Something new afoot in Pats owner’s box
So when did 73-year-old Robert Kraft, billionaire sports team owner, become a sneaker fashion maven?
And can his love affair with cool, custom-made orthopedic footwear — his fellow, foot-sore senior citizens can sympathize, for sure — make Pats fans rush to shoe store registers?
Members of Patriots Nation, schooled on Tom Brady’s GQ-worthy modeling career and Bill Belichick’s hoodie fetish, will soon have a chance to answer with a fashion statement of their own.
All season, Kraft, known for his silky pink ties and white collared shirts, has been sporting a pair of specially designed low-top sneakers. The model he’s worn the most — black with white soles, a dark Nike “swoosh” down the side, and a New England Patriots logo on the tongue — have been seen on “CBS This Morning” and on shoe collector sites like sneakerwatch.com.
Starting Monday, Kraft’s below-the-ankle makeover gets even wider exposure when his “owner’s model” Nike, christened Patriots Lunar Force 1, goes on sale to the public.
Yes, if it has been your dream, you really can walk in Robert Kraft’s shoes.
“It’s just a fun thing that’s blossomed and evolved into something I didn’t expect,” Kraft said in an interview. “It certainly wasn’t planned.”
What is planned? During Sunday’s home game against Detroit, the Patriots coaching staff and nonplaying team members will all be outfitted with the kicks.
Kraft has been spotted wearing his custom Nikes just about everywhere, from the sidelines at Gillette Stadium to red-carpet events like the Oscars and Grammys. He’s also been seen stepping out in a blue pair accented with a flaming red swoosh, and in a glittery red-white-and-blue model presented to him last summer by former Patriots star Ty Law at his induction into the football team’s Hall of Fame.
Kraft gamely slipped on the bedazzled sneakers and did a slightly less-than-funky dance onstage with Law.
Blue with a gray swoosh and Pats logo on the tongue, the new shoes retail for $150. A portion of sales will support the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, a charitable arrangement Kraft, who has turned down product endorsements in the past, insisted upon.
Kraft says that rock stars, business tycoons — even fashion mogul Tommy Hilfiger, a Kraft pal — have asked how they might get a pair. So, apparently, have a number of fashion-minded women, including Kraft’s steady companion, actress-dancer Ricki Noel Lander, although for now the sneakers will come in men’s sizes only.
The shoe’s design is both old and new, according to Nike spokesman KeJuan Wilkins. The Lunar Force line itself is an updated version of the Air Force model, introduced back in 1982 and considered a “classic” among sneaker aficionados.
“We wanted to update [the older-style sneaker] with the best new technology,” Wilkins said, “and bring style to innovation.”
Enter Kraft. Three years ago, bothered by foot pain while wearing business shoes, he asked his team’s Nike contacts about designing something more comfortable for him.
Kraft liked the shoes so much, he shelved his other footwear and began wearing the sneakers all the time. (He thinks he even wore them on a White House visit, although he’s not certain.)
Friends, colleagues and complete strangers took notice.
“I’ve worn them with black tie, with jeans and a sports jacket, with a T-shirt and shorts,” Kraft said. “People stop me on the street and tell me how cool they look. I’ve had inner-city kids tell me how hip I am.”
Indeed. Then in May, Kraft introduced Nike chief executive Mark Parker at a Boston College event. He told Parker how much he loved the sneakers and about the feedback he’d been getting. Parker proposed producing an owner’s model, and Kraft agreed.
The shoes, patterned after Kraft’s, will be available in limited quantities and sold only through the company’s website and at the Patriots pro shop in Foxborough and Nike’s retail store in Boston.
Nike, which spends roughly $3 billion annually on marketing, has not mass-produced any other shoe specifically designed for a franchise owner like Kraft. Wilkins does point out, however, that the company does allow individuals to go online and create their own sneaker design, including adding the color and logo of their favorite team.
As for Kraft, he still cannot quite believe how one unlikely hipster’s choice of footwear — with all due respect, he’s no Tom Brady — has gotten so much attention. He might ask the UGG folks. They know that playbook well.