The rebirth of cool.
It’s a little after 11:00am and this demure room in New York’s upscale Soho Grand hotel is roaring with laughter. The person on the couch is the center of attention and the reason for the hilarity that has just ensued. “Today’s [basketball] players embellish that money doesn’t give you style,” he observes while gesturing for emphasis. “A lot of these guys have money but they don’t have style. You can’t buy style!” And thus the roaring began. Who is this man? What makes him so qualified to comment on others’ fashion choices? His name is Walt “Clyde” Frazier. And since he gave birth to flamboyant trends decades ago that some are still following today, there’s arguably nobody more appropriate to be critiquing today’s fashion trends than him.
Walter Frazier, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia in the spring of 1945. It’s hard to believe for anyone that knows even the smallest details about him, but Walt wasn’t always a style maven. In fact, he sprang from very humble beginnings that seem completely opposed to what he would eventually become. “I’m the oldest of nine kids so when I was coming up I didn’t have a lot,” Clyde recalls. “But my mother always stressed being neat.” He hangs on that last word a bit, giving a slight hint that this might be an indication of what’s to come. “Whatever you wear, be neat,” he repeats. So little Walter would rotate his clothes, wearing “the same thing every other day” but always keeping everything neat, clean and looking good. While there were no shopping sprees to be had-not yet, anyway-little Walter was definitely a fan of clothes. “My father is a good dresser,” Clyde states. “When I was growing up he was always wearing nice clothes. I can remember as a kid putting on his shoes, walking around in his clothes trying to emulate him.” This impression never left Clyde and his whole life he’s always enjoyed fashion. But even as late as college he was still conservative, not showing any stylistic flashes of the icon he would become. “When I was in college I wore penny loafers and button down shirts,” he explains. Soon after that, though, something changed him. Something caused Clyde’s latent panache to come out with a bang and the ho-hum penny loafers never came out of the closet again. That something was the bright lights and exhibitionist flair of New York City in the 1960s.
“When I came to New York, I started to see my teammates… and just walking around the city, which was very fashion-conscious, I acquired this taste.” This taste would be for the exotic, for something that others weren’t wearing. From high-class mink coats to an endless supply of dress shoes, Clyde stepped out in style and always proudly marched to his own distinct beat. “Me, I’m an eccentric dresser,” he states with added emphasis on the last two words. “When I go to a tailor I say 'Show me something you think no one would wear.’ That’s probably what I’m interested in.” To further explain, he recounts a time when he walked down Fifth Avenue, “back when everyone was in suits and all dressed up,” and started putting things together. Odd things. “I would see different colors together that you’d never think would work,” he adds. “So that’s what I like, to put the unusual colors together when I wear something.” Make no mistake, though, this was never about pushing the limits of common decency by intentionally sticking out. “I have to like it first,” he explains with punctuation. “Then I hope that other people like it. But if they don’t… I just say ‘Well they’re just jealous, I know I look good.’” Clyde’s uniqueness was genuine, not the vapid kind adopted solely to impress others, and he boasted unflappable self-confidence. That self-assurance also extended to the basketball court, where Clyde was firmly establishing himself as one of the greatest players ever.
The Original Hustla’: In this undated archive photo, Walt “Clyde” Frazier rolls in to just another day at the office in his “distinct” and inimitable style. And it’s a good bet the satchel he’s carrying contains a pair of the shoe pictured here: his namesake PUMA Clyde, which the company recently re-released in limited quantities.
Most people only remember one thing about the legendary Game 7 of the Knicks-Lakers 1970 NBA Finals. Introductions are being called and Willis Reed, who was sidelined with an ankle injury, dramatically limps onto the court. He proceeds to score the first two buckets of the game and an inspired Knicks squad never looks back, taking the game and the series in dramatic fashion. But while Reed gets the kudos for his amazing return that undoubtedly lifted his team, it was Frazier that dominated and brought the championship to New York. With 36 points, 19 assists and five steals, Clyde played the type of game that he had mastered; efficiently taking shots when he had the hot hand, keeping his teammates involved with deft passing when the defensive pressure increased and creating transitional baskets with thefts courtesy of his lightning-quick hands. As a player, Clyde had a stunningly well-rounded game but the most impressive part of it never showed up in a stat book. To experience it, one would have to see the man play. With startling quickness and seemingly effortless grace, Clyde raced down the court playing hard on both ends, all the while making it look too easy. The greats always adapt their skills and Clyde was no different. He used his elegance to lull his opponents, luring them into a false sense of security. As a player thought he had just enough space to shoot the J, he would find that Clyde had impossibly closed the gap. While a helpless PG surveyed the court to set up his next play, Clyde would swiftly snatch the ball and turn it into an easy layup. It was all so smooth. In the end, he brought two championships, an unforgettable pairing with Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and copious amounts of cool to New York basketball. In 1987, twenty years after he started his career with the Knicks, Walt “Clyde” Frazier was elected to the Hall of Fame. A few years later he would have the ultimate honor bestowed upon him as Clyde was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. All this and he was also the first basketball player to have a signature shoe, too. Clyde undoubtedly left an indelible legacy on the court and changed the landscape of the sneaker world forever. So it’s only fitting that PUMA would honor Clyde with a top-shelf reissue of his classic sneaker, right? It’s not quite that simple. Unbelievably, none of this would have happened if one man hadn’t stepped out of his comfort zone and pursued his passion full-time. Sneaker freaks, say hello to Adam Leaventon.
A little over a year ago, Adam was splitting his time between practicing law and feeding his sneaker obsession. A celebrated collector, Adam was known mostly for vintage kicks (he even sports the name Air Rev on Niketalk) and his collection has even been displayed publicly. Then one day he took a leap of faith that serves as inspiration for sneakerheads everywhere; Adam took his passion and expertise over to PUMA, making a career out of his hobby by becoming a Product Line Manager. Shortly after arriving at the brand, ideas were thrown around for an upcoming vintage line, From The PUMA Archive. Several models were discussed but one seemed to jump out due to its extensive heritage - the Clyde. Once they had settled on the shoe, there was still one big obstacle. Over the years, PUMA lost the original last for the Clyde so making an exact replica would prove difficult. Adam stepped up and offered an original deadstock pair from his collection, complete with original vintage price sticker still on the box, for PUMA to replicate. Several of the company’s top engineers and designers pored over the vintage shoe piece by piece, stitch by stitch until they had re-created what is definitely one of the most accurate retro products ever released. This may seem like a small detail to some, but in the scope of the Clyde story it’s actually quite important. Painstakingly recreating the shoe from a vintage pair shows PUMA’s dedication to its consumers and its legacy. Today, retro products rule the marketplace and cashing in by churning out old models is common. But in the case of the Clyde, and surely the rest of the From The PUMA Archive series, it’s about more than that. It’s about paying homage to an icon. It’s about revisiting cherished memories from days past. It’s about doing things right.
Three models of the shoe — navy in New York, natural in London and orange in Tokyo — dropped in limited numbers in each city. Included in the special sealed From the PUMA Archive box was a certificate of authenticity, shoe care instruction booklet and suede shoe brush. Each package also included a picture of Clyde Frazier sealed in a gold envelope, and one of every 25 was autographed by Clyde himself. After the initial release, the Clyde was sold exclusively at only six other shops in the United States and, with that, the limited edition version came to a close. It was a successful launch and the only one in recent memory to educate its consumers about the history and importance of the product. With the Clyde, PUMA treated it less like a shoe that is was selling than a legend it was revering.
“[Today] there are few leaders because they’re afraid of being ostracized or laughed at,” Clyde states. “They’re afraid to step out and do something so they all follow [but] it’s fun to be an individual, to step away from the crowd and leave your own footprint.”
True to form, Clyde himself would have it no other way.
[Editor’s Note: If you missed out on the initial limited release, don’t worry. Clyde-mania seems to be just getting started. PUMA has released a beautiful hardcover book featuring some vintage photos of Clyde and his classic advertisements, and the 4th quarter of 2005 will see the release of many new Clyde colorways. The new colors will offer plenty of variety and will be more widely available than the first three. From the classic black and white palette to much more adventurous color combos, there’s a Clyde out there sure to appeal to just about everyone. Slip into the suede and relive style in its most classic form.]