Concept FiveFingers Break from Barefoot
Word has made it my way that Vibram Italy recently showcased some concept Vibram FiveFingers — pre-production models — that feature a new sole. And if you're a fan of "barefoot shoes," loosely defined as shoes that let your feet function as they would barefoot (better defined here), you're not going to like what I'm about to show you.
Where to begin? Well, like a band-aid, it's probably best to rip this one off and show you what we're working with ... after the jump.
These Five-Toed-Boots Feet-ure a Lift.
Ignore the unusual dual-zipper-laced-boot upper (which is fairly interesting stylistically) and zone in right no those soles.
If you're like me, you might be fixating on the thick soles under heel and forefoot — or perhaps the lifted arch has caught your eye. Maybe you've noticed how the toes still feature the trademark tread of the standard Trek FiveFingers sole except that they are set floating above the ground.
But what's really going on here? If you're into "barefoot shoes," should we withhold judgment on these until we know more?
Before I answer these questions, allow me to stretch credulity further. Here's one of the doozies Vibram Italy mocked up on their new, thicker FiveFingers sole. It's simultaneously reminiscent of the never-produced Cortina FiveFingers (Bear-ish barefoot shoes that were still incredibly minimalist as they were built on the Classic Vibram FiveFingers sole) and the women's Kanga FiveFingers high-boot (built on the Trek sole, so comparatively pretty minimalist compared to this new batch of concept, "fashion forward" toe shoes). Feast your eyes:
Chewbacca called. He wants his
feet lower legs back.
What's really going on with these soles?
We don't have to wonder much about these new concept soles thanks to a helpful Press Release that's made it's way into my inbox. First, I don't hear these will be making their way to the United States. For those following along to prior releases, this should come as no surprise. Unlike prior releases that didn't cross the pond (Ahh the Sorrento — a great casual VFF that just can't make it to America ... Review coming soon!), I'm not sure many in the U.S. are going to lose sleep if these new FiveFingers don't make it.
These thicker-soled FiveFingers are aimed at casual, everyday wear. They feature a design built around "the 5 key areas of footwear: toes, forefoot, waist, heel and midsole." Read it and weep (emphasis and comments mine):
5 separate toes: the Vibram® sole is designed to allow the greatest freedom of movement to the toes, both in bending and in extension. [More on this below!]
Forefoot: the elevated drop increases the rolling speed of the foot between the metatarsal area and the toes: a small step between the forefoot and the toes induces the foot to “fall” forward in the push (propelling) phase, facilitating walking. When in posture, the toes raised from the ground are free to move both ways (bending and extension). [This is pretty far removed from a barefoot experience — elevated toes when standing under load? Does walking locomotion really need a faster rolling speed?]
Waist: the stability of the foot, both when walking and standing still, is guaranteed by a semi-rigid anatomical shank, designed to support the arch of the foot and reduce fatigue in the foot. [Yes. Stability and arch support are built in]
Heel: a large surface area that optimizes stability. The rear part is mobile, increasing cushioning in the first stage of contact with the ground. [Pretty much like every traditional, heeled shoe ever made]
Midsole: thin and made of soft EVA, ensuring a balanced foot pressure distribution and protecting from the impacts that typically occur when walking. [Just how thin? Not sure. A silver lining, perhaps]
What do we make of these?
I don't think we can call these concept Vibram FiveFingers "barefoot" or "minimalist shoes." Do you?
Built in arch support and stability shanks—thanks but no thanks. Sure, if you feel you need some arch support in your shoes, well, that's your prerogative. I know Rob uses orthotics when he's running in his typically minimalist/racing flat shoes (when he's not experimenting with running in Crocs!), but he also runs longer than most anyone and has been doing so for twenty years (Amassing some fifty thousand miles running). I can't imagine the intended use of these shoes requiring that sort of support, but I could be wrong.
Meanwhile, the suspended toe pockets that float in mid-air thanks to the lifted heel and forefoot are certainly not normal. That is, unless you spend your days standing on the edge of a diving board, toes dangling over the edge.
Speaking of water. These soles bring up an inevitable question: has Vibram jumped the shark?
The future of Vibram FiveFingers.
Reminder: these are concept FiveFingers. Reminder two: it's important not to get wound up too much about shoes!
While these thicker-soled FiveFingers may ultimately make it into production (I'd guess limited to Europe), I bet Vibram's Italian-grounded operations are just having a little fun and experimenting with the five-toed concept.
(I do wish I couldn't make the comparison of these to the Skele-toes Voltage but ...)
After all, Vibram is based out of Milan, one of the four capitals of fashion in the world. So while Vibram FiveFingers have exploded for use in running, fitness, and pursuing an overall healthy, primal lifestyle, they're still the progeny of a company based out of a city where fashion is often synonymous with bizarre — Milano, Italy.
This isn't a dig at the Italians, but if we look back on the history of the brand, it's helpful to remember that the original FiveFingers were made as a sort-of novelty. They were made to be, if anything, a shoe for yachting. Toe shoes were to be an eccentricity and not something to revolutionize footwear.
It's just that, well, toe shoes did revolutionize footwear (even if most minimalist shoes being produced these days lack articulated toes!).
Maybe we let Vibram have their fun—while I'm sure many of you are like me and figure these new five-toed soles are an instant no-go. In reality, they probably aren't that bad, but I guess I've just come to expect Vibram to put out stuff I'm probably going to like. Here, I just can't suspend disbelief.
That's my take for now. I'm open to having my mind changed, believe it or not, but it would take something ... well ... revolutionary.
What do you think?
NEW URBAN TECHNOLOGY
NEW URBAN TECHNOLOGY
8/11 January 2013
Creator of innovations that have overturned the standards of comfort, performance and safety, Vibram® continues to revolutionise contemporary footwear with a new product. The result of a research and development process supported by the exclusive know-how of the Albizzate brand, it is designed for urban use and stands out for its highly innovative potential on a technological, stylistic, functional and performance level. It is perfect for active comfort during everyday life: from walking and leisure to all areas of urban life, in which the comfort of the foot is an essential condition for the psychophysical well-being of the person.
Technology applied to the sole.
The design of the sole is highly advanced. It is an expression of the expertise gained by Vibram® thanks to the know-how acquired from the Vibram FiveFingers® product during studies on the anatomy of the foot, as well as research and field testing. The technical and functional innovations invest the 5 key areas of footwear: toes, forefoot, waist, heel and midsole.
5 separate toes: the Vibram® sole is designed to allow the greatest freedom of movement to the toes, both in bending and in extension.
Forefoot: the elevated drop increases the rolling speed of the foot between the metatarsal area and the toes: a small step between the forefoot and the toes induces the foot to “fall” forward in the push (propelling) phase, facilitating walking. When in posture, the toes raised from the ground are free to move both ways (bending and extension).
Waist: the stability of the foot, both when walking and standing still, is guaranteed by a semi-rigid anatomical shank, designed to support the arch of the foot and reduce fatigue in the foot.
Heel: a large surface area that optimizes stability. The rear part is mobile, increasing cushioning in the first stage of contact with the ground.
Midsole: thin and made of soft EVA, ensuring a balanced foot pressure distribution and protecting from the impacts that typically occur when walking.
The new product is available in two models - boot and sneaker. The “vintage-mountain" inspired boot is made of soft leather and nylon, ensuring durability and performance even in the coldest temperatures. The "building structure" inspired sneaker is made of breathable mesh and 3M material, for safety when used at night and offers a neoprene sock, increasing stability of the foot and a better grip on the heel.
Image of press release: