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Sole Man: Sneaker Freaker's Simon 'Woody' Wood

Sole Man: Sneaker Freaker's Simon 'Woody' Wood

The founding editor of cult magazine Sneaker Freaker, Simon ‘Woody’ Wood, is the fountain of all sneaker-related knowledge. A publishing legend and one of the scene’s self-confessed OG aficionados, 16 years on from the magazine’s first edition, Woody’s encyclopaedic knowledge of sneakers has finally found a hard-back home. His recently published book, ‘The Ultimate Sneaker Book’ is an epic anthology documenting the history of sneaker culture through the Sneaker Freaker lens. Biblical in size and significance, it’s stuffed full of niche detail and insider knowledge, covering collabs and customs, subcultures and limited edition runs. Those unfortunate souls who don’t have every back edition of Sneaker Freaker lining a shelf at home can take solace, safe in the knowledge that they can get their sneaker fix here. We caught up with Woody to find out more.

The front cover of the new book The Ultimte Sneaker Book

Sneaker Freaker was born in Melbourne in the dial-up days of the early noughties. The book documents the seismic changes that have happened in the industry since then. At the time, a mag devoted solely to sneakers was revolutionary. The culture as we know it was in its infancy, and obsessives like Woody were both uncommon and unconnected. “In 2002 we didn’t have Facebook, blogs had only just started,” he recalls. “I feel like I’m talking about the 1800s. You had to actually ring a phone number to connect to the internet, and it really limited your capacity to find out information. If you were into sneakers you had to go to Tokyo to see what was there. I used to buy copies of Japanese magazines to find product because the whole thing was a complete mystery. If you relied on going into stores, it might be three months until you saw something that you really loved. That’s why we used to talk about putting a pair on ice – you’d buy two or three pairs of something, because you never knew when the next really cool shoe was going to come out.” After years of isolation, Sneaker Freaker provided a locus for sneaker heads to get the dirt, chew the fat and bond over their shared love of all things rubber-soled.

The early days of sneaker culture recounted by Woody are a far cry from today’s hyper-saturated sneaker market, when there are kids queuing around the block for a new drop every day and anyone with an Instagram account can be a connoisseur. For better or worse, the scene is almost unrecognisable. “The commonness of it is the biggest change. Now, everybody flips a pair here and there but back in 2002 you only had the first signs of it. Some of the shoes then were worth a lot of money but the market for them was a few hundred people. Now it’s millions. You’ve got this sprawling, cross-generational, pop-culture mania. Our audience is now as young as 13 but it goes up to 50 and beyond because the older guys who have been around since Sneaker Freaker started have grown-up children. That your parents could be into it too was something that just didn’t exist before.”

Run DMC wearing tracksuits in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Michael Jordan shooting hoops
Run DMC wearing tracksuits in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Michael Jordan shooting hoops

Woody has spent most of his adult life watching the sneakers phenomenon unfold and mutate and understands better than most what keeps us coming back for more. “The industry is so creative, one thing goes up and one thing goes down, and the next day it all changes and the cycle starts again. If you look at our covers, at one time, skateboarding was the biggest thing that was happening. Then you’ve got the individual basketball players who have their own following and their own signature shoes. And then you’ve got the fashion contingent. You’ve got these really expansive fields for the sneaker industry to play in. It means that nothing ever gets totally stale, there’s always something new to replace it.”

Woody’s sneaker insights are prophetic – when he started collecting, it wasn’t cool and, fearing ridicule, he kept his passion on the DL. “I didn’t really talk about it with anyone else. People knew that I had lots of shoes and I was sort of derided, it was seen as a stupid thing to spend your money on.” As he says himself – look who’s laughing now. Despite years in the game, Woody isn’t bored. It’s a life-long love affair that starts and ends with an objective appreciation for all things trainers. “At the moment, everyone is looking at the chunky fashion shoe, wondering what the next thing is going to be. People are saying retro ‘80s and ‘90s basketball, and some of the brands are going in that direction already so it’ll start to happen. The sense of reinvention keeps it fresh.” Where purists get the hump when something breaks their sacred sneaker code, Woody takes a deep-dive analytical approach and basks in the glorious weirdness. And from Gucci's Rhyton and Flashtreck trainers to Balenciaga's Triple S mania, there's a lot of weirdness going on right now.

Sneaker Freaker magazine covers
Sneaker Freaker magazine covers

“As a rule, I kind of like anything that’s offensive and that upsets people. I love Jeremy Scott (Moschino’s designer) for example, and the ugly trainer hype goes back to him. We put Jeremy’s sneakers on the cover even though he upset a lot of purists by making them out of teddy bears and gorillas. They feel like they’re from a different era, but in a way they’re timeless and we really wanted to acknowledge Jeremy in the book. I think I described it as a sneaker head’s sick dream. But he was really successful, he sold a lot of shoes. To do something that Jeremy Scott did, and sell tens of thousands of pairs to kids in different hoods in North America who love them is an achievement. I used to see them and I was amazed – these really tough inner-city ghetto kids wearing Jeremy Scotts, I thought it was a really dynamic combination. I think Jeremy deserves a lot of credit for that because it opened a lot of people’s eyes to futuristic shapes and contours.”

“But now it’s like laying bricks. Someone puts one in and it’s crazy, so you have to go a bit crazier, and then pretty soon you’ve built this thing that’s so crazy it pops because there’s nowhere else to go. Perhaps that’s where we’re at, peak dad shoe moment. You also have things like very traditional grey suede sneakers but nice and chunky, it’s a shoe that suits men in their forties who walk Labradors around the pond on a Saturday morning, but you also get kids that are 16 wearing them as an anti-fashion statement. All of the creativity and all of the cultural references for sneakers mean that there’s no end to this thing.”

The contents page from The Ultimate Sneaker Book
The contents page from The Ultimate Sneaker Book

From interviewing Dapper Dan, AKA The Hip Hop Tailor of Harlem, who appropriated the loftiest symbols of luxury fashion and turned them into streetwear icons for ‘80’s hip hop’s nattiest stars, to shooting the breeze with Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, the reigning king of street apparel, Woody has dedicated his life to telling the stories of the sneaker game’s most radical and influential players. From the underground to the establishment to the down-right weird, he has left no stone unturned and ‘The Ultimate Sneaker Book’ is a slick archive of his hard-earned knowledge. For that, he is a true Sole Man and, hypebeast or not, everyone can agree that his services to sneakers are unparalleled. Woody, we salute you. Print is not dead.

Sneaker Freaker: The Ultimate Sneaker Book (Taschen) by Simon Wood is out now