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Sneakers Unboxed at the Design Museum Den Bosch - Interview Maan Leo

May 11, 2022 2:23 PM
Sneakers Unboxed at the Design Museum Den Bosch - Interview Maan Leo

The Sneakers Unboxed exhibition has been brought to the Netherlands. The exhibition will be on display at the Design Museum in Den Bosch from May 5 to October 16, 2022. The exhibition shows about four hundred sneakers, each telling its own story. Maan Leo, manager of marketing communications at the Design Museum Den Bosch, explains in this interview with Sneakerjagers why this exhibition is so special.

Sneakers Unboxed to the Netherlands

Since May 5, 2022, the Sneakers Unboxed exhibition can be seen in the Netherlands. The exhibition was already on display at the Design Museum in London in 2020 and was brought to Den Bosch by curator Adriënne Groen. According to Maan Leo, it was a logical step for the exhibition to come to the Netherlands: "The Netherlands has a lot of unique subcultures that have played a big role in sneaker culture."

Maan Leo Sneakers Unboxed
Sneakers Unboxed Design Museum Den Bosch

This is also evident in this Dutch Sneaker Unboxed edition. For example, the current exhibition has a much wider selection than its predecessor in London. "The nice thing is that we have almost double the number of sneakers in our exhibition," says Maan. "Not only has the exhibition gotten bigger but the story is richer." Here, Maan cites Dutch subcultures. "The gabbers are present in the exhibition, but also the men of Patta and the works of Piet Parra."

Maan had a big role in the development of the exhibition. Despite not being a big sneaker fan herself before she started the exhibition, this has turned around since the exhibition: "I started loving sneakers because of the exhibition. You learn what kind of culture is behind them, that is very special."

Her personal favourite from the exhibit is the Martine Rose x Nike Monarch (2019). This sneaker has a striking upper with chunky bulges. "It looks a bit like an alien shoe and it's pink too," Maan explains grinning. "I would love to have that one."

The exhibition

The Sneaker Unboxed exhibition consists of four sections. In each section, an important element of sneaker history is told. The exhibition shows 100 years of sneaker history. From a Converse model from the 1920s to the latest Patta collab. "The exhibit starts at the 'Style' section," Maan explains. "Here you learn that the sneakers of today didn't just fall from the sky and that the models have a cultural history."

Young boys, Brooklyn, New York, 1981
Young boys, Brooklyn 1981 l Jamel Shabazz
angel moses new york city Jamel Shabazz
Angel & Moses, New York 1981 l Jamel Shabazz

According to Maan, it is the stories and the people behind the models that give the sneakers their value. "Think about the young people in Harlem, Run D.M.C., Michael Jordan and Walt Clyde Frazier. These are all people who have brought us to where we are today." The 'Style' section also highlights the influence of skate culture on the sneaker world, and we see how the first sneaker collectors began collecting unique models.

The second part is about the 'Tipping Point'. "In this part, you see how sneakers made a switch from streetwear to high-fashion," Maan says. "I remember when adidas started working with Yohji Yamamoto in 2000, this was really a thing at the time. People were wondering why that Japanese high-fashion brand was going to collaborate with a sports brand. Now such collaborations are quite normal."

Sneakers Unboxed Design Museum Den Bosch
Sneakers Unboxed Design Museum Den Bosch

Here, Maan points out collaborations with Off-White and Comme des Garçons. Artist collaborations are also shown in this section. For example, the Eminem x Nike Air Max 90 'Charity Series' (2006) can be seen, as well as the Nike Air Yeezy 2 'Red October' (2014) in collaboration with Kanye West.

"The third part of the exhibition is about 'Performance' and matches well with the DNA of our museum," says Maan. This part is mainly about the innovative technologies used in developing sneakers. "We are of course a design museum so this part is very interesting for us. How the shoe is designed and what materials are used in this process."

With sustainability in mind

The fourth part 'Sustainability and Circular Design' is about sustainability in the sneaker world. "Of course it's great to see the history and stories behind sneakers, but at the end of the day the sneaker industry is not very environmentally friendly," says Maan.

Sneakers Unboxed Design Museum Den Bosch
Peterson Stoop

In this section you can see big brands like Nike and adidas. You can also see small initiatives like Peterson Stoop, Elisa van Joolen and Helen Kirkum. "You can see in this section that the sneaker community is working on the problem, but that we are far from there. People are thinking about it, which is very important, but the fact is that the most sustainable sneaker is the one you leave in the store."

With this section, the museum wants to get visitors thinking. Sneakers tell a great story, but it is also important to think about how the pairs are made. "We ask you as a sneaker lover to reflect on the issue of sustainability in the sneaker world," says the museum's director. The museum does this by showing different sustainability projects in and around the Netherlands.

Dutch influence

What the museum itself is very proud of is its influence on the sneaker community from Dutch soil. In the exhibition, the worldwide influence of names like Patta and Piet Parra is clearly visible. But also the gabbers get a well-deserved spot in the Sneakers Unboxed exhibition. "If you look at the gabber culture; that's really unique to the Netherlands. You can maybe be a little faint about this, but it has been a very important movement," says Maan, referring here to the Nike Air Max BW.

Sneakers Unboxed Design Museum Den Bosch
Sneakers Unboxed Design Museum Den Bosch

"Also what the guys from Patta do or the works of Piet Parra, they go all over the world. We should be quite proud of that." The museum pays tribute to Patta's works with the, as Maan calls it, "Patta altar." The museum has a large wall up to the ceiling where most of the collaborations Patta has done are listed below. "These collaborations have never been displayed in such numbers at once," Maan says. "When the guys from Patta came by here, they were pretty impressed themselves."

For example, the very first Patta sneaker, the Nike Air Max 90 'Homegrown' (2006), is in the exhibit, as well as the latest collaboration with Mizuno (2022). "With this Patta altar, we are telling a complete story. We are quite proud of this as a museum," said Maan.

Bringing together young and old generations

Maan has high hopes for Sneakers Unboxed in Den Bosch. In doing so, she hopes for three things: "First of all, I hope that the sneaker enthousiasts feel seen," says Maan. "They will of course already have some knowledge before they enter the museum, but I think it would be nice if they also walk out of the museum with new information." Here she mentions the 'Bubble Koppe' group in South Africa, which also sounded unfamiliar to us.

Sneakers Unboxed Design Museum Den Bosch
Sneakers Unboxed Design Museum Den Bosch

The second thing Maan hopes is that different generations will come together. "That younger ones come along with their parents and that the parents can learn something from the sneaker culture, which is mainly a big deal among the youth." In doing so, she hopes that the older generation might understand a bit more about where the young people are coming from and that the sneakers on their feet are not just 'kicks'.

Finally, Maan hopes that the exhibit will also reach older museum visitors. "I hope that the older museum visitor will gain a greater appreciation for the sneaker as a cultural object. As an object that carries a lot of history and brings with it a lot of artists and pioneers." According to Maan, the stories should be of interest to everyone, whether you enter with a Nike on your foot, or not.

Design Museum Den Bosch

The Sneakers Unboxed exhibition is on display at the Design Museum in Den Bosch until October 16, 2022. The book 'Sneakers Unboxed', which was written for the exhibition at the Design Museum London, is also available at the museum. In this book you can see the entire exhibition and read more about the history of different models. The exhibition also comes with its own podcast series 'SneakEars'.

Sneakers Unboxed Design Museum Den Bosch

With its four hundred pairs, the exhibition is very broad, but it is never complete. "As a museum, we had to stop somewhere; we could otherwise go on endlessly," says Maan. "In that sense, the exhibition is a snapshot. In a year's time, a whole bunch of unique sneakers may have been added." However, Maan does think that the sneakers that are there now give a (pretty much) complete picture of the past 100 years of sneakers. "The most important names are coming out," says Maan.


The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Design Museum London and StockX. StockX also provided a part of the sneakers that are shown in the exhibition. With Sneakerjagers you can now win 5 x 2 tickets for the exhibition and one of these lucky winners will receive a StockX voucher worth €300.

To win this cool prize, all you have to do is follow Sneakerjagers' socials. For women, this is the accounts @sneakerjagers_wmns and @outfitsbysneakerjagers. For the men, these are the accounts @sneakerjagers and @outfitsbysneakerjagers.

The giveaway will start from Wednesday, May 11, 12:00. The winner will be announced via the socials of Sneakerjagers. Keep an eye on our Instagram and who knows, maybe you will be standing in front of the Patta altar in Den Bosch soon.