicks, you are going to get the respect."

Shoes can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars depending on their cachet.

"The scene is on fire," Speed said.

Shoe makers are feeding off the energy. They work with artists to develop specialized pairs, such as Puma's electric blue and red trainers designed by Brazilian artist Frederico Uribe. There are stores where people can order styles of their own.

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