Saturday, November 30, 2019

It's Gotta Be The Shoes! The Feel-Good, Triumphant Return of ilmia!

     Christian Gafner, Co-founder / CEO (is the handsome one on the left)
I am a sneaker-head.  There, I've said it.  It would be easy to assume that this the result of my time at the University of Oregon where Nike was in many ways born and raised.  But in fact it goes deeper.  Picture a small college town in northern Ohio back 1976.  Students coming to town from all over the country, and in fact the world.  And with the students came some worldly classmates at Prospect elementary school, who actually VISITED England, France... even Germany!  The rest of us wore Keds, or if we were really cool (which I was definitively, NOT) you might have Converse.  These kids came back wearing Adidas and Puma sneakers.  And not shoes made of canvas, but actual leather!  

As reported in an earlier Tempus Fugit missive, I begged Santa Clause (i.e. Mom and Dad) for a pair of leather Adidas.  There were a few small obstacles standing between me and Christmas happiness:
1.  While some kids in Oberlin had Adidas shoes on their feet, no retail stores within hailing distance sold them.

2.  The stores that sold them were so far away that you had heard of these cities on the local news, but they might as well have been in East Germany.  The roads that connected my small hometown and the metro Cleveland area were not, shall we say, advanced or well coordinated.

3.  I had what were considered at that time, seriously undersized feet for my age.  Meaning that while Adidas and Puma might make shoes in my size, those were not the sizes that specialty sports stores in Northern Ohio (or really anywhere else in the US) would likely be ordering for their stores.

Spoiler alert - somehow (hand to God, to this day I don't know exactly how), Mom came through and under the tree were a pair of size 1 Adidas Cadets. 
Shamelessly borrowed from the worldwide info web
I wore those shoes until they literally fell off of my then 9 year old feet.  And I have been devoted to sneakers ever since, but in all honesty, I had not had that same visceral, Christmas morning thrill until many, many years later when I first met Christian Gafner and bought a couple of pairs of ilmias back in 2013.  

Curious to relate, just like that 8 year old kid in Ohio, there was a whole country of kids (East Germany) young and old who loved and wanted sneakers.  And ilmia was the brand.  The Berlin Wall came down, Germany was re-unified, and ilmia tucked in for a long nap that would have been the envy of sleeping beauty, until they were awoken by a few princes, and a princess.

Which brings us nearly up-to date.  I started coming to BaselWorld as a journalist in 2011.
At the time, ilmias were a well-kept secret, and had I not seen them featured at the ochs und junior shop in Lucerne I would not have known about them.  And that is when I first met Christian and put my money on the table and put a pair of ilmias on my feet.

For those of you not aware, Christian is the designer behind the first MIH watch -
Courtesy of Embassy & MIH
He also has done design work for Eterna and Porsche Design among others.  But these days he is firmly behind the re-boot of ilmia.

So one week ago, I found myself fresh off the train from Zurich to meet him and see the new batch. And so to one of my "other offices", Caffè Spettacolo just opposite the Biel/Bienne train station, where I got to see what is up next for ilmia.  And a friendly travel tip from your old pal Henki - next time you're in-between connections at the Biel/Bienne station, or you need an easy to find rally point?  I highly recommend the Caffè Spettacolo.

And I got the hook-up, and put my marker down for a pair of "samples". 
And as any good sneaker-head would, I got my pair signed -
1 / INFINITY.  I like that ; )

And while I got a chance to look at the new, I also got a brief re-wind through the old -
Have no doubt, ilmia made some serious athletic shoes back in the day.

And if you were a kid on what we used to think of as the "wrong side" of the Berlin Wall, and you couldn't get your hands on the Adidas Rom or the Puma Roma?  ilmia had you covered -

Now I can't speak to how the "old school" ilmia kicks fit and feel, but my pair fits well, super soft and comfy.  And to quote the youngsters hanging out at Bodega in Boston, they are:

"So drip!"

Per the Urban Dictionary:
adjective to describe your outfit similar to swag, sauce, steezswank
dripmane - "mane my outfit is dripping right now"
by splashtonkutcher October 08, 2018

Biel/Bienne was my first stop on an horological wander that took me Switzerland and France.  The story starts with -

A Love Letter to Besançon - part 1

Stay tuned!

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