The son of influential sculptors William Turnbull and Kim Lim, London-born Alex Turnbull grew up at the nexus of artistic endeavour, expression and creativity. ‘Our home was the kind of environment where it seemed completely normal to have big section of metal girder painted bright red in the back garden,’ says Alex.
Wearing a prized, secondhand pair of yellow and blue Vans imported from the US, Alex chose to express himself through an alternative art form. He began skateboarding in the 1970s, navigating the uneven paving stones around the UK capital to get to the ready-made ramps and angles of the Southbank Centre’s subterranean Undercroft area beneath the rain-scarred concrete of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. His appraisal of London’s brutalist landmark was thrillingly reductive. Can I skate it? Can I ride up it?
Combining a home-grown punk rock attitude with a thing for the Californian lifestyle aesthetic, the maverick skater made Vans a crucial part of his style. ‘They were rare and very hard to get back then,’ he says. ‘In the 1970s, if you had tube socks and a pair of Vans, you were king. They were this unattainable thing. We’d see them in American skateboard magazines. The classic colourways of blue and red, set against the intense beauty of Californian skies and backyard pools. England just wasn’t like that.’
‘In the 1970s, if you had tube socks and a pair of Vans, you were king.’
Despite the greyer local skies, Alex flowered into a champion British skateboarder before forming the cutting-edge industrial funk band 23 Skidoo and maturing into a boundary-crossing, pop-culture polymath with a portfolio taking in martial arts, percussion, modelling, DJ-ing, fine art curation and film-making.
He may not skate much anymore but the philosophical arc of the rider, the skater’s easy, alert, adaptable mentality and eye for a symbiotic, free-flowing line across art, design, clothing and music remain a constant. ‘I think that point when you stop thinking consciously and react unconsciously is the highest form of expression in any creative endeavour,’ he says.
For our film, Alex wears Vans ComfyCush Era, a reinvigoration of the classic Era silhouette with elevated comfort technology. A co-moulded construction of foam and rubber combines both comfort and grip, while a newly configured upper focuses on tongue stabilisation. The one-piece constructed interior provides improved fit and feel, with added arch support and new moisture-wicking lining materials.
Vans set itself a challenge a year and half ago to build what it calls ‘360-degree comfort’ into a shoe that has been a street-wear staple for generations without destroying its essentialist appeal and its pure, formal credentials. ‘We asked ourselves, how can we make the most comfortable version of a classic shoe?’ says Matthew Pino, Vans’ global product merchandising manager, ‘and how do we hide all the comfort of a modern running shoe into something that looks like a classic?’
Vans ComfyCush Era reinvigorates a classic with elevated comfort technology
The answer is ComfyCush technology, a kind of new internal infrastructure. The sole has a forgiving foam core squeezed into vulcanised rubber, ensuring a softer ride but with no loss of that trademark traction. Crucially, all these new inner workings are just that, elegantly concealed in a classic design.
The shoes adopted by maverick skate stylists like Alex Turnbull are now kinder, gentler and more forgiving underfoot. The Era has been reconsidered, redefined and improved… but only on the inside.
Video shot at BuckleyGrayYeoman’s Dept W in east London