What draws shoppers to Nike’s neon-hued foam sneakers? Or Rick Owens’ candy-floss pink Phlegethon Phlegm Runner? At first blush, we can say it’s simply design value: colour combinations that speak to our personal styles. But there’s something bigger at play, something that goes beyond tastes and trends. Colour equates to emotion, and trainer companies are extremely mindful of the link.
It has to be said: this is the era of sneaker culture. Invented in the 19th century, they've has morphed from sports shoe to street style staple. Just look at the numbers. In 2014, the Jordan 1 Retro Fragment sold for around £130. Today, it can be resold for up to £3,400. This staggering jump confirms the generation of sneakerheads – in other words, someone who is willing to spend big money, and even absurd hours in a queue, to attain an exclusive new pair of kicks.
IMAGE | Rick Owens’ candy-floss pink Phlegethon Phlegm Runner
But back to the colours. An affinity for candy-colours is anything but random, as a report in the New York Times just outlined. The influx of kaleidoscopic shades on every sneaker are carefully thought out, playing upon Carl Jung’s colour theory. The renowned psychiatrist adopted the use of colours when working with patients, believing that colours unlock a deeper part of the human psyche. Colours can “create feelings”, as the NYT reveals. Something physical occurs within us when we see the many colours offered by the many (clearly very savvy) sneaker brands.
The subconscious shopper within us makes decisions in mere seconds, largely based on the colours our eyes absorb. Some are intended to spark joy. Yellow, for instance, speaks to positivity. Pastels incite a similar reaction, increasingly becoming a favourite of fashion houses. Others however, trigger a jarring reaction. Psychedelic, multi-hued palettes have the power to stimulate the senses. Take, for example, Nike’s Volt, which in neon lime may be an assault on the eyes for some, but has won over millions of others. These colours can be a nod to electronic music culture, while others have cultural connotations or speak to the atmosphere you’d find in a basketball court.
The cultural references replicated with these colours are transcendent. This is perhaps why sneaker culture eclipses generational gaps: the accessory is worn by people who are well into their 60s or just reaching the milestone of 16. Be it allusions to films, art or sports, or to deeper parts of personal lives, we are programmed to feel something when we metabolise the patterns of colour.
So the next time your hands reach for that chromatic pair of sneakers, know that the decision goes beyond fashion: it’s an experiment in human psychology.