Commentary by Heidi Biggs
A grail sneaker is a sneaker someone longs for, searches after, and perhaps never finds. Like other great quests, it requires personal dedication and some irresistible pull or ‘hype’ that drives the journey. Julian Body is no stranger to sneaker collecting and has been admiring sneakers since his first coveted pair of LeBron 4s that he purchased with his dad for a season of youth basketball. After wearing them all basketball season, and loving them, he optimistically wore them to an outdoor track practice where they were quickly covered in mud and semi-destroyed. It wasn’t until high school that Julian found another pair that he purchased from his high school’s “resident sneakerhead.” This transaction indoctrinated Julian into sneaker collecting and Lebron 4s are his grail sneakers, as owning them again recaptured a piece of his personal history.
This journey to re-finding his childhood sneakers solidified Julian’s interest in sneaker collecting, and he is not alone in this passion. In his thesis, Julian brings the culture and stories of sneaker collecting to life by interviewing sneaker collectors about their own personal ‘grail’ shoes and then turning these interviews into a long-form, self-designed book. His meditation on the ‘grail sneaker’ is told through 23 different vignettes of sneaker collectors around the country from different backgrounds and demographics. Throughout the course of his interviews, he began to piece together the different motivations and significance grails take on for their owners. Some believe a grail should be difficult to attain, others impossible, some see grails as art and display them in cases, while others claim they will wear them until they are worn out. The grail could be a shoe someone “still longs for after all those other times”, the one shoe that they would throw away last, or one they have the most fun imagining styling.
Julian actually started his thesis research by researching how ‘hype’ is built around sneakers but eventually turned toward telling the personal stories of sneaker collectors themselves. The subjects of hype, if you will. I was captivated by the way this project explores how objects, and their design, as well as how they are marketed, infiltrate the collective and personal psyche, taking on significance, becoming not only objects of desire but also objects from which one can ‘fashion’ themselves. Body mentioned how some people, in discussing their grail, described it in terms that reflected themselves and their aspirations, like their career goals or personality traits. Sneakers are highly designed objects, which can take on symbolic, interpretive resonance. This thesis celebrates the culture and community of sneaker collecting, which is, in short, a study of the way designed objects circulate and the communities that form around and admire carefully designed (and hyped) objects like sneakers.