You read about Sal’s 23s in the Paycheck column of the October issue, but since Sal had more great words than we could fit on the page, we figured we’d post the rest of the interview here… Sal Barbier and his shoes… the man, the myth, the legend—never not at his best.
Interview by Eric Stricker
How did you go about designing your first pro shoe—especially seeing that there weren’t a whole lot of skate shoes, and nearly no pro models, on the market as compared with today?
Well, I’m always very unhappy with everything in the world. So to make myself happy I have to design everything my way. I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t like, and I made exactly what I wanted. I was disgusted and didn’t like what I was skating in for so long, that I took everything I liked in shoes outside of skateboarding and tried to put it into one. But at the same time I had to address the one issue that bothered me as far as function and that was skate shoes. By the time they broke in they were tore up and I needed a new pair. It used to take shoes a while to brake in. You had to pull the cardboard out which took a long time.… they weren’t like they are now. By the time they break in the whole side would be busted from the ollies. So that’s why I put that little thing on the side (the rubber piece). It was aesthetics and function thrown into one.
Did Nike ever try to mess with you for having the 23 on the heel?
No, they know I had the number before Jordan.
What was that your number for?
Well, it was my basketball number and I like to think that he got it from me.
Where did the Sal 23 disappear to for all those years?
Jeez, that’s a good question. I have no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know where it went. It was gone for a while, huh? I guess it really came down to… I guess I was going to end up working somewhere, doing footwear, and I didn’t know if it was going to be there (Sole Tech) or somewhere else and I got wrapped up in some businesses that I had going so that’s what I focused on. Shoe design kind of took a backseat to the other things I had going on at the time.
What’s wrong with skate shoes today?
For the most part they don’t progress that much and they’re not about function, really. If they were I’m convinced they’d be high-tops and that they’d figure out something that would stop your ankle from breaking—or tweaking it so hard. I don’t think they’re much different from the ones when mine were out. I mean, you can still skate in mine and that’s an older shoe. You can skate in all the shoes from that era. I don’t see ’em being too much different than what’s out now. And all the newer ones look like the older ones anyway. So I don’t think they really progress much.
How’s the money now off your shoe versus the money when it first came out?
Well, I’ve always done it all for free so… It’s just my way of giving back to the skate community, you know…
Which was better, the éS Sal 23 or the etnies Sal 23?
I like the éS because it was the first shoe at éS. That’s where the brand started so that’s a cool thing.
When are we gonna see the Sal mid with the sock in it?
A lot of people ask about that one, so I’d like them to log on to the etnies site right now… I’m kidding. I’d like to make that one again, I really would. I’d like to go back and make some minor changes to it…put that out. That’s something I’d like to be skating in.
In all these years, who’s the strangest, most random person you’ve seen wearing a pair of your shoes?
You know, I don’t guess it’s ever strange because it’s always someone I would expect to be wearing skate shoes. But if I ever saw a rapper lace up some ugly-ass skate shoes, and I mean a real rapper, not a Hieroglyphics rapper, put on some fuckin’ skate shoes, who actually buys his clothes instead of wearing whatever he gets for free, then that would be odd to me. But thaat ain’t gonna happen.
Who’s milking their pro shoe more, you or Michael Jordan? Are you allowed to milk it once you’ve put out a supreme product that has proven to stand the test of time?
It’s not about milkin’ it. That’s the difference in mine. I designed mine from top to bottom. It’s actually mine. If a million people are gonna rip it off then that’s why I should have it for a long time. Because I see a lot of shoes that come directly from that. A lot of soles come from that, there’s just a lot of people making shoes exactly like that one and that’s where they get it from. So it’s better that I get the money ’cause I don’t get it from anyone but me.
If the Sal 23s weren’t around and you were going to put on a pair of shoes to go skate, what would they be?