Chris Law, also known as C-Law, may not be a household name like adidas or PUMA, but he’s certainly a well-known figure in the worldwide shoe scene, and a veritable legend among sneaker freaks and trainer heads who are in the know. Born and raised in Park Farm Estate, Brickhill, Bedford, it might come as a surpise to some that Law left school at the young age of 15 with not much of a future and became a post man. By his 21st year he moved to Colliers Wood South London and went back to college.
It should be obvious by now that Law’s journey into the spotlight was a rough and weird one, yet in order to clear up the foggy details eatmoreshoes booked a date with C-Law himself.
Let’s start with the basics… when’d you first get sole-addicted?
My first recollection of liking trainers was on our summer holiday to Butlins or Pontins every summer when we’d get a new pair from whatever random shoe shop was in the bus station at the time. It would be a competition between my brother and I to see who could get the best ‘grips’, who had the fastest looking outsole. After that it would have been adidas Sambas at school for football and eventually at thirteen I got my first 2 ‘proper’ pairs: navy blue and grey Nike Rio, and red adidas Trimm Trabs.
Did you ever dream about designing shoes at that age?
At my school we did design and I actually did technical drawings. At that time I wanted to design BMXs so all my final school stuff was drawings of Haro Freestylers and GT Pro Performers. Funnily enough when I did go back to college after five years of working shitty jobs I went to an interview to get into Luton college and all I had were graf black books and a pencil drawing all shaded up – what I thought was nice at the time – of a pair of PUMA States, so I guess I did end up full circle in a way.
How’d you get from college application graf books to U-DOX and Crooked Tongues?
Well, after two years at Luton College I got into London College Of Printing, where I did a four year degree; three years in and one year out working (Graphotism magazine being one work placement). To help support myself through college (no silver spoons I’m afraid) I worked at Blockbuster in the evenings and Bond International on saturdays with my college / flat mate Chris Aylen. Whilst working in Bond, Chris and I met up with Russ who used to be a local and was always in Bond doing his thing. He had the idea that he wanted to set up a clothing label called Spine.
Fast forward a year and a half after both Chris and I had cut our teeth at boring web design firms, Russ finally set in place a new project called Unorthodox Styles which was to be a design agency that specialized only in street culture and stuff around it. Spine became an online magazine which included a section focused on trainers. In time, this section evolved into its own site called Crooked Tongues, named after how the tongue on an Air Max Plus would never sit straight. Later Unorthdox Styles got renamed U-Dox. We had a thing for dashed names at the time. I think in the office there was A-Cyde, C-Law and U-Dox, though it’s now just UDOX. Russ still owns it and it’s a very successful multimedia company.
What happened to Crooked Tongues over the years since its creation?
It has gone through quite a few changes from the beginning, it was always an evolving project really, I’m still very proud and supportive of it and I think that Gary and Mubi still do an amazing job. I do miss the more geeky side of it, the articles and features and all that. Gary can write his arse off and talk for England, though it’s just not really ‘designed’ so much now. I used to design those features like my life depended on it, every one was like a small micro site and had its own personality, but the web has changed in many ways, so I’m all good to leave that in the past.
With Crooked Tongues’ swoosh-inspired branding, how’d you score your first adidas collaborations?
Well actually the first colab that ‘never was’ were two Nike Blazer colorways that Steve Bryden set up with someone in Beaverton. I designed them but they never went further than emails. The first adidas colab was the adicolor Century. Also, we did pretty much all the PR and marketing and videos and parties and everything for the Superstar 35th project. I spent a fair amount of time in Germany in their archive and photographing samples and I’m even breaking on the DVD.
So that was our first project for adidas, we became good friends with Ben, Dean, Lawrence and Erman over there, and there was a great mutual respect. Gary Aspden was a great ally who sang our praises to them, even though it took a while for ‘Mr. Three Stripes’ himself to trust us, eh Gaz? It was only till he saw that I had Superstars tattooed on me that he believed we weren’t all ‘Nike Heads’, as they say.
Once you had ‘em convinced, how’d you participate on those collaborations?
Ok, so I worked on the adicolor (along with some of the other lads), the München (well the original version), and the SS80 (Superstar 80s). I helped Charlie out as I’d already started at adidas in Portland at the time those projects began. I helped spec the materials, laces, et cetera, as I had access to all the materials library, same with the proper color swatches, ’cause adidas doesn’t use pantones.
Looking back over the work you did with adidas, what were your favorite moments?
Fave project was the SS35 (Superstar 35th) project as it was beyond an honor to work on that, especially because I’d been obsessed with Superstars since I was thirteen and has seen Doze Green from the Rock Steady Crew wearing a pair on the ‘Hey You’ record sleeve. So I put my all into that project and every part of it, from the website to the collectors book. Find me another shoe project by anyone that has that much passion put into it. The adicolor was my first ‘product’ project, so I’m just as proud of that too I guess. The whole idea of ‘adicolor’ is customization, and we really took it to another level never done before with the interchangeable tongues, our execution relating not only to the project but also to our name (Crooked Tongues), so we smashed it.
So from there it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to your position as Lead Color Designer for Footwear and Graphics at adidas?
Well, I can tell you the story properly: one sunday afternoon I was in the park with the kids daydreaming, after all the colabs at CT (Crooked Tongues) I really wanted to get into product properly so I text Erman and said “you know of any openings?”. He called me straight back and said that he’d been in Portland the week before and they were looking for someone and my name had been mentioned a few times. I’d met Mike Klein (US Design Director) in New York at the SS35 (Superstar 35th) party and basically he took me on and I originally became Category Design Lead for adidas Skateboarding and Coastal and then switched to Category Design Lead for all of footwear color and materials. Then one of our senior designers left to go off and do her own thing. I had taken on a few ‘extra’ projects of actual new uppers, so when Liz left I took up her slack also, working my nuts off in the evenings and doing my moonlighting job of footwear designer also (on top of over 400 colorways per season).
How about your move to Portland, did you experience any culture shock from the differences between the UK and US sneaker scenes?
Not so much a culture shock in terms of what a ‘sneakerhead’ is as most of us know what the US is like, but Portland itself was a culture shock; they have a mantra that says “Keep Portland Weird”. At first it was [laughs] but soon I got into the groove of it and now I love it. It’s an amazing city in every way. It was difficult, in a way, to understand the United States’ relationship with adidas; in Europe and especially the UK, adidas is almost considered a religion, we ‘get it’ and we love it. In the US their touch point, so to say, is Run DMC, so outside of Superstars and Sambas, its all new to them in a way, and the younger kids have different culture references. It was hard to see how that worked, though I know now that adidas has grown loads in the US and is now very healthy.
What’s that job like, truly… can you put us ‘in your shoes’ so to speak?
The job, ok, well, you do two main seasons a year which each involve research and market travel, then team meetings, both local and global, then you have the briefing stage where your marketing department describes what new shoes to design, what old shoes to re-color, what shoes to drop out of the line, how many of each to make, and what direction they should take. Then you have a design stage with various check points, you send tech packs out to Asia, go to the factories for two weeks to oversee and work on the pattern files and new outsoles. Then after an variable amount of sample rounds the shoes go to salesman samples and sales and eventually a year later they appear on the shelf. That’s the main inline collection, then you have SMU (Special Make Ups) that are requests from main retailers running on their own, different, timelines, which each involve account visits to say New York or where ever. So in that there are ups and downs, but if you love shoes, it’s far better than working in a cling film factory (and I’ve done that). You learn a lot about how shoes are made, how factories work, and how two milimeters can make a massive difference.
How did that position help you grow as an artist?
You know what, I’ve actually never considered myself as an artist. I don’t sit down and paint or draw shit, I design graphics, and design and build shoes, all my artwork that I think I’ve ever done has been either shoe or typography related. For me it’s about being more of a craftsman and working on a trade. I’m a commercial designer, not some arty farty guy.
Fair enough… drop it on us then, how does a craftsman go about designing a shoes?
Jeez, my mouth is hurting from all this talking!
Stage 1: Discussion and briefing, why are you doing this shoe? Where’s it for? What’s it for? Who’s it for? How much is the retail gonna be? On most things you have to design within a price ceiling, unless it’s a project like OByO (Originals by Originals). So once you have that figured out…
Stage 2: Sketching, you can do this in various ways, straight in Adobe Illustrator which I don’t think most people can do and you shouldn’t really do it there. Get the pens and paper out and go for it. Normally you start with a last shape, as the last is the skeleton of the shoe, it determines shoe tape, toe spring, all that good stuff. It helps you to know where you’re starting with on the last, unless you’re designing the last too, then that’s a more complete, new shoe direction. Or, if you’re designing a shoe based on an existing last, you can (and I sometimes do this too) get a shoe with that last, cover it in masking tape, and draw straight on that. Or get a last and wrap it in white leather (a white shell) and draw on that.
Stage 3: At adidas we have an amazing pattern technician (Karen Vu) and she will take my drawings or tape ups and create a pattern file. Then she’ll plot that and print it directly into two halves of white leather, which are then sewn together and lasted.
Stage 4; I would get that pattern file back, and either edit it in Illustrator or draw straight on it.
Stage 5: Then we’ll make a ‘pull over’. This is your pattern cut into its actual shapes and then sewn together to give you a much better feeling for the shoe.
Stage 6: If your pattern file is sorted and you’re happy, you’ll send that to Asia to get a first round sample. At this stage you would normally draw a CAD in Illustrator which you’ll create a colorway on and a material map so the factory can build accordingly.
Stage 7, 8, & 9: Normally rounds of samples that see how the shoe take materials and colors.
Stage 10: Salesman samples, pretty much the finished thing, though some things can still get tweaked.
Stage 11: Shoe on the shelf, on a blog, and on your feet.
That’s a strict process! The freedom must come in the creativity… on that note, where do you draw your inspiration from?
Inspiration, well with adidas stuff it’s a combination of design elements from their massive archive of amazing products, mixed with streetcar-relevant ideas and my own little vibe I guess. That’s my formula.
And you’ve designed more than shoes correct?
I have designed apparel, yeah, when I was working on the Skate and Coastal stuff I did all the apparel for that range along with my boy Joe. It was mainly hoodies, track jackets, wind breakers, and board shorts.
Back to kicks, what’s up with the C-Law Forum Low’s?
Those were done over a weekend in Germany, sitting in the materials room with Erman, just freestyling it really. There was a certain look they wanted with that project and I could only use everyday materials, nothing too fancy as it was meant for Footlocker and not boutique shops, otherwise I would have done it differently. The main focus was to be the use of color and how I blocked the shoes.
Ok, sometimes even you got restraints. Can you tell us about Snoop’s Freemont?
Well we knew that we were going to be doing something with Snoop and one day he came in with his crew. He was a proper gent, and I’m not just saying it, he was a proper nice geezer. At that meeting I sneaked my Freemont in as I had already designed it the previous season and I had a feeling he’d like it, so I took along an all white one and he loved it and wanted it as his shoe. Result! I was well pleased, and afterwards he played basketball in the hall, hung out with the cleaning ladies, signed stuff for kids, and smoked something in the car park. It was a quality day
The actual Snoop Freemont I colored up for him… well he’s a proper Lakers fan so we wanted to do a black-based Lakers colorway in some interesting materials with the eyes logo. That’s pretty much it really, he loved it and wears it. Becks wears it. I wouldn’t wear it, but horses for courses as they say.
Does Snoop know that? Only playin’ Law! Alright back to pure design and blind passion; what can you tell us about the creation of “Sneakers The Complete Guide Book”?
The creation side? Well I designed and laid the book out, Jeff Metal and I took the pics, Steve Bryden did the art direction, and Chris Aylen, Steve Bryden and I wrote most of the text. There are some mistakes, it’s not correct by a long shot, but you’d be surprised how much help we didn’t get from the brands themselves. Like Hi-Tech; I wore Tech’s as a kid in my early breaking days and they were the business. We asked them and they ignored us, so when the book came out they weren’t too impressed that they weren’t in it with their Silver Shadow, along with Dunlop and the ‘Green Flash’. Now both of those shoes go down in history for sure, but for knob heads in our point of view, you were a twat in school if you wore those, and I guess that was what CT (Crooked Tongues) was about: that school kid one-upmaship that’s never left us as grown people. Sorry Hi Tech / Dunlop, truth.
On the subject of sneaker scenes and brand impact, how do you feel adidas has contributed to the shoe scene over the last many decades? And how does the music scene tie into this (if at all) in your eyes and ears?
Cant be arsed to answer this, sorry!
No sweat Law, how do you feel about the term ‘collector’?
Argh! Hmm, some people I know in the shoe world don’t like to be called collectors, it pervays visions of stamp collectors or coin collectors. Most are just working class kids who couldn’t have kicks when they were young but now they can, and that’s how we accumulate such a shit load. I’ve met a lot of people through CT (Crooked Tongues), some friends that I will stay in contact with forever, and they know who they are.
True spirit. We know you got ‘em, so don’t be shy, what are your rituals?
Rituals, yeah, I always re-lace shoes, even if they arrived correctly I will still pull them out and do it again. I can lace up fast as fuck. I used to box everything mega neat and in order and so on, but after moving around a lot, I now tend to not be so anal about it. I never have dirty shoes though. Never have, never will. As a kid I used to keep them spotless, and I was the same with my bikes also. I’d clean my white Skyway’s with jiffy, and my black Skyway’s I’d rub oil into them to make them blacker than black.
Delicious Law! Now it’s time for dessert… tell us what’s stashed in your treasure trove of suede and leather?
Over the years with CT (Crooked Tongues) I was given quite a few perks of the job, though not all of them were my thing, so I’ve got rid of quite a lot of the fodder and those ‘why did I buy these’ kicks. I’ve also got rid of a lot of hype stuff. My stash is mostly a variety of runners from all brands, classic low cut basketball stuff (I don’t really wear high tops), and classics.
Getting more specific, what’s your favorite adidas silhouette(s)?
adidas has so many good silhouettes. I love them in families for different moods I guess, like the Campus 80, Superstar 80, then the TRX, the Kegler Super, all those peg-style silhouettes, and then the ZX family. As for a defining shoe, its really hard, the APS, the Kegler Super, the Superstar 80, the’ll are amazing, but from different decades. I guess if I could only have one single adidas shoe if would be one I don’t have a SMU (Special Make Up) in my own colorway. It would be a rusty brown / orange suede upper on a Gum 3 outsole with 6mm laces. It would probably be a Gazelle-esque shape on the Kegler last. Something like that.
Take us out with a bang Law: what are some of your most prized kicks you’ve got?
Original ‘made in France’ Campus 80s in light blue, in my size, never worn, immaculate box. Those – wish they were the light grey ones though – and my three pairs of adidas Dublin’s, owned only by me, Peter O’Toole, and his missus I think.
Big ups to the man, the beast, the legend, C-Law from Crooked Tongues who is definitely not one to be called a good artist, but more appropriately a damn fine craftsman. Thank you for taking to time to let eatmoreshoes into your neck of the woods so we could get a bit more insight in the mind and soles of a game changer.
written by Dylan Cromwell
photography by errol