When the space-cowboy-approved Raf Simons Cylon-21 dropped earlier this month, I had flashbacks to 2013, when Simons and adidas launched their collaborative take on the underrated ’90s Ozweego. Just like the Cylon-21 today, the Ozweego was sitting on shelves and eventually even found its way to the sale section.
The fact that the Raf Simons x adidas Ozweego was regularly discounted for the first couple of years is almost unthinkable now, considering it went on to become one of the Belgian designer’s most iconic sneakers and an almost guaranteed sell-out for retailers worldwide.
By 2017, colorways such as “Night Marine” and “Core Black” promptly sold out at release and demonstrated that the fashion crowd had finally caught up to the four-year-old Ozweego. It enjoyed sustained success, peaking between 2017 and 2019 before over-saturation and increased stock sizes resulted in the silhouette fading out.
But the phenomenon of being “too early” in fashion is well-documented. Someone has got to do it first, and Raf did bulky, high-end dad sneakers before anyone else. When the Simons Ozweego hit shelves in 2013, GQ noted how “menswear was still in full skinny jeans mode.”
For a time, Simons’ Ozweego was the bulkiest sneaker on the market. Nothing else really came close, which drew comparisons with Buffalo boots. In hindsight, that comparison is ridiculous, but such was the originality of the Ozweego — people quite literally did not know what to make of it.
Soon, wider and baggier pants followed, providing bulky sneakers with both the hem and breathing space that they needed in order to shine. Suddenly, Ozweegos were flying off the shelves, becoming one of the hottest properties on the sneaker market. It was as if Simons knew all along.
For a few years, Simons’ Ozweego was the chunky runner, just like Balenciaga’s Triple S later became the ugly sneaker. The parallels to the Cylon-21 (and the rest of the Raf Simons Runner collection, for that matter) are there to see.
After several years of chunky and baggy being what everyone wants, it might be time for a new direction in footwear design. The Cylon-21 could be the trail-blazer.
Similar to the Ozweego being too early for skinny jeans in 2013, the Cylon-21 is perhaps too early for the current style zeitgeist. Just take a look at the crazy pants Virgil Abloh wore to Bottega Veneta’s controversial Berghain event for proof.
The Cylon-21 is very sleek and toned down — which is at odds with the Ozweego and other sneakers on the market. The Nike Dunk is still very popular (though on the downswing, according to StockX data), while adidas is pushing its Forum Low — by no means a streamlined silhouette. Further up the luxury ladder, Balenciaga’s best-sellers are its Track 2 and Triple S sneakers.
This isn’t uncharted territory for Simons. The designer has been there and done that with the Ozweego. Simons has no qualms with being the first to establish yet another trend, even if that means the early iterations of his products don’t sell as well as they will later on.
There are early signs that Raf is onto something. Balenciaga, though still pushing its Triple S and Track models, has repeatedly released incredibly toned-down shoes (for Balenciaga standards, anyway), including the square-toe Tyrex, Zen sneaker and 5-toed Vibram collaboration. Other brands, such as Lanvin, New Balance, and Filling Pieces, have also tapped into the more streamlined language of ’70s footwear design.
The parallels between the Cylon-21 and the Ozweego go beyond being at odds with the industry’s pants of choice. Bear in mind the Cylon-21’s most recognizable feature are the little gel bubbles on the side of the upper — an Ozweego trademark.
History is repeating itself, and if history is anything to go by (and fashion is cyclical, after all), then the Cylon-21 has everything it takes to establish itself as a must-have of the next few seasons.
The Raf Simons Cylon-21 Runner is available at Highsnobiety Shop in three colorways. Shop them below.
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