The new low of being Chef Curry
Don’t like Stephen Curry’s new sneakers? That’s fine. They weren’t yours to begin with.
The clowning started slowly, then grew to a blaze.
Under Armour, the Baltimore-based sports clothing and accessories company, issued a formulaic press release on June 8 with the first image of its second sneaker under the Stephen Curry brand. A pair of low-top Curry 2 Low “Chef” was seductively nestled in a Bon Appetit-style tableau of root vegetables and expensive-looking brass cookware. (Because, you know, a chef cooks things.)
Within hours, social media exploded with a barrage of hilarious memes that roasted the shoe’s bulky, plain-Jane whiteness.
This colorway’s iteration of the “Chef” sneaker was mockingly called the “cookout dad” sneakers, the “I work at Cheesecake Factory” shoes, the go-to kicks of emergency room nurses everywhere, grandmamma’s Golden Corral buffet shoes — and worse. Late-night TV comedians Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel mocked them on-air.
Earlier this year, Under Armour released its first quarter earnings report that showed a 30 percent increase in profits and revenue. The surge in revenue — $1.05 billion — was driven by the surge of the company’s shoe sales, especially Curry’s signature shoe line, which earned a profit of $264 million in the first quarter of 2016 alone.
Under Armour refused to directly comment on the unrelenting criticism of the Curry 2 Low “Chef,” but issued a statement last week that said the superstar baller’s “signature line has been one of the most successful collections from our brand, including his footwear, apparel and accessories.”
“The footwear collection features extensive designs and colors, and has been a key driver of our brand’s overall footwear success,” the statement continued.
Jokes aside, could it be that Under Armour has finally hit a speed bump on its Curry sneaker gravy train?
That’s highly unlikely, said John Kim, director of digital content for SneakerNews.com. The scolding came from people who will likely never “get” or buy anything from Under Armour, even with a seal of approval from arguably the biggest athlete on the planet right now.
“Steph Curry is obviously a huge star and his shoes sell really well,” he acknowledged. “But his shoes are geared toward young athletes and basketball players, not toward people who wear sneakers for style. The shoes aren’t that bad, but the social media stuff was really about sneakerheads poking fun at something that wasn’t even meant for them.”
Curry was asked about the shoe’s questionable design aesthetic during the press conference after the Warriors’ Game 4 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. His diplomatic response: “Yeah, if I had them in the road bag, I definitely would’ve worn them and shown how fire they are.” Two days later, Curry wore the “white daddy” low-tops during the team’s practice session; the top of his right shoe bore the red-and-orange flame emoji.
In other words: Watch me make this money, haters.
— NBA (@NBA) June 12, 2016
The Curry 2 Low “Chef” sneakers are also available in six colors (including black, rocket red, combat green and a white with green highlights) and is one of 60 Curry versions that Under Armour has issued since the January 2015 debut of the superstar’s first sneaker.
“Currys are popular shoes and a lot of people wear them — but they’re people who don’t care about fashion,” Kim said.
The fact that the white colorway of the sneaker had the nerve to reference the “Chef Curry” nickname (bestowed by hip-hop star Drake in his 2014 track 0 to 100/The Catch Up) may have been what pushed Twitter over the edge.
The way that Under Armour used the name in this instance, Kim noted, “feels like it was just something that was thrown together. The ‘Chef Curry’ thing came about organically because Steph is such an amazing player. I think that people on social media caught onto the irony of that shoe having that name.
“It’s an OK shoe, but they won’t blow your mind like other iconic styles,” said Kim, referring to Nike’s iconic Air Jordan basketball collection as a standout. “There are definitely other sneaker brands that capture a particular moment in time, and this isn’t one of them.”
Bahr Brown, a brand and image marketing expert whose clients include Levi’s and Major League Baseball, said Under Armour’s customers are very different from those who prefer other popular brands such as Nike, adidas, Reebok or New Balance.
“The kids that made fun of that sneaker — which is clunky-looking, I don’t dispute that. Just don’t wear Under Armour,” Brown said. “It’s just not the same kid. Under Armour is most of America, which is suburbs and white kids. Nike is cool and basically the ‘hood, black kids who like LeBron [James], Kyrie Irving, KD [Kevin Durant] and [Michael] Jordan.”
The ‘Chef’ Currys have already been spotted on hipsters who are likely wearing them in an ironic way and collecting them for the future resale sneaker market.
The shoe will be remembered – and may even sell extremely we, but it’s just not a huge cultural shoe that will sell millions. Maybe a year from now, they’ll release something that will have that effect. And it doesn’t have to be that for it to be an internet meme.
The “Chef” Curry white low-top will come and go, and the social media spin won’t affect the Curry brand gravy train at Under Armour, Kim said. Curry “is the definitive basketball star. He’s built that brand’s shoe business, and in helping it go from being a jock’s brand or one that only gym rats wear, to one that’s getting cooler to wear.
“You know sneaker collectors are going after them now,” Kim continued. “The Under Armour people are already preparing for the next iteration of the big Curry shoe. They’ll take this in stride and move on to the next one. They might even learn from the whole thing.”
Curry is responsible for turning Under Armour into a brand that sells out its sneakers as soon as a new one hits the market, Brown continued. “It might not sell out in your Foot Locker on 125th Street in Harlem, [New York], or the South Side of Chicago, or in South Central, [California], but it sells out in the malls and online.”