In a statement, Converse said, “Converse’s collaboration with fashion designer Rick Owens, the DRKSHDW brand incorporates the DRKSHDW pentagram logo, which has been used in its line for many years. The pentagram, which has many different associations, is in no way a Converse commentary on religion, nor does it replace the iconic “All Star” logo on our shoes. “
Yet if the fury online was overblown, it wasn’t even the first time this year that a satanic shoe angered Christians. In March, Lil Nas X released the “Satan Shoe”, an Air Max 97 shape tweaked by the joker collective MSCHF, to contain human blood and featuring satanic images such as an inverted cross a pentagram on the tongue. This shoe, which sold out in less than a minute, angered not only Christian social media users, but Nike as well, who filed a trademark dispute against MSCHF. Nas, a certified social media black belt, satirized the controversy in the video for his song “Industry,” which shows the rapper serving time following Nike’s trial.
So what about sneakers and Satan? I asked Kirby, who is also the author of a book that chronicles the hype priest movement called PreachersNSneakers: Authenticity in the Age of For-Profit Faith and (Budding) Celebrities. “The bottom line is that people almost universally talk about sneakers,” he said of the associations. “It shines the spotlight very directly on the brand by tapping into one of the most provocative themes on the market. While sometimes negative, it does at least attract clicks, chat, hype, and possibly spend (these shoes are going crazy in the resale market). It’s worth noting that Converse went ahead with Pentagram imagery after the trial, although they are presumably well aware of the power of a controversial-fueled marketing campaign. Sneakers are almost sold out everywhere.
Owens, of course, has cultivated an adorable fan base who finds a sense of liberation in his embrace of the alternative or even reprehensible. Partnering with a brand like Converse puts Owens on a much larger stage, one with audiences so large it encompasses perspectives beyond Owens’ smaller group of fashion fans. In an age when most of the fashion imagery that crosses the industry bubble is celebrity fueled and relatively innocuous, Owens’ sneakers are the rare piece of true subcultural weirdness to cross that border. More and more brands favoring pop culture, from Balenciaga to Jacquemus, have bet on this strategy.