In 2002, Japanese streetwear brand Atmos did what no other brands had done before: they collaborated with Nike. While the idea of sneaker companies collaborating with individuals to create shoes had been going on for decades, never had a sneaker company worked with a streetwear brand, so Atmos essentially expanded the sneaker world simply by designing a shoe. They chose the Air Max 1, a sneaker renowned for its innovation in 1987 and regarded as one of the most famous sneakers of all time, and combined it with the Nike Air Safari to create the animal print Air Max 1 pictured below. The shoe is still coveted both in the states and abroad to this day. In fact, Air Maxes remain to this day one of the most popular shoes in Japan as a whole.
Now, why should you care about Atmos at all? The reason is simple: the creator of the brand, Hommyo Hidefumi, has ties to Philadelphia. Hommyo was, by his own admission, a terrible student. His grades in Japan meant he would not be able to attend a university, so he jumped ship in the early 1990s and studied at Temple University here in North Philly. Philadelphia, like many of the North Eastern cities at the time, was a mecca for sneakerheads, or people with significant interest in sneakers. One could find a plethora of shoe stores in most neighborhoods, and North Philly in particular carried enough to get Hommyo’s attention. He immediately recognized the staggering price difference between the shoes in the U.S. and the shoes in Japan. While vintage Air Jordans and Air Force Ones would cost as little five dollars in the states, Hommyo knew he could flip those for as much as $300 in Japan. He opened Chapter in Tokyo shortly after graduating, which is a small sneaker store that specializes in vintage kicks. Most of the inventory, however, came from Hommyo flying to New Jersey and Philadelphia, purchasing the shoes for incredibly low costs, and flipping them through Chapter with an appropriately high Japanese price markup.
With the success of Chapter, Hommyo went on to found Atmos, the streetwear/sneaker retailer also based in Tokyo. By that point, his brands had grown to such a height that he became one of the most influential people in the Japanese sneaker market, which put him in a particularly unique situation. Most sneaker stores are at the whim of the companies supplying them. For example, Nike usually decides which store or boutique received which product. However, Hommyo was so renowned that he received whatever he wanted for his boutiques. He was the one calling the shots, and as a result Nike decided to break barriers and work with him Atmos for the first ever collaboration between a streetwear brand and a sneaker company. His reach was so great, that pop culture magazine Complex listed him as the 29th most influential person in all of sneaker culture.
To this day, Hommyo has, by his own count, between two and three hundred collaborations with different sneaker companies. His most renowned, however, are his two renditions of the Air Max 1, both featuring different animal prints. The first design took the sneaker world by storm, as they were far more colorful and textured than any other Air Max 1 color-way at the time. The second, pictured above, featured Elephant Print made famous by the Air Jordan 3, and a turquoise Nike swoosh, and was rereleased this year for Air Max Month. Hommyo explains that his inspirations for such colorful, intense sneakers comes from Japanese culture. Most European and American collaborators use traditional, university colors. At the time of Hommyo’s first design, Harajuku fashion was taking off, displaying the best and brightest colors and prints the neighborhood had to offer. Atmos, conveniently enough, is located in Shibuya, not far from the Hokosha Tengoku – the pedestrian paradise – the gathering place of Harajuku’s colorfully clad community.
The future for Hommyo, and Atmos as a whole, is bright. The brand has dropped several collaborations this year alone, with the most recent Asics Gel Lyte III – done up in vibrant red and camouflage – releasing on August 11th. With these steady, incredibly sought after releases, it seems that Hommyo is here to stay as one of the greats in sneaker culture, and we have the city of Philadelphia to thank for introducing him to this world.