Shortly after I wrote a post about how Bape and Off-White are tired, a follower had reached out to me after the post, expressing his agreement with my post and sharing some of his own perspectives on that argument.
After that, he started to tell me about a book he and a colleague wrote where they break down the meaning of fly, and what fly actually is. He then started to tell me about how a lot of my ideas in the post resonated with his book and that I should give it a read and try to understand the system that he and his partner created. So they sent me a book, and a year and some change later, I finally read it, dissected it, and these guys hit the nail on the head with how we describe and determine what fly is, especially in the sneaker world.
Is This Fly? was written by the two illustrious brothers Alex Lee and Dame Williams to really get down to the root of what it means for something to be fly. In their work, efficiently and succinctly detailed in no more than 50 pages, they attribute the characteristic of being fly to 5 single tenets: Self-Awareness, Attention To Detail, Creativity and Risk, Developed Sense of Taste, and Influence/Nuance. All of these elements, when put together and measured accordingly, can help you determine if something is truly fly. In other words, Lee and Williams crafted a formula that presents the abstract idea of fly into a concrete, universal yet unique package of data that you yourself can determine.
So how do these tenets and being fly tie in to the sneaker world, specifically? Let’s break it down.
In the book, being self-aware as it pertains to being fly is very simple: “You know who you are…this is what I like. This is what I believe. This is my preference.” The book maintains that you become self-aware in this way by the things you do, the places you frequent; having a firm knowledge of who you are, and what/where your realm is.
In sneakers this is not very hard. Each and every single one of us has developed a unique and distinct rotation based off of these same aforementioned thoughts. The brands you pay attention to. The content and media you consume. The ones you don’t. The style of sneakers you like to rock, the clothes you match with, so on and so forth. How did you become self-aware in this sense? Lee and Williams attribute it to repetition. The more you do something, the more you become accustomed to it. “Regular training and effort”, as they describe it.
Perhaps the easiest and best examples to see self-awareness in a consistent and palpable forms would be in the forms of Full Size Run’s Drip, Flip, or Skip segment. Welty, Dad, and Dunne take us through their thought process when determining their verdict on a sneaker, disclosing their personal styles, preferences, and experiences. This data pulled from their self-awareness then helps them determine how they feel about that sneaker.
Attention To Detail
For any seasoned sneakerhead, details make all the difference when it comes to a sneaker. This is why prices differ on certain Jordan and UltraBoost colorways. The authors tell us that attention to detail is “the practice of mining recieved data from our alert sensibilities in any specific field or endeavor that we follow.” In other words, we are noticing the small things that make up the greater whole. Looking deeper.
So back to those Jordans and UltraBoosts. Someone can tell you the year of your Cement III just from looking at the back of it. Detail. Simply looking at the colorway and the stitching of the silhouette, they’d be able to tell you what version UltraBoost you have. Another detail. Detail for sneakerheads is oftentimes nothing more than a short read on an upcoming sneaker release, or watching that YouTuber talk about the sneaker they just copped. It is very easy for us to pick up on sneaker details, so much so that we almost don’t really think about it. It’s just secondhand nature to us. But really, when we are reading those specs, watching those unboxings and reviews, liking those on-feet and close-up shots on Instagram, we are paying attention to details.
Creativity & Risk
Although one of the shortest sections in the book, this was easily my favorite and the one I could most resonate with. I think most people would, too. Lee and Williams could not have described this tenet any better than they did and it is that very same description that speaks volumes in the sneaker world:
Once we are firmly rooted in our identity, it manifests in various forms of communication and expression. Challenges can arise when openly exposing our personal ideals and preferences, including the fear that accompanies revealing ourselves to others. Here is where the risks of revealing our creativity come into play.
But they weren’t done: “We are social animals at our core, and although we eschew any notion of conformity or forced acceptance by the masses, we also do not seek to be expunged from the realms of normalcy for artistic freedom.”
Brothers Lee and Williams were preaching. This speaks to the very core of our niche as consumer and producers. The sneakers that we buy and decide to rock are visual representations of our creativity, and we take risks on that by rocking said sneakers and/or what we decide to coordinate with them. It is that very same individual risk and creativity that becomes a reflection on the creativity and risk coming from the brands.
Another part of this chapter that I appreciated and thought should be highlighted is the fact that the authors made sure to define creativity for what it truly is: “Creativity is a function of the mind. It is the idea in raw form.” Meaning to say, you don’t have to be artistic or a “creative” to be creative and have creativity. I think I am more than creative, and I am a software developer.
As consumers and producers, we then make ourselves (self) aware of the result and adapt accordingly. That leads to the next tenet.
Developed Sense of Taste
“…a developed sense of taste is the culmination of detail, exposure, and a frame of reference from which established standards of merit are drawn.”
Over time, you have developed, and you will develop, a unique personal style based off of the other styles, sneakers, people, brands, and other things you have been exposed to, and based off your own creativity and risk. When I first got really serious with this sneaker thing, I had all sorts of sneakers, and I wore them with all sorts of clothes. Some sneakers and fits were great, others were not. Nowadays, years into same said sneaker thing, having taken my trials and errors through creativity and risk, I tend to wear mostly runner silhouettes, and I wear them with mostly office or casual wear. I developed my sense of taste. Not only have I developed my sense of taste, I developed a sense of taste for the sporty yet versatile office/casual look. Over time, you might have started off wearing Team Jordans with cargo shorts and a DeSean Jackson jersey, and now you have the Concord XIs with the black chinos and Fred Perry polo. You developed your sense of taste.
“A subtle quality”
“A subtle distinction or variation”
But Jordan, isn’t that what you were saying in Attention to Detail?
No. Lee and Williams also point this out as well in the book, but for sneakers, I’ll break it down as such: A Jordan III colorway is nuanced in whether the Jumpman or Swoosh is on the back, in the kind of leather and prints. But all those little details are the things that you pay attention to and are privy to; things you are now (self) aware of. Nuances in sneakers are really not nuances to us because those are all the things that set sneakers apart from one another. But when we analyze it and think about it in this way, we have a greater appreciation for the sneaker and its details.
When these 5 things are put together, Lee and Williams illustrate and prove that we can individually and uniquely put a concrete measure to fly as it pertains to anything, but especially sneakers. We can use these 5 tools to make informed decisions on our rotations. Better yet, not that we can, but that we already do. Lee and Williams just put the blueprint on paper.
Learn more about Is This Fly? here and pick up a copy for yourself.