Converse is hoping a focus on fashion can push its iconic, but aging, Chuck Taylor sneaker to its next phase.
“Forever Chuck” is the first campaign under the guidance of CMO Julien Cahn, who joined the Boston-based brand last summer from parent company Nike. The three-part video series centers around what Converse considers to be the three cultural movements that established the Chuck Taylor as a classic sneaker: film, L.A. hip hop and fashion.
“Chucks, From the Runway to the Streets” tells the story of the Chuck Taylor’s relationship with high fashion. In the video clip, model Winnie Harlow hosts interviews in London and Paris with fashion personalities like Etudes Studio’s Jeremie Egry, Dazed’s Emma Hope Allwood and the members of Gucci Gang, a clique of Parisian teenage street style stars.
“The story focuses on individuality and self-expression, showcasing one of the most influential cultural movements throughout history,” said Ricky Engelberg, global vp of digital and brand communications at Converse. “We’ve created a snapshot of how Chucks are a part of the world of style.”
The brand is under all new management, with two fellow Nike expats joining Cahn at the top: CEO Davide Grasso, formerly Nike’s CMO, and vp of design and innovation Sean McDowell, a past Nike designer, also joined Converse last summer. The team is regrouping to make sure Converse, a century-old company, stays relevant with younger generations. Preceding the “Forever Chuck” campaign, Converse released the Chuck Modern, a new iteration of the sneaker made with a lightweight design in all-black and all-white versions.
Moves to innovate in both marketing message and design come at a time of increased competition. Streetwear style has entered the mainstream fashion lexicon in full force, and the sneaker resale market has ballooned into a $1 billion industry. Boutiques like Kith and Opening Ceremony, newcomers like Adidas’s Yeezy Boosts and peers like Vans are all after the same young, hip demographic.
With the new campaign, Converse is making a point to embrace the of-the-moment trend of high-low fashion often seen outside of runway shows during fashion week. It’s not the first time the brand has found a fit in high-end fashion: Like Vans, Converse has dabbled in fashion collaborations to boost its profile and spark a sense of urgency in a limited-edition sneaker drop, including one with Italian brand Missoni.
“For a few years there, Converse was going through a rough spot,” said Yu-Ming Wu, CMO of sneaker reseller Stadium Goods. “Then they started working on under-the-radar partnerships without too much press or buzz, boutiques became involved and it boosted their business. It made Converse cool again.”
The pressure to evolve for a younger customer meets tension when it comes to messing with the classic Chuck Taylor shoe. In 2015, Converse launched the Chuck Taylor II, a new model that was meant to be a more comfortable, athletic version of the sneaker. After initial buzz, the style failed to push the needle in terms of sales. Most recently, in December 2016, Nike reported that Converse’s revenue was at $416 million, up 5 percent from the same time the year before. In 2015, the company had reported a sales surge of 21 percent.
The Chuck Modern’s first release is the Lux sneaker, a premium leather version of the shoe selling for $140 through retail partners like Kith and Blends. To drive home the fashion side of Converse, “Chuck, From the Runway to the Streets” is running on Instagram Stories and Snapchat.
The “Forever Chuck” video in Converse’s Instagram Story
“The film celebrates the Chuck as a cultural icon, past, present and future, through people helping define the future,” said Engelberg. “The story was created with platforms like Instagram Stories and Snapchat Discover in mind from Day One.”