Footpatrol: The return of a legend

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Words: Adam Scotland & Alex Synamatix
Photography: Alex Synamatix

Back at the beginning of Summer, sneaker heads were greeted with the news that a giant name in UK sneaker history would be making it’s return to London, in the form of the newly located Footpatrol. After closing it’s doors in 2008, collectors and admirers were dealt a blow as it’s departure meant the loss of one of the county’s greatest sneaker locations, one that had gained notoriety across the globe thanks to it’s impeccable selection and huge collaborations.

When news first broke of the return, via a rather ominous splash page on the store’s website, the sneaker underground rumbled with anticipation, with plenty of rumors and opinions doing the rounds. The store returned under the ownership of the JD Group, something that was a point of contention for many heads. Many felt the new ownership would ruin the store’s original character and that it just “wouldn’t be the same”.

The store finally opened it’s new doors on Soho’s Berwick Street in late July this summer, and has spent the past month and a half shifting collectable kicks, alongside a selection of deadstock, to the country’s sneaker enthusiasts. We wanted to know a little more about just what was going on, and what we could expect to see on the shelves of the infamous store in the months and years to come, so it was time to delve a little deeper than the press release. We sat down with John Brotherhood to find out a little bit more about the store’s return, and just how big a difference the new ownership had made…

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“I’d been working in the industry and heard through the grapevine that things were set in motion for Footpatrol to return, but there was quite a period before anything actually appeared, It was in planning for a while. I think it was always going to be coming back in one form or another”

Originally opening in May of 2002, it wasn’t long before Footpatrol had made a name for itself, and the infamous gas mask logo became imprinted on the minds of sneaker heads across the globe. John, a self-confessed sneaker addict, once turning a trip to New York into a scavenging mission to find a pair of Nike Pocket Knifes and proceeding to wear them solidly for the next year, jumped at the chance to be involved. His 7 years experience and a background in designing kicks makes him the ideal man to head up the Footpatrol team.

“When the opportunity to be involved came up, I just said I’d love to do it, and after that, it was just a waiting game”

Footpatrol has re-opened in a new location, upgrading from it previous spot on Saint Annes Court for a slightly more accessible storefront, just around the corner on Berwick Street.

“The landlords on Berwick Street are actually buying up a lot of the units on the street, and the plan is to bring it back to the sort of street Carnaby used to be, with more individual stores”

Although it’s a little closer to the action of the main high street, you’d be forgiven for passing the store by without noticing.

“The store design is based around the style of Japanese boutiques. In Japan, space is very limited so a lot of the little boutiques are really hidden away in between buildings, so you have to almost hunt for the shop, rather than it being blatantly visible”

The store was designed by the Wilson Brothers, who are responsible for the interior design at the Nike 1948 store, amongst other things.

“Ben and Oscar are really into retail architecture and crazy mechanics which is reflected in some of the quirkier features of the store like the hidden door, sliding display units and wooden shell”

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Footpatrol features a ‘store within a store’ concept, leaving a large open space towards the front where customers are invited to spend some time soaking up the store’s atmosphere and chatting to the staff about sneakers.

“The idea originally was to have the sort of space as they do at the back of the Apple store, where they talk about computers and show you how to use things. We want to have a space where people can come in and talk about sneakers… and how to tie your laces [laughs]. We want the shopping experience to be more personal, where we can chat with our customers rather than just going through the motions of selling them the products”

John also let slip about the open area also being used as a gallery space in the near future, where brands can showcase their new product, but also for photographers and illustrators to display their work.

“Obviously the artists work we display will be related to sneakers. We’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline already”

John remained pretty tight-lipped throughout the majority of the interview; it’s clear that they don’t want to give too much away about the plans they have for the store, but we couldn’t resist the temptation to delve a little deeper and find out what sort of items will be gracing the shelves …

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“Well, I don’t want to spoil too much, but I can tell you that we are getting the Nike x Undercover ‘GYAKUSOU’ running collection, clothing and footwear … That’s the next big drop. In addition to that, we’re going to be bringing some smaller independent footwear brands into the store. The plan is to introduce some independent brands to the UK, like Footpatrol did before. There’s one brand coming soon that no one else is doing in the UK. It’s a cross between sneaker and formal footwear, and it’s really nice! But that’s all I can say. We’ve also got Alife, Vans Vault, and many more coming in soon.”

What are the plans with the Footpatrol clothing, do you plan to extend the line any further?

“Yes, that’s the plan. We’re already looking at other options. Obviously the famous Gas mask logo T-shirt will remain and will be always available but you will see it in many other forms. There will also be more accessories, not just clothing … there is a hefty list of things to come!”

What about collaborations… Footpatrol was known for some big name collabs, such as those with Nike (Epic ‘Hyperstrike’ Edition (2003), Air Stab & Air Max 90 packs (2005)), New Balance (576 pack (2007)), and Adidas (Campus pack (2007), AZX Footpatrol ZX 800 (2008)). Will you be bringing that element back to the store?

“They will be happening, that’s for sure, but I can’t tell you who with. It’s probably more likely to happen next year … these things take time.”

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Footpatrol is also pretty well known for its selection of deadstock sneakers, but we wondered, just how far back does the current dead stock go?

“I think the oldest is probably from 2005, an Air Force 180 which is actually on the shelves at the moment, we have a fair amount of Deadstock to draw upon, and we’ll keep filtering through over time, but like deadstock there’s a limit to it.”

One concern that seems to be going round the minds of a lot of sneaker fiends is expansion … will Footpatrol expand into new locations, moving away from that small boutique vibe in to a national sneaker chain?

“No, not at all. We may have to keep refreshing the space over time, but this will be the only one. We want to keep the ethos of the original store. There are plans for an online store, but this will be further down the line.”

We can put those fears of national expansion to rest and confirm that Team FP are very passionate about maintaining the reputation that they strived so hard to achieve in the past.

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We are more than happy that Footpatrol is finally back on the streets of London. For newcomers to the sneaker scene, it provides an opportunity to get acquainted with one of the UK’s biggest names, and for the OG heads, its the return of a certified legend. It’s clear that the new ownership provides little more than ‘buying power’, as with John and original Footpatrol co-founder Michael Kopelman still at the helm, the store is still very much in safe hands. With some big releases planned and the return of the much hyped Footpatrol collaborations, it’s an exciting time to be a London resident, but maybe not for the bank balance. We’re looking forward to more overnight camp outs for UK collabs and sneaker envy … it’s time that London reclaim it’s place in sneaker culture for years to come, not just in the history books.