THE ASICS GEL-LYTE III LEGACY
An Interview With ASICS Design Chief Shigeyuki Mitsui
Taking the city by storm during Paris Fashion Week Men’s in June, ASICS seemed to be everywhere. If they weren’t on the runway with game-changers GmBH at the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds, or launching their game-changing collaboration with Angelo Baque’s AWAKE NY at new Parisian hotspot The Next Door, they were revolutionising product drops with AFFIX during Fête de la Musique (where viewers of the live-streamed event were the only ones able to purchase the ltd-ed shoes when a specific code popped up). The brand has come a long way since its beginnings, it’s now taking more risks with its collaborations whilst still embracing its heritage and past.
We spoke to ASICS design chief Shigeyuki Mitsui who has been with the company since its early days. For their Paris Fashion Week installation at their head office in the 5th Arrondissement, ASICS recreated Mitsui-san’s studio from 1990, also showcasing their upcoming looks for 2020. The display highlighted Mitsui’s key work at the company, along with his most renowned design the GEL-Lyte III and its iconic split-tongue. Controversial at the time, the design has indeed stood the test of time. Reinstating ASICS’ philosophy of prioritising functionality, the design looks to the foots anatomy to make it practical and desirable.
A mix of the past and future, the installation was an ode to Mitsui’s commitment to the company and what he brought to it: innovation through creativity. As a musician (he plays alt sax) also deeply interested in art and culture (he cites the Musée d’Orsay as one of his favourite art museums), Mitsui-san’s combined inspirations have influenced ASICS’ output and approach. 2020 sees his last year at the company, but his imprint will remain indefinitely.
We spoke to Mitsui-san at the ASICS Parisian office where he walked us through the recreation of his old studio, where we saw firsthand Mitsui-san’s legacy and unique design language with the original GEL-Lyte III (created in 1990) and the updated 30th Anniversary model. In 2020 ASICS also launch the OG colorways of the GEL-LYTE III for the very last time, a last hurrah of sorts. The converging of the past and future was more evident than ever.
CHAMP: The ASICS design office installation here is great, it must be such a trip down memory lane! Is everything true to what you remember of your old design studio?
MITSUI: I’m really happy with this installation, it’s almost the same. After I designed the GEL-Lyte III I moved to the US ASICS office, and they had a design room. Krzysz and the team here remembered to set up everything, and it’s almost the same as my US office. It’s just not as messy, it’s a little bit clean!
Can you tell us more about your design thinking for the GEL-Lyte III?
When I designed the GEL-Lyte III, I did not design for the ‘sports style’ shoes, I designed for ‘real life’ shoes at that time. Maybe the important thing, and really difficult thing, is to still keep the real function. Generally, the appearance is really traditional or conservative.
When I designed the GEL-Lyte III the [aim was to] still keep the function but appearance should match unique one. For example, the split-tongue. It has a real function. In the case of a normal tongue, it is easy to slip to another side during running because of the anatomical reasoning of the foot. In the case of the split tongue, it is divided and combined to both lateral sides of the upper. It doesn’t move during running, keeping a good fitting. The split tongue also has another purpose. In case of the normal tongue, when you put on the shoes, the tongue top moves to the inside of the shoe and it needs to be pulled up by hand. In the case of the split-tongue we don’t need to use the hand. It is quick and easy.
With the split-tongue’s design a reaction to the foot’s anatomy, is it symmetrical or almost-symmetrical?
[Mitsui-san proceeds to draw a diagram]. The foot shape is cut in sections, with lateral and medial side. Normal tongue is easy to slip left or right, but with the split-tongue it has a naturally a fixed upper. It doesn’t move. It has a real purpose for the shoes.
Reflected in your personal work at the ASICS Institute of Sports and Science (ISS) innovation lab, what inspires you from your music to your other interests with painting?
It is the reason why I wanted to enter into ASICS, because they integrate music, art and also sport. I love art in an old-style, for instance, I love the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. I’m not so into contemporary music. I really like fusion music, jazz and rock integrated. I play alt sax, so I like Grover Washington Jr. Even Michael Jackson also!
The new style and old style mixed, that’s my concept. Not just old, not just new, but integrated. Even in music, sport, everything…
In terms of innovation, are you interested in any new materials?
In the footwear material, a knit material is really popular. In the near future, we must think about sustainable materials. We call it ‘new sustainable’, meaning the past image of sustainable is responsibility for society, but I think the future consumers love the sustainable activation not the responsibility.
They will accept for the activity for their lifestyle, so right now, a popular sustainable material is anything recycled. For example, in Japan there is a lot of ocean trash coming to the beach. It’s a huge problem in Japan. In the island they recycle and use that trash material to make a new material. If we use it for footwear, then maybe the consumer with love the activity and the island becomes clean. It’s not just [important for] recycling, if I think about what I buy.