In a statement, Converse said, “Converse’s collaboration with fashion designer Rick Owens DRKSHDW brand incorporates the DRKSHDW pentagram logo design, which has been used in his line for many years. The pentagram, which has many different associations, is in no way a comment from Converse on religion, nor does it replace the iconic ‘All Star’ logo on our shoes.”
Still, if the online fury was overblown, this wasn’t even the first time this year that a Satanic shoe has angered Christians. In March, Lil Nas X released the “Satan Shoe,” an Air Max 97 form tweaked by the prankster collective MSCHF, to contain human blood and featuring satanic imagery like an inverted cross a pentagram on the tongue. That shoe, which sold out in under a minute, earned the ire not only of Christian social media users, but of Nike, which 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 as a result of Nike’s lawsuit.
So what is it 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 an Age of For-Profit Faith and (Wannabe) Celebrities. “The bottom line is that it almost universally gets people talking about the sneakers,” he said of the associations. “It shines a very direct spotlight on the brand by tapping into one of the most provocative themes out there. While sometimes negative, it at least draws clicks, discussion, hype and eventually spending (these shoes go crazy in the resale market).” It’s notable that Converse moved ahead with the Pentagram imagery after the lawsuit—though presumably they are well aware of the power of a controversy-fueled marketing campaign. The sneakers are almost sold out everywhere.
Owens, of course, has cultivated an adoring fanbase that finds a sense of liberation in his embrace of the alternative or even objectionable. Partnering with a brand like Converse puts Owens on a much larger stage, one whose audience is so large that it encompasses points of view beyond Owens’ narrower group of fashion diehards. In an era when most fashion imagery that breaks beyond the industry’s bubble is celebrity-fueled and relatively anodyne, Owens’s sneakers are the rare piece of genuine subcultural weirdness to cross that boundary. More pop culture-friendly brands from Balenciaga to Jacquemus have made their bones on this strategy.