Then, at a Finish Line at the mall, I saw it: The Puma Drift Cat. White leather with an elegant silver formstrip, with a simple black rubber welt that wrapped up the heel at the back with some tasteful grey accents. I was smitten with the low profile of the shoe, how it seemed to accentuate speed, running past the competition with their taller profiles and thicker, jumbled soles. At the time, I didn't realize that the shoes were designed for racecar driving, but when I found out about Puma's motorsport I wasn't surprised. Somehow, I could really sense the brand's legacy just from looking at the shoes' shapes and proportions. I also subtly relished the fact that Puma wasn't trendy in America, compared to Europe, so that I could be somewhat of a fashion trailblazer in my little midwestern suburb; folks at school would come up and ask me about my shoes.
During high school, I would follow the Puma brand closely, paying attention to new releases and design updates. After Drift Cat, Puma released the Future Cat, a slightly edgier, more ergonomic version of the first shoe. Following the nature contour and slope of the feet, the throat and lacing portion were now slightly off-centered, twisting more towards the outer face (the vamp). This slight change now allowed a large graphic of the jumping puma to dominate the inner face (the waist) of the shoe. I thought that the asymmetry of the shoe was a good evolutionary step and further set it apart from other fashion sneakers. I loved the design so much that I hunted it down on "Sneaker Street" in Mongkok during a family summer trip to Hong Kong, and then I bought two pairs: one in white and another in black.
Sometime after Future Cat, Puma released a third design, which would also be my last pair of Pumas in high school -- the Puma Mostro. The Mostro are Puma Motorsport at its most ambitious and delirious. The shoes kept the asymmetrical throat and profile of the Drift Cat III. However, gone completely were traditional shoe laces; now, diagonal polyester bands and velcro attachments held the shoe in place. Parts of the black outsole, with a soccer-inspired rubber spike pattern, also folded up around the shoe, creating a rugged yet cohesive appearance. The Mostro, with its angular composition and futuristic design cues, were a parametric masterpiece. (I would even like to think that the shoes, which wrapped and twisted snuggly around the feet, inspired the wave of sock-like sneakers and hyper-casual sneakers that we see today.) I purchased a pair of white leather ones with black accents for school, as well as a grey nylon ones for the weekends.
I didn't realize it fully at the time, but I was following the design evolution of a product, a brand. I felt confident wearing the Pumas, but more importantly, I felt like I was following a larger story. As I developed as an visual artist and designer at school, I wanted my shoes to express my creative taste and progress. I enjoyed the fact that each successive release of the shoes built upon the existing design and also experimented with something new. As I learned more about architecture during the later high school years, I likened the sneaker evolution to periods of architectural history. If the Drift Cat represented modernism, with its pure formal sensibilities, then Future Cat represented postmodernism (with its playful, subtle updates) and the Mostro full-fledged deconstructivism (with its futuristic looks that defamiliarized the traditional sneaker). Likewise, the shoes could equally represent Early Renaissance, High Renaissance, and Baroque architecture (but that's probably a stretch). With the shoes, I started to think about how all visual design (fashion, architecture, products) are part of a greater narrative. As designers, our job is to respect what has come before and also imagine what is to come. With brands and products, people purchase not only the physical item itself, but the item's history and meaning. How can your products make your customers feel like they are going on a creative journey with you?