Your average shopper buys a shoe just to wear. At Flight Club in Greenwich Village, sneaker-heads trade collectible kicks on the secondary market, sometimes for thousands of dollars. Commanding the highest price right now are Eminem’s Air Jordan 4 models. The smallest detail, for example graffiti-style lettering across a shoe’s tongue, can make one design wildly more precious than the next—worthy of display among other unworn masterpieces, all spotlit on individual shelves.
If Flight Club has street cred to burn as the city’s seat of sneaker subculture, that’s partly thanks to the edgy design of the flagship, completed six years ago by Slade Architecture. When married principals Hayes and James Slade first met the store’s owner, his retail model was based on a community of sneaker collectors who had originally connected through the Internet and would essentially be business partners, since almost every shoe for sale is their property, offered on consignment. That meant the interior needed to appeal to the current owners of the most precious and impressive sneakers as well as to the potential buyers.
A storefront in a heavyweight loft building, the original space got game, literally, in the form of a regulation basketball hoop installed at the back. On a more serious architectural level, the Slades exposed the brick, dating to the late 1800’s, and painted the ceiling joists black. “We stripped it down to the core,” James Slade recalls. “There’s clarity about what was there and what we added.” Those additions were basic, utilitarian components—admittedly obsessed over. “I’m not sure that minimalism is ever a cost-saver,” Hayes Slade says with a laugh, noting the technical perfection demanded in the absence of quirky decorative distractions.
As Flight Club matures, some pairs are now arriving straight from manufacturers as well as the consignors. And it has expanded not only to Los Angeles but also back in Greenwich Village, where the Slades connected the existing flagship to a storefront in an adjoining building via two impressive openings punched through the 2-foot-thick party wall. Square footage has thereby increased from 2,700 to 4,600.
The sides of these connecting doorways, near the front and rear, are sheathed in plate aluminum. Meanwhile, aluminum flooring with a nonskid diamond pattern forms ramps to bridge the slight difference in level between the pristine oak strips on the new side and the original space’s plywood, which has softened and gained patina. The Slades then used more plywood to build long benches to define a carpeted try-on area that does double-duty for a sprinkling of parents “waiting while their kids browse for an hour,” Hayes Slade says wryly. Yes, this store must accommodate both the sports-footwear obsessed and those who love them, the latter composing an important sub-category—if only for the fact that they will often be the ones carrying the wallet.
It was the adult presence in the try-on area that gave the Slades the confidence to bypass the indestructible mirror-polished stainless previously used for bench bases, angled to reflect shoes at foot level. The bases here are crystal-clear low-iron mirror glass, and nobody has stomped through it yet. “People sense our attention to detail and respond to it,” Hayes Slade continues.
With sculptural precision, ranks of shrink-wrapped shoes wait in racks that hover several inches proud of the brick. Racks stretch for an endless-seeming 80-odd feet on both sides of the party wall and parts of the sidewalls. One section of sidewall permits a foray into collectible clothing, which hangs from what James Slade calls “luxury pegboard.” It’s drilled plywood, the blond color and matte finish chosen to complement the oak floor. Walls furthermore host sports-themed artwork, intended to change every so often. Collaged pieces of basketball jerseys—from the likes of the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls—read as quilts from The Twilight Zone. An artist associated with the 1980’s hip-hop scene in the Bronx contributed the friezelike composition of four painted fiberglass figures of boys playing basketball. They’re on a wall above sneaker racks, and an older dude from the series hangs outside a window, dribbling in midair.
Not literally artwork, a huge freestanding vitrine, glowing with an otherworldly bluish light, recalls a transparent tank worthy of a Damien Hirst pickled shark. This glass box, accessible only to salespeople, protects the most precious shoes. Given the galvanized-steel channel shelving they’re lined up on, perhaps a more apt comparison would be to Hirst’s glinting medicine cabinets, stocked with all manner of pills: The Flight Club experiment proves, once again, how addictive footwear can be.
Project Team: Tian Gao; Ji Young Chung; David Iseri: Slade Architecture. Gilsanz Murray Steficek: Structural Engineer. Pavane & Kwalbrun Consulting Engineers: MEP. WR Woodworking & Finishing: Woodwork. Bronze Hill: General Contractor.