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The Nike Air Max 90 “Bacon” Reminds Us That Sneakers Are Supposed to Be Fun

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In 2021, everything old in the sneaker world is new again. From Stussy’s Nike Huaraches coming back for the first time since 2000 to the Air Max 1 “Kiss of Death”—the shoe that put multihyphenate Edison Chen and his CLOT line on the map in 2006—getting a surprise return, shoes that entire generations of sneaker fans never had a chance to pick up are suddenly within reach. One of the weirdest and most iconic of them is set to make its return later this month. A true OG of the golden era of Nike collabs, the Air Max 90 “Bacon” hits the SNKRS app on March 26th.

While at first glance it may seem a relic of the thankfully bygone era of Bacon Culture, when you couldn’t step into a trendy restaurant without finding a novel approach to pork products, the “Bacon” AM90’s roots actually go all the way back to the legendary Lower East Side skate and sneaker shop Dave’s Quality Meat. DQM was the brainchild of artist Dave Ortiz, who first made a name for himself in New York’s graffiti scene and later as the first employee of the skate titan Zoo York. Ortiz’s DQM almost immediately became a staple of the downtown sneaker and skate shop scene. Ortiz leaned into the gimmick, stocking tees and hoodies on meat hooks and encasing goods in saran wrap. It was more than just a stunt, though—Ortiz recalls many of the hottest sneaker and skate shops in town at the time having a museum-esque air of pretension. He wanted his store to cut through that and evoke the air of a communal space like a deli or butcher shop. After all, as he often says: It’s just sneakers. It’s not that serious. His efforts to set himself apart from the crowd paid off. The store became one of the most popular skate shops in town—and started working with brands on exclusive DQM products.

Ortiz has recounted the story behind his now-infamous Nike collaboration countless times over the years and it’s as strange as you’d expect from the guy who stuck a refrigerator filled with skate gear on his store floor. When the brand originally reached out to him with the opportunity to collaborate on a shoe, Ortiz was given roughly a three-month window in which he could select a silhouette and design the colorway. After choosing the Air Max 90 (he prioritized comfort over style), Ortiz procrastinated until he received an email one weekend informing him that he had to have the shoe ready the following Monday.

In a panic, he found himself completely blanking—so, naturally, he went to the grocery store to grab the ingredients for a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. That’s where it all fell into place: people love bacon, right? He grabbed several packages of bacon and checked out, hustling to a friend’s place to design the shoe from there, huddled over Pantone booklets and plates full of bacon. The result was a shoe Ortiz wasn’t sure anybody would like, but one that he felt invoked the ethos of his shop—a silly vibe free of the sneaker world’s self-seriousness.

Unlike other infamous sneaker drops of the era, like the Staple Pigeon Dunks, the shoe’s original release in 2004 didn’t draw much of a crowd. Some time later, though, when the store put a few hundred leftover pairs on sale, the fans flocked. In the interim, the “Bacon” Air Max 90 had become one of the hottest boutique collabs of its time—perhaps because it had been so under the radar upon the release. Its appeal has endured: to this day, sneakerheads have to drop thousands of dollars for an original pair.

Chances of the shoe getting a dramatic retro seemed slim, especially after DQM closed its doors for good in 2017. But with the shoe’s 15th anniversary coming and going in 2019, Nike and Ortiz alike felt it was time to give a new generation a chance to cop a pair. Admittedly, the 2021 retro is admittedly not quite a note-for-note reproduction of the original shoe—heads will notice that the brown utilized in the shoe’s mudguard, heel tab, and eyelets is significantly lighter in this rendition.

Still, the re-Baconing marks an interesting moment in the sneaker scene. Sneakers once considered sacred are now making a return, allowing generations of younger fans a shot at shoes that were once prohibitively expensive. Purists may argue that bringing these shoes back devalues their legacies, but it feels safe to say that the man behind this legendary pair of kicks would be the first to remind them of something the scene will hopefully be reminded of as his shoe returns: it’s not that serious.

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