In the years before gossip magazines gave way to Instagram, head-turning sneakers became ingrained in contemporary American celebrity. In 2018, we don’t flinch when two-thirds of the Migos wear the ugly-chic Balenciaga Triple S, or when supermodel and famous fiancé Hailey Baldwin steps out in the aggressive Louis Vuitton Archlights. But long before today’s gaudy designer kicks dominated the lower-fourth of paparazzi photos, there was another eye-catching sneaker that celebrities couldn’t seem to get enough of. It wasn’t from a French or Italian luxury house, or designed by a famous rapper. In fact, the sneaker wasn’t even from a fashion label—it came from a skate brand hailing from an unassuming city-suburb in Southern California. The brand was Supra, the sneaker was the Skytop, and it was impossible to miss during the late 2000s and early 2010s.
The Supra Skytop is a glossy high-top skate shoe that could easily pass for an expensive designer sneaker—at least at first glance. In reality, the sneaker has more in common with pair of Vans than shoes you’d buy from Bergdorf Goodman, running around $120. But when it hit the scene, the Skytop was an inescapable part of celebrity fashion during an era when celeb content still came strictly from style blogs and gossip websites. It showed up at red carpet premieres and outside of nightclubs, worn by chart-topping musicians like Justin Bieber and Lil Wayne and movie stars like Bradley Cooper.
For its time, the Skytop was as wild as sneakers got, groundbreaking in its combination of skate-ready durability, extravagant silhouette, and seriously out-there colorways. It was a cool ugly sneaker before ugly sneakers were cool. It also cemented a handful of ideas—like influencer-driven, hype-based marketing—that we don’t think twice about today. And then, as the celebrity fashion zeitgeist moved on to the next trend, the shoe slowly vanished from the Hollywood spotlight and went back to the skateparks and high school hallways from which it came.
The Skytop was designed by Chad Muska, a charismatic pro skater on the Supra team, alongside Josh Brubaker, the first footwear designer hired at the company. Supra, which was founded in 2006, is widely credited for blowing up the skate-lifestyle category that would eventually result in every suburban mall having a PacSun and Zumiez—and now, every fashion kid owning a pair of Dickies. But when they sat down to design the Skytop, Supra was just a small-time skate brand trying to make a name for itself.
“When we first met, Chad walked in with a big suitcase filled with shoes for inspiration. He knew exactly what he wanted,” says Brubaker, who worked at Supra until 2013 and now runs his own footwear brand with his brother. “I was so excited that I worked on it all day and night, and sent him two options the next day. He said ‘That’s the one,’ and we sent it off for sampling.” It’s not too often you hear about a hit sneaker being designed in a single day; the elongated process usually includes rough sketches, three-dimensional models, and rounds upon rounds of design review. But back then, Supra was a small, scrappy company, which meant they could move much faster than the bigger shoe brands. And what was in the suitcase?
Chad Muska remembers, but he’s keeping quiet. “I will say it was a mix of several high fashion shoes from that era and some vintage ‘80s high tops that I had in my collection,” he says. “I was influenced by the ‘80s a lot during this time period. I liked how hip-hop groups like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were wearing high tops with skinny pants and so were heavy metal bands like Metallica. I liked the idea of a shoe that could be worn by such seemingly different cultures.” (Brubaker, less interested in maintaining the mystery, tells me he remembers a mix of Marc Jacobs, Christian Dior, and vintage Puma basketball sneakers.)
Even though it felt unprecedented, the Skytop was just the latest skate sneaker to bear Muska’s name. By the time he teamed up with Supra, he was an established and marketable skater with a few wildly popular sneakers under his belt. One of those shoes, the “éS Muska,” was a huge hit, notorious for its hidden “stash” pocket in the tongue. That mini-pocket became a cheeky signature that Muska carried over from éS to Circa, and eventually to the Skytop. Regardless of Supra’s infancy, Muska was a larger-than-life personality with a knack for eccentric flair (he once filmed a skate part while famously holding a boombox) who came with built-in hype so any sneaker with his name was bound to make waves. The skater was even immortalized as playable character in the hit video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater—boombox and all. In essence, Muska was a bonafide style influencer before the buzzy term was embedded within modern fashion vernacular.
Upon the shoe’s initial release, skaters and sneakerheads weren’t really sure what to make of it. A skate shoe heavily influenced by high fashion and the wacky style of 1980s definitely didn’t look like anything else on the market when it first dropped in the 2007. “It was met with a lot of doubt because it was very different than what was going on in skateboarding,” Muska recalls. That’s an understatement. The exaggerated ankle cuff stood unusually tall, like a flashy Chelsea boot, and versions of the shoe featured loud prints and metallic finishes. But in the years to follow, intrigue gave way to desire and the Skytop won over men’s style publications and sneaker blogs—and eventually started showing up on the feet of celebrities.