I bought fake $5000 Nikes
When are bootlegs COOL—and when are they DEPRESSING??
The Tom Sachs x Nike Mars Yard 2.0 came out in 2017 and got snapped up PRONTO. It’s a pared-down trainer with some retro-futurist space-mission cosplay elements — chubby, grippy soles, exaggerated NASA-red pull tabs — kept to an appealingly ambient hum. I’ve thought it would be cool to own a pair ever since they dropped, but they go for ~$5000-$6000 in my size on the resale market, which is dumb as hell.
At least as of last year, Nike had an internal Mars Yard supply, which I know because an acquaintance started working there and OFF RIP DAY ONE put in a request for a pair — & within hours a box was on her desk.
This gave me hope that some BEAVERTON-BASED SAINT could get Young Spyplane a pair for MSRP…
But other tales painted a GRIMMER picture: One Nike designer told me they had NO luck snagging 2.0s thru official channels and wound up copping fakes thru DHgate instead… And yet another designer passed along word that a luckless Nike executive had also said f**k it and copped DHgate fakes — for himself & his family!!
I decided to explore the KNOCKOFF ROUTE. I figured I could conduct some SpyLab Research on a “fake specimen,” and also I just wanted to wear Mars Yards, so hopefully the fugazis would be functionally identical??
When it comes to copping knockoff sneakers, U can go nutty and scroll through “Quality Reps”-type message boards, unearthing WhatsApp info for well-regarded replica-sellers. I was not interested in going that far, so I zeroed in on a solid-looking pair on DHgate for $49.48 plus $9.95 shipping — I wondered about the labor conditions and materials that go into fake sneakers (real talk, authentic ones, too) felt bad, and smashed the cop…
A full 2 months later the package containing my MARS YARD 2.FAUXs touched down at Spyplane H.Q. looking STRAIGHT PULVERIZED!!
In a dark twist, the seller included an unclasped StockX Verification badge I could affix to the shoes if I wanted to flip them and pretend they’d been authenticated, on some scam-life s**t (even though the box has “NIKE BIG SWOOSH” as the model ID, which kind of gives up the game 🤦🏼♀️)
HOWEVER: The 2.FAUXs themselves looked & fit … pretty great ?? I laced them up and promptly did something I would never do with a pair of $5000 auténticos: took them on a muddy-a** hike.
As I posted up beside pristine East Bay waters, my mind turned to profound contemplations about jawn epistemology as if my name was LUDWIG FITTGENSTEIN…
“Hm,” I said to myself. “When are bootlegs cool? When are they depressing? And where do my new FAKE MARS YARDS fit into the equation??”
I laid down a blanket, put my back against the SUN-WARMED EARTH — and roughed out a TAXONOMY of bootleg vibes…
1. GOD-TIER ARTISAN FORGERY
There are certain knockoff-makers who fabricate jawns with such skill and ingenuity they scramble the line between “criminal” and “artist” …
This is why ppl love hearing stories about master art-forgers — like legendary Vermeer-counterfeiter Han van Meegeren — who slip fakes past experts, or about master wine-counterfeiters who HOODWINK Christie’s & other auction houses and scam big bucks from RICH OENOPHILES ‘cause their mixology is ON POINT: Shout out this classic ‘07 New Yorker story about a (pretty genius) rare-wine counterfeiter, written by Blackbird Spyplane’s Global Crime Investigations Correspondent, Patrick Radden Keefe.
In the jawniverse proper it’s harder to come across god-tier skilled-artisan craft forgeries because most coveted jawns are mass-produced, not artisan made. (The closest things that come to mind are “elevated” takes on mass consumer goods, i.e. Hender Scheme’s “Manual Industrial Product” hand-made sneaker reps…)
2. COPYRIGHT-INFRINGERS WHO “FREAK IT”
This is the most beloved type of bootleg, for good reason: the act of bootlegging here isn’t an end in itself but a jumping-off point for creativity…
Dapper Dan, the visionary Harlem designer who concocted iconic bombers and tracksuits out of fake designer-monogram fabric in the ‘80s, is an all-time GOAT of this category.
The defining example is the “Bootleg Bart” jawn craze of the ‘90s, a “proto-meme” that included the fascinating (and sometimes politically radical) “Black Bart” sub-genre…
‘80s and ‘90s-era fake Gucci sweatshirts were less elaborate than Dapper Dan’s pieces but sick, too. The designs were apparently yanked from Gucci packaging — boxes, dust bags — and the fact that, like Bootleg Barts, they have no single established author / provenance lends them a “late-capitalist folk-art” aura. I copped a Gucci Fruit of the Loom sweatshirt on eBay circa 2001 and don’t rock it much but still cherish it…
The appeal with “freaked” bootlegs is that they are clearly NOT authentic but still look fresh as f**k — so fresh, in the Gucci sweatshirt case, that the brand “co-opted” the bootleg graphics for official releases a couple years back.
Speaking of folk-art-type bootleg freakage, there’s a cool tradition in parts of Africa of hand-painted movie posters promoting Hollywood blockbusters — these are treasures, Google them if yr unfamiliar!! Also, when we interviewed 18 East’s Antonio Ciongoli, he put us on to the WILD history of quasi-“knockoff” Jeanneret chairs produced by local Indian governments inspired by Le Corbusier’s work in the city of Chandigarh.
Bootleg-tee over-saturation is as real as graphic-tee fatigue generally, but gems still rise to the surface, featuring fire designs / surprising “curatorial” choices. Peace to SpyFriend Edgar Gonzelaz of And After That, who makes fire designs using both original and “found” imagery (and who devotes 100% of his proceeds to mutual aid for undocumented people). From the Freezer makes & catalogs the broader universe of Vampire Weekend bootlegs, which flip I.P. ranging from Sonic the Hedgehog to the Sherwin-Williams logo. Mythic Bootleg Tees hand-draws cool 1/1 art-themed tees; artist Visitor Design has fulfilled dozens of custom-bootleg requests via his Instagram page, asking only the price of shipping for them, as part of a project; and Fraser Croll crafts bootleg heaters in homage to everything from the ‘92 Cannes Film Festival and ‘95 Source Awards to Cruel Intentions and Oasis.
Meanwhile, Jaimus Tailor of London’s Greater Goods — a GORPY-UPCYCLING spiritual descendant of Dapper Dan — cuts actual old Arc’teryx pieces into new silhouettes (and also makes beautiful hand-knit balaclavas with his girlfriend), and Spyfriend Sam Jayne of Jam devised an Arc’teryx yin-yang logo flip so dope that this past weekend Arc’teryx itself put out a capsule release where Sam heat-transfered his yin-yang and other motifs onto actual Arc joints… One of those (decreasingly?) rare times when a freaked bootleg achieves paradoxical “official” status.
3. FAKERY SO “CLUMSY” U GOTTA LOVE IT
This is pretty self-explanatory: Bootlegs featuring egregious typos, misshapen logos, strange color combinations and other design elements that scream “wrong” in a way that comes off more charming than cursed (but a little cursed, too, for that good frisson)…
These kinds of bootlegs can verge on unrockably kitschy, but every now & then u will come across a “lovable clumsy” knockoff & savor it as deeply as any “real” treasure u own.
4. DEPRESSING GRIFT-BOOTLEGS THAT HAVE NO SOUL & INADVERTENTLY EXPOSE THE FUNDAMENTAL HOLLOWNESS OF SO MUCH “LEGITIMATE” JAWNS-COPPING
These are the worst kind of bootleg. They are what you find when U search eBay for, like, a Paul Simon Graceland tee and instead of a vibey original there’s an ocean of s**tty reprints to drown in — Naomi Fry recounted this exact bummer when we interviewed her.
Bootleg Bart Simpson joints became so iconic that reprints of those clog eBay, too — i.e., BOOTLEGS OF BOOTLEGS, which, as far as we’re concerned, lose the unique “aura” cherished by Walter Benjaminian-minded FIT THEORIZERS who “cop grails in the age of mechanical reproduction.”
BY THE WAY, this isn’t even about “legality”: Depressing grift-bootlegs are ALSO what you find when u search for a vintage WU-TANG TEE and there’s a bunch of licensed reprints cranked out by like Uniqlo or Urban Outfitters or some weird IG-timeline-type streetwear brand… Just ‘cause some people with $$$ purchased a license doesn’t change the fact that the resulting reprints have NO HEART.
Because you want to feel like u stumbled on that real original s**t, BORNE ALOFT & WEATHERED by the tides of time — not a repro cash-in on yr nostalgia!!
Another kind of depressing grift-bootleg is exemplified by these fake JJJJound 992s I came across the other day. It’s wild that if these said, like, “JJoundo” on the back, or if the “N” was backwards, they would be classic “LOVABLE CLUMSY” kings chilling in category No. 3.
But NO! Instead they aim for verisimilitude, fall short, and suuuuck. Ditto counterfeit “status GORP” (like in the bootleg-Arc detail below right.) At least if u bought, like, a fake $100,000 Patek World Time wristwatch for $100 it’d be kind of funny — but middling replicas of hyped garments aren’t even funny, they’re just sad !!
The only appeal of getting authentic JJJJounds (besides letting ppl know u scored rare sneakers) is 1. the materials and 2. the colors — but on the fakes, the materials and colors are wrong (along with the d*mn color cracking off the “N” already in the seller pics) so literally the ONLY remaining reason as to why yr copping them is as a poorly executed shortcut to “free clout,” which is a major cornball mentality that highlights the hollowness at the core of a vast swath of non-bootleg purchases, too…
Guess u could call me Friedriech Fitzsche the way “if thou cop long enough into the abyss, the abyss will also cop into thee,” damn.
5. FINALLY: “GRAILS WITHIN REACH” / PRESERVATIONIST BOOTLEGS
So right now you are probably asking, “Jonah, what about yr FAKE MARS YARDS? For the exact reasons you just described, aren’t u rocking some Category 4 wack s**t right there??”
U have a point. There is an unavoidable dimension of Category 4 grift-depression at work with my 2.FAUXs, because my appreciation of them is slightly but noticeably diminished (at least right now; it might evolve) by my knowledge that they are “not real.” This forces me to question how much of my desire for Mars Yards was a product of HYPE and manufactured SCARCITY rather than “intrinsic dopeness” … and to concede that the answer is “non-zero.”
AND YET — there is a 5th and final type of bootleg. U most typically encounter it in music … i.e., a release goes out of print (like the excellent 1987 Hiroshi Yoshimura album embedded below, one CD of which is on Discogs for $300) and the only way to hear it is either thru a bootleg recording, a .zip file / YouTube rip, or dropping $$$ on an OG pressing if yr lucky enough to find one. Ditto when a band’s fans circulate bootleg recordings of live shows, out of a NOBLE and LOVING impulse toward community and preservation.
U can see a sui-generis-yet-industrially-reproducible jawn like the Mars Yards in a similar light: It’s been put effectively out of reach not by “natural reasons” of scarcity but by market forces that the black market offers correctives for.
The fact that I’ve heard of 2 different well-placed people who work for Nike who copped fake 2.0s reinforces this point. Is the audio quality on a YouTube rip as good as a proper mastered release? No. Is the swoosh color and stitching etc etc as good on my fakes as on legit Mars Yard? Probably not.
But U still wanna hear the d*mn album / rock the d*mn shoe, so there is value in being able to !!
If you take Nike & Sachs at their word that the Mars Yard is meant to be GROUND INTO DUST thru active wear, as the marketing around the shoe claims, (and which is how we should ideally approach most jawns) then which are you likelier to actually wear the f**k out of: the $5000 grail or the $49 bootleg?
The bootleg, obviously. So doesn’t that make the fakes “realer,” in a sense, than the OGs??!!
Wow: Blackbird Spyplane just changed the nature of truth & reality once again and it’s only Tuesday...
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I'm two years late, but watch Orson Welles's "F for fake" and enjoy the spiral of considering facets of forgery 💁🏻♀️
The recent news possibly implicating nike execs in resale schemes kinda fits into why category 5 exists imo. If nike doesn't want me to have the 2.0s at msrp then why not get the almost as good fakes for even less.