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BAIT x Asics Gel Saga: Into the “Phantom Lagoons”

September 23, 2013by Aaron Kr.
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While it might not carry the same level of clout as its legendary older sibling, the Gel Lyte III, there is no question that the Asics Gel Saga II is one of the brand’s most beloved classic silhouettes. Originally dreamt up by renowned Asics design guru, Toshikazu Kayano, the Gel Saga II released in 1992 as a follow-up to the popular Gel Saga model and wound up eclipsing the legacy of its predecessor to the point that it eventually claimed the “Saga” name all for itself upon its retro revival. The shoe we now all know and love as the Gel Saga is actually the Gel Saga II, but Asics has simplified its retro designation to the most basic form and somewhat re-written its own brand history in the process.

After a considerable absence, the Saga re-emerged in late 2011 and made a quick splash thanks to high-profile collab editions by the likes of Patta and Ronnie Fieg, followed by a bigger push in 2012 featuring some OG colorway reissues and a few more well-received joint endeavors. Despite a warm reception from consumers, the Saga continues to take a backseat to the Gel Lyte III in terms of mass appeal and awareness, but devoted fans of the model will be quick to tell you that it’s one of the most underrated running silhouettes of its era.

With every well-executed collab version that surfaces, the Saga seems to gain a little ground, but its appearances are relatively sparse in comparison so there’s still plenty of room to grow. These days, it seems like roughly three out of every four Asics collabs use the Gel Lyte III as the model of choice, and it’s easy to understand

why so many people are eager to get their hands on such an iconic shoe. And while no one is complaining about all the nice GL3 colorways that have come our way, it’s always refreshing to see some variety thrown into the mix, especially if that means fresh new takes on the Saga. So far, only a few shops have taken a crack at the Saga, but the results have been pretty rock solid across the board – a testament not only to those who have put their own creative spins on the model, but also to the shoe’s infinite potential for enticing color-up possibilities.

The Saga’s latest foray into the collab zone comes by way of Cali shop/brand, BAIT, who have truly taken advantage of the opportunity by creating one of the most desirable make-ups of the shoe seen to date. Still less than a year old, BAIT has really hit the ground running with their collaborative efforts, dating back to their ambitious first project with Asics, as well as successful team-ups with Reebok, Saucony, and Creative Recreation.

Dubbed the “Phantom Lagoons”, this latest project stands to be their biggest yet when it drops this coming weekend, and according to BAIT CEO and founder, Eric Cheng, we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s in store as the shop begins to hit its full stride. We caught up with Eric to get the inside scoop on the BAIT x Asics Gel Saga and what the “Phantom Lagoons” are all about, so continue on for the full interview and a detailed look at one of the most mouth-watering collabs of the year.

Sneaker News:  Asics doesn’t hand out collaborations very freely, so it was a big deal for BAIT to come right out the gate with your “Five Rings” pack. How far back does your relationship with Asics go and how did the partnership first come about?

Eric Cheng:  The relationship between BAIT and Asics traces pretty far back as I have worked with Asics for many years through one of my other businesses, which you may know as PickYourShoes. PYS.com was the main online partner to Asics to showcase its products to the sneakerhead community. Most people know Asics for its advanced performance technology and the Onitsuka Tiger lifestyle line. In addition to that, I saw a lot of potential in the Asics Archive line with all the Gel retro runners.

At the time the Archive line was only sold to a handful of image accounts in the United States. I approached Asics and PYS.com became the first online retailer approved to carry the Archive line. Ever since then, I worked closely with Asics to feature their line and make the products more accessible to the U.S. market. It was an instant success from day one and now the line is everywhere. The relationship grew stronger through the years as we had great support and communication and I consider Asics a true partner.

Having a close relationship, we had our first Asics collab with the PYS X Asics “Teal Dragon”, which was a hit and sold out on its release. As the business expanded and evolved we decided to start our own brand with a brick and mortar retail – BAIT, and kept PYS exclusively as an online retailer. BAIT is a completely independent operation that is creatively driven and more design oriented.

To celebrate its beginning, BAIT and Asics got together in 2012 to design the “Rings Pack”, which brought a lot of interest to our brand. With that, BAIT had to be the first store to release 9 shoe collaborations, 5 shoes in the Rings Pack and 4 shoes in our BAIT x Spongebob x Creative Rec collection, months before we opened our door. BAIT will turn 1 year old in Oct 2013. It’s been a great ride and we are having a lot of fun.  Asics will be a key partner to BAIT and our expansion.

SN:  How do you guys approach your collab projects? Do you try to go in with a set concept and gameplan or does the design just develop as you go?

Eric Cheng:  It’s hard to say how we approach a project because there isn’t a set way or method. But one common practice that we have is to research. We want to make sure we are well informed before we start the design process. It’s basically getting to know what you are working with to follow up its history and understanding where it stands in the market. I think that goes

before anything. As far as developing a concept, we like to have the possibilities wide open but it’s also a bit of strategy at the same time. If the shoe has a history of having several colorways designed through several collabs, we will likely avoid a color-up approach and figure something else out. We want to make sure our design stands out from the rest of its kind.

SN:  What’s the inspiration behind the “Phantom Lagoons” concept?

Eric Cheng:  There isn’t a real inspiration behind it and we wanted it that way. We actually did have an initial design for the Gel Saga that had an inspiration and a story from a specific “thing.” But we had a pause about it and how that method of collab design is common; it would have been another story amongst many others. We decided to scrap it and thought, how about we go the other way and just work with the shoe and design through the creative process. I guess you can say the inspiration was the challenge to design something intriguing for the Gel Saga.

As far as where we got “Phantom Lagoons” from; it was a way for us to accredit a story to something that didn’t exist. Since our design was something that came from the mind, we wanted the name of the shoe to be a place that only existed in the mind, although we later found out there is in fact a place called the Phantom Lagoon (Netherlands) which was pretty funny…The name fits and the Phantom Lagoons, aside from the Netherlands, is that Freudian spot in the mind where ideas dwell.

SN:  What made you choose the Gel Saga model to bring this story to life?

Eric Cheng:  We actually picked the Gel Saga because it is one of the great, classic, retro models that often get overshadowed by other Gel retro runners. The Gel Saga is well put together with plenty of panels to play with and not too many brands have worked on it. We thought it was appropriate to take advantage of that and use the model to kick off a series of BAIT x Asics projects that will follow.

SN:  Please give us a breakdown of the materials used on the shoe and why they were chosen to represent the concept.

Eric Cheng:  We went with the classic suede and nubuck combination because of the contrasting textures that will also better contrast the colors along with it. It also adds a premium feel to the shoe. The suede that we used is called “Velvet Suede” where the texture brings a bit of variation to the color. The perforated nubuck on the other hand has a solid and consistent color base. We thought the two contrasting materials and their color properties would compliment each other well for the design.

SN:  Both of your Asics projects have been very conceptual. How important is it to tell an interesting story in addition to just creating a visually appealing shoe?

Eric Cheng:  We do believe that an interesting story is very important, but at the same time, one of our main efforts is to make sure each one of our projects is in fact visually appealing. With this project we felt there are a good amount of stories to finally not tell

one in the world of collabs. But I guess you can say we do have a story, about not having a story. In either case, it is important to put a lot of thought and heart into a project and from there a concept and story dwells to validate the design.

SN:  What are the benefits of participating in collaborative projects like this for your store and brand?

Eric Cheng:  In its entirety, we see BAIT as a creative collective that consists of 3 main divisions; BAIT private label, the BAIT Licensing label, and finally BAIT footwear collaborations. We kicked off the brand last year with a handful of footwear collabs: a four pack of BAIT x Spongebob x Creative Rec shoes, a five pack Asics shoe collab (Rings Pack), and two Saucony collabs, the “Blue Apple” & “Viridian Burner”. We switched gears from the footwear projects to introduce our BAIT private label and the BAIT Licensing label, featuring projects with Street Fighter, Domo, One Piece, and Spongebob, all in the first half of 2013. Now we are back with a number of footwear collabs for months to come. We are very excited about each one of our apparel and footwear collaborations and they all play a huge part in getting the BAIT brand out to the public. I am very blessed with a great group of smart, dedicated, and hard-working crew that have made all of this possible.

SN:  What can we expect from BAIT in the future? Are there any other collab projects with Asics or any other brands that will be showing up soon?

Eric Cheng:  I am happy to announce that we will be opening more doors very soon.  As for footwear collabs – Yes, there are more to come. We have an Onitsuka Tiger project coming right around the corner to celebrate our first anniversary.  There will also be a Saucony project coming soon.  As for the rest, make sure to check out Sneaker News for more info.

The BAIT x Asics Gel Saga “Phantom Lagoons” will release this Saturday, September 28th at the BAIT flagship store in Diamond Bar, CA at 10am PST followed by an online release at 12 noon PST through the BAITme.com e-store.