Part 2: Interview with ShoeZeum’s Jordy Geller

In the second portion of the interview, Lindsey O’Connor and Jordy Geller discuss the curatorial choices Geller made when organizing the ShoeZeum, and he talks about his experiences with Nike and friendship with Tinker Hatfield.

Lindsey O’Connor: I’ve seen images of the ShoeZeum where you arrange the shoes and then incorporate toys or other whimsical elements that speak to childhood or nostalgia. Can you talk a little bit about how you are choosing the objects you’re putting in the ShoeZeum and how those supplement the shoes?

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Props and toys complement the shoes at the ShoeZeum

Jordy Geller: I always thought that the toys and the props would bring the shoes to life. None of the toys and props are arbitrary, they were actually the real inspirations behind the shoes. Nike will take inspiration from something iconic from pop culture, like Homer Simpson, Marge Simpson, or Quagmire. They’ll make a pair of shoes using the colors and patterns that Quagmire wears, or make shoes that allude to Marge or Homer Simpson. Brands don’t always pay for the rights to do this; it’s sort of a hush-hush, wink-wink thing. When they release the shoe, the sneakerheads will call it the “Homer Simpson” or the “Marge Simpson.” Nike will never formally acknowledge this shoe was inspired by this or that, but I thought it was a real opportunity to bring the shoes to life by displaying them with what they’re inspired by.

First, I just started collecting the shoes; then later, it occurred to me that I could display them and bring them to life with props. I started going to swap meets, flea markets, and Wal-Mart, places where I could find stuff for dirt cheap. When you have a collection of more than 2,000 shoes, and you walk through these places, it’s very easy to be inspired by stuff, “Oh, there’s Spiderman, and I’ve got Spiderman shoes.” Bringing the shoes to life was as much fun as collecting the shoes. I feel like the ShoeZeum was really a springboard for pop culture. You can’t help but reminisce about the things you grew up with, whether you like shoes or not, when you’re at the ShoeZeum. Plus, the brands can’t knowledge many of these connections because of legal issues, so I felt like I was in a unique position to do things with Nikes that even Nike couldn’t do.

LO: I’m really fascinated by the custom Jordans Tinker Hatfield made for you and your wife for your wedding. How have your personal relationships with the Nike staff developed, what did that mean for the ShoeZeum, and how has that affected or informed your collecting?

The Air Jordan 11s customized by Tinker Hatfield for Geller and his wife, Natalie

The Air Jordan 11s customized by Tinker Hatfield for Geller and his wife, Natalie

JG: I had just built the ShoeZeum when I decided to make DVDs and send them to the Nike executives. The DVD featured Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, Field of Dreams, and then me turning a warehouse into a shoe museum. I played Madonna’s “Holiday” for the holiday-inspired shoes, and Ice Cube’s “Today Was A Good Day,” and “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses. I sent these DVDs with my resume and a handwritten letter to 112 people at Nike. I also sent these letters to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, and entertainers who were sneakerheads.

About two months later, Eric Sprunk, who’s now the C.O.O. of Nike, responded to me during halftime of the Superbowl. He said “Hey, I’m watching your DVD.” I was like, “Oh my god this bigwig at Nike is watching my DVD instead of the Superbowl halftime show?” He said he wanted to visit, so Mark Parker and the top seven executives at Nike boarded their private jet and flew down and took a tour. Tinker Hatfield was with them, and he and I have kept in touch since.

When Natalie and I decided we were going to get married on 11/11, I reached out to Tinker and was like “Hey, we’re getting married on 11/11, would you consider customizing shoes for my wife and me, and maybe we’ll wear them?” Basically he said “Sure, tell me your story.” I sent him a couple of paragraphs about me, Natalie, and how we met. When I got the shoes I was like, “There’s no way I’m wearing these. They are freaking priceless relics; I’m not going to put these on my feet!” Tinker and I still keep in touch to this day.

SCB: In USA Today, you stated that with the exception of those worn by Michael Jordan and LeBron James, the shoes in the ShoeZeum were unworn. Do you believe someone can wear their collection and still call themselves a collector or does the collection need to be unworn?

JG: Definitely people can wear them and still be a collector. Remember those Venn diagrams with three interlocking circles? That’s how I look at sneakerheads. Some people wear their shoes; some people just collect them, some people do both. No one is any more or less of a collector because of their personal preference. I’m friends with a guy named Kenny on Instagram. He goes by @ThePerfectPair, and he wears everything. $10–20,000 shoes, he wears them. I wouldn’t dare say he’s not a sneaker collector or a sneakerhead; he’s just as big or maybe bigger than me by some people’s estimations because he wears them.

Geller has three pairs of the Nike What the Dunk along with the 64 pairs of sneakers that make them up.

Geller has three pairs of Nike What the Dunks along with the 64 pairs of sneakers that make them up.

SCB: Do you have any regrets about selling portions of your collection? Anything you wish you would have kept?

JG: No, I really don’t. There are shoes from time to time that I miss, but I was able to obtain everything I ever wanted, and so much of the joy was in the chase and the

hunt. I’ve got this set of shoes called What the Dunk. Nike made the What the Dunk, a dunk shoe that is a mix of a bunch of other different dunks. I got this idea that I was going to get the What the Dunk and then get all of the 64 shoes that make them up. It literally took seven years to finally complete the set. I still have them all, and the set is worth about $100,000. I’ll probably be selling them sometime soon. It was really the joy and the chase for those seven years of being able to obtain them all and the memories of those experiences. I don’t feel the need to hold all this stuff until I die. That doesn’t make sense.

Geller's complete set of What the Dunks worth an estimated $100,000

Geller’s complete set of What the Dunks worth an estimated $100,000

SCB: What is the most extreme measure you’ve ever taken to obtain a pair of shoes?

JG: I’ve called up relatives of people who have passed away to buy shoes. Something kind of funny happened recently: there was a release of shoes at the mall. I called the mall up and pretended that my wife and I were mall walkers so we could get into the mall early. I’m always scheming. I’m always trying to figure out whatever I have to do to get to the shoes.

Shayla Black

Shayla Corinne Black served as the microsite curatorial intern for “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture” exhibition for the Fall 2015 term. In addition to working with the AFA, Shayla is a second year Master candidate at Bard Graduate Center where her academic focus is African-American Menswear from the 20th-21st centuries.

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