So the other week I took a wander into Soho for the first of what will probably be many visits to the new Oi Polloi London store down on the corner of Marshall Street. For those less familiar, the OP guys made a venture into London having cut an impressive form up in Manchester. They’ve kind of made a name for themselves as the no nonsense, straight down the line ambassadors of classic menswear in a strictly British context. We’re talking solid rain jackets, straight-leg denim, slick pique polos and “trainers, not sneakers”. As Harold Melvin would say though, if you don’t know them by now, you will never never never know them. Lol, just kidding, you can totally get to know them because the Internet is an amazing tool.
Something I hear passed around about northern menswear is that it’s a lot more immune to wishy-washy marketing techniques and bollocks about aesthetic and visual storytelling than other places, something that Oi Polloi demonstrates spectacularly with their inimitable “oop-nyerth oop-nyerth” swagger. I was talking with somebody the other day about how great all the product descriptions on Palace’s online store are—“Quite gully, very spenny, considerably road” etc.—and they quickly pointed out that this was something Oi Polloi had been doing with their Mancunian tongue for a minute. But whilst Palace’s method has a subversive duality with its simultaneous legit road credentials and tongue-in-cheek exaggerated tone, Oi’s is much more pure. They’re probably one of the first stores to realise that the best way to sell to your people is to speak in a language that they understand, and the reason they’re so good at it is because it’s genuinely the language they speak.
Moving on. So I went down because they’ve just announced a collaboration with Reebok, reviving the lesser-known NPC ii model in a clean white colourway with a few subtle details dotted throughout. As we stood in the store, the very #menswear question was asked about what inspired them to make the shoe. Co-founder Nigel Lawson explained how Reebok’s Bolton roots always made it an essential British trainer company. One day they asked him to choose a shoe they could make for him. Reaching down beneath the till, he continues, ‘So I asked them to make this,’ and slams a battered, yellowing pair of trainers onto the counter. ‘I always really liked this trainer and they didn’t make them anymore, so I asked them to make some more, so they did.’
As far as shoe collaborations go, it couldn’t be much more plain. If this were an LA sneaker boutique or an outlandish Japanese streetwear brand you might be asking what’s going on, but as we’ve already mentioned, Oi Polloi is not any of those things. These guys are born with the blood of a culture of battered white tennis shoes and Reebok’s iconic dress-leather trainers. This wasn’t about making something nobody had ever seen before. On the contrary, it was about bringing something back that the guys already knew but hadn’t seen since. For all the subversion of marketing bullshit, there’s actually a story behind this shoe, and not some facile ‘We really like corned beef so we printed corn beef on the insole’ story either. No, it’s not a shoe for everyone, but it’ll certainly connect with the people it originally intended to connect with. But wait, doesn’t that sound just like cunning and effective marketing? Oh Manchester, I should never have doubted you.
The Oi Polloi x Reebok NPC ii model will be available in both Oi Polloi stores and online from 10am on Tuesday the 7th of July. There are 300 pairs available and they will retail for £75. Hey, there are “essential white leather trainers” and then there’s a white leather trainer that just might be essential. Do what you do, they’ll keep doing them, the world will keep turning, East is East, West is West, never the twain shall meet. Safe.