The Ultimate "Penny" Loafers

Why the Foamposite has been the real head's sneaker choice.

It’s admirable how Nike has hype generation down to a science. In recent years, those who paid close enough attention can reverse engineer the process for themselves. It wisely aligned itself with similarly avant garde partners where there was an organic connection, creating weird stuff in a bubble that had a downmarket effect.

No other partnership sums this up than the Swoosh’s ongoing relationship with COMME des GARÇONS. For over two decades, Nike’s partnered with CDG and subsidiaries like menswear designer Junya Watanabe and of course, its genre-bending retail outpost Dover Street Market.

But it’s the way Rei Kawakubo’s “not for everyone” label has created polarizing interpretations of Nike sneakers that truly create conversation about the shoes, building anticipation before a new model like the Vapormax is rinsed to death down the line, or in some ways predicting larger footwear trends. Case in point? Just look at the similarities between 2020’s CDG Air Max 95 and the New Balance 2002R “Protection Pack” that proved general releases can still be hype.

The latest example is the CDG Foamposite, with its custom tooled upper reimagining the the textured uppers with a pattern that skews the line between topographical map and fingerprint. Its ridged lines and monochromatic colorways call to mind designs like the upcoming Salehe Bembury Crocs, and further prove that the footwear space isn’t totally immune to the system of trends.

The Foamposite upper, made from a hardened polyurethane liquid, is pretty much a superhero suit for the foot. It was designed to mold to the feet, and was designed by Eric Avar, the legendary designer who would go onto make shoes for Gary Payton, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, and Kobe Bryant.

Its shimmery upper was inspired by the shiny-yet-strong carapace of a beetle, and originally manufacturers were baffled at how to make it possible. Ultimately, help came in the unlikely form of Korean car and appliance company Daewoo, who figured out the correct formula for the uppers in the clutch. 

Hardaway is commonly associated with the sneaker, but it actually wasn’t designed for him specifically. Released in 1997, it was released as the Foamposite and Foamposite One (Hardaway’s version with the Swoosh removed from the upper). Avar eventually made the Air Max Penny as a true signature shoe. But still, Hardaway helped cement its on-court legacy.

The legend goes that Avar originally had Scottie Pippen in mind for the shoe, but during a meeting with Hardaway the baller saw the prototype in Avar’s bag and absolutely had to rock it.

Beyond the court, the Foamposite has also become a signature style staple of Washington DC and its surrounding Virginia and Maryland suburbs. The collective “DMV” tristate area remains an outlier for its unique perspective on regional style, drawing from the alternate swag of its local hustlers and movements like go-go.

“Of all of the fashion cues and tips I picked up from meeting people from the DMV in college and then from moving to the area, two things are definites: 1) the DMV loves high end designers; and 2) the DMV especially loves damn near any sneakers in Nike’s “-Posite” line (Foamposites, Flightposites, Hyperposite, Bakin, etc.),” writes Panama Jackson in The Root. “While I was in college you could always tell a cat from D.C. They had a very distinct style that was both basic in color, but expansive in what you could do within those colors.”

But of course the DMV’s most popular Foamposite proponent is Wale, who has no shortage of references to the shoes in his lyrics. Take this line off. “Double M Genius” as one of many examples: “The Bentley is rented but I got many chauffeurs. /
Foamposites if you ain't got em then you penny-loafing!” He even bragged about getting seeded a pair of Pine Green Foamposites on the #teamearly wave on the track “Fitted Cap,” and continues to put on for one of DC’s favorite shoes.

Among its most prized versions are the Galaxy Foams that shut down New York City in 2012, the ultra-rare “ParaNorman” Foams numbered at just 800 and made to tie into the stop-motion film of the same name (made by a company owned by Travis Knight, Phil Knight’s son…that’s nepotism for you), and of course the 2014 Supreme Foamposites, whose Versace-esque paisley upper led to the end of in-store releases for Supreme Nikes altogether.

The polarizing nature of the Foamposite makes it a connoisseur’s shoe, especially for hood cats who continue to decry the gentrification of sneaker culture. But perhaps that’s why CDG and the Foam aren’t such strange bedfellows. Another acquired taste is the 2000 Clogposite, which has been retroed for some reason as the Solo Slide. With the rise of muleboyz and other shoes like Merrell Jungle Mocs and the easy-wearing YEEZY sneakers, maybe we’re not that far off from a high-end reinterpretation.