How ‘We Own This City’ Reflects Baltimore’s Sneaker Culture

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“Silver Duncans are the #1 shoe here if you wear them you’re the man,” says owner Anthony “Boost” Colston a sneaker cleaning and restoration store in his hometown of Baltimore. “Of course you know it’s a Foamposite town, it’s a New Balance town, but if you’re wearing the silver Duncans, you’re the man.”

The silver Duncans, the Nike Total Air Foamposite Maxes, shine on the feet of an extra in We own this townthe new HBO series from Thread co-creator David Simon. We own this town, based on the nonfiction book of the same name, tells the story of corruption within the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trail Task Force and affected communities. The sneakers aren’t a central part of this story, but they do play a part in its setting.

“I wanted it to represent Baltimore to the fullest,” says Colston, who bought shoes for the show. “I asked them to make sure. There were certain shoes they needed that were staples here.

So in the second episode, a man shines his 1995 Impala with a pair of New Balance shoes on his feet. In an alley, behind yellow barricade tape, a limp body wears True Religion jeans and Foamposite Pros. Meanwhile, a man sits in a corner of Nike Flightposites. Another wears a retro Wes Unseld Bullets jersey and matching Reebok questions.

Costume designer DaJuan Prince has worked with David Simon since 2000 on shows like “The Wire” and “The Corner.” Image by Paul Schiraldi

The sneakers in We own this town were provided by Colston via costume designer DaJuan Prince, another Baltimorean, who met Simon on the set of the NBC show Homicide: life on the street in 1994. Prince has worked with Simon since The corner beginning in 2000. Prince prioritized making shoes true to the city and years depicted. The show moves through two decades through flashbacks, recreating specific events referenced in the Gun Trail Task Force investigation.

“They gave us the era and the location, and we basically moved away from the Baltimore style,” says Prince. “So that’s where I’m from, so I’ve been through the style and sneaker eras over the years.”

While Prince didn’t have the capital to really accumulate sneakers growing up, he was an admirer of them and familiar enough to know which belonged to different eras of the show and which didn’t. In one instance, he had to veto a suggestion to include Under Armor sneakers for a scene set in the early 2000s, before the Baltimore-based sportswear brand started making shoes.

Police officers in Baltimore in the HBO series We Own This City, one of them wearing Air Jordan 7s
A Baltimore cop wears Air Jordan 7s during a flashback scene in the series. Picture via HBO

“Sometimes we had to talk because certain shoes were really not popular in Baltimore at the time,” Prince explains. “So a lot of times we might have to change shoes or change colors.”

The production team reviewed body camera footage online of police officers involved in the events depicted in We own this town, which gave a first-person view of the outfits they sought to recreate. Colston says a friend of his was an ex of one of the cops featured on the show, so he had personal photos from which to draw the things he wore, like his Nike LeBron 12s and Damier Louis belt. Vuitton. Colston sold the same style of belt, along with approximately 350 pairs of shoes, to HBO for the series. The shoes he supplied came straight from the streets of Baltimore.

“Things people give away, shoes people forget to pick up,” he says, describing his sources. “I got shoes from people who were killed and I kept their shoes. I got shoes from people who actually murdered the guy.

In addition to selling shoes to the production team, he scoured hundreds of photos to create references for Baltimore fashion over the various years. Prince told him they needed notes on what people would wear in 2011, 2015 and 2017. He called Colston again for information on 2003 and 2004.

Anthony Boost Colston
Anthony “Boost” Colston helped provide sneakers for the HBO series “We Own This City.” Image via Colston

“I said cool, it was my era. I had everything,” Colston says. “From every Mitchell & Ness jersey to Coogis. I said I didn’t even need the pictures; I can just tell you everything they would wear. But I still sent the photos.

Prince did not have access to this level of resources early in his career as a costume designer. He says that when he started Thread, there wasn’t a big wardrobe budget, so the show had to go back to basic shoes that people could wear throughout a season. But as it grew in popularity, brands started shipping products.

On an episode of Complex’s Sneaker shopping from May, Thread Actor Idris Elba said Jordan Brand will provide promotional gear by the third season. Prince remembers Creative Recreation, a sneaker brand that hit its peak in the 2000s, offering merchandise to them as well.

“People just started sending in a lot of stuff for free to be on the show,” he says. “Creative Recreations really stuck with me because it was the ‘It’ shoe of the time, and the colorways. I remember it was a lot about the character of Marlo.

The sneakers of Thread are a keepsake for Jamie Hector, who played the show’s stony center Marlo Stanfield.

“I still have them,” Hector said. “I have most of Marlo’s sneakers. I boxed them.

The character of Hector in We own this town, det. Sean Suiter, wears no notable athletic shoes except for a pair of all-black Nike Air Force 1s. The very connotations of black Uptown as a sneaker for the morally bankrupt track with the murky character of the real life Suiter. The shoe was also a favorite of Hector’s youth.

“Those were my winter sneakers,” he says. “Spring, summer, I always got white on white. Winter, I always got black on black.

Did his all-black Air Force 1s have the same red flag status back then as the shoes do now?

“I’m a Brooklyn boy,” Hector jokes, “that’s probably why I saw so many people crossing the street.”

The Wire Kith collaboration modeled by Jamie Hector
Jamie Hector features in Kith’s “The Wire” collaboration campaign. Image via Kith

He remembers looking for shoes in his neighborhood at stores like Sneaker King. Hector dived into family shops on Utica, Flatbush and Church Avenues in search of Adidas, Diadoras and thick lace Pumas. He went further, to Harlem and the city. In Manhattan, he bought boots from David Z, the flagship retailer where Kith founded and recent Thread collaborater Ronnie Fieg made his debut.

“I used to always go there and get my Dolomites,” says Hector.

Although Hector understands the cultural significance of different shoes, he makes no contribution to what his characters wear. Between Colston and Prince, We own this town had the right resources to represent sneakers at the street level in Baltimore. On the contrary, there was a risk of oversaturation.

“I was actually looking at it and thinking, ‘Did we do too many gray New Balance 990s and 992s? “, said Prince.

New Balance We Own This City Trainers
The show’s customers have used a lot of New Balance sneakers, which are a staple in Baltimore. Image by Paul Schiraldi

An informal survey of local tastes confirmed to him that these models were as salient in the show as they should be.

“If you’re driving around Baltimore right now, you’ll see five out of 10 people with gray 990s or 992s,” Prince says. “So we made sure they were really prevalent in a bunch of scenes.”

In addition to reflecting the city’s broad sneaker taste, the show pays attention to when certain colorways and models appear in its timeline. In a scene set in 2004, a cop wears a pair of Air Jordan 7 “Raptors”, one of the first retros in footwear at that time. (The officer suffers – another cop kicks his leg after seeing his shoes stick out of a mess of bodies and assuming they belong to a criminal.) In another, set on March 26, a character wears the sparkling Air Max CB 94 as a nod to Air Max Day. This shoe was a moment of validation for Colston.

“Man, I was so happy,” he says. “I’m like, ‘I did this for the fucking culture. “”

The show has been a boon to him financially and personally. The wholesale sneaker purchase from HBO came as business was still slow for Colston during the pandemic. After that, seeing the completed episodes of We own this town as they aired for the past two months was an affirmation of his sneaker work.

“I wish I could scream, but my kids were sleeping because it didn’t happen until late,” Colston says. “But I was very excited. I was very excited, jumping up and down. I love this life I’m in now, really.

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