When a shoe gets to be 25 years old and still flourish on the feet of the whole world, we can very reasonably call this a huge success. In 2015, ASICS decided to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Gel Lyte III as best possible, a legendary pair of shoes that wasn’t destined to become a lifestyle essential. To better understand the history of this shoe, we need to look back at the story of this Japanese brand.
In 1949, M. Kihachiro Onitsuka founded the Onitsuka Co. Ltd., the ancestor of ASICS, with the very commendable goal to offer the country’s athletes the necessary equipment to play in the best conditions. The first models were based on a simple idea: Reinforced soles that simulate the action of an octopuses sucker. First specialized in basketball, the company worked on a few sports, getting a Gold medal at the Boston Marathon of 1950 and a Gold medal for the Women’s volleyball team at the Olympic Games in 1964. This period also marked the beginning of the stripes on the shoes that will become as much a symbol for Asics as those for adidas.
We had to wait until the ’70s for Asics to officially become ASICS (« Anima Sana in Corpora Sano », or healthy mind in a healthy body). The Gel Lyte III is the product of this story. Kihachiro Onitsuka formed the label as Onitsuka Tiger at the beginning with the aim of creating athletic footwear, but when the company merged with others to form the ASICS Corporation in 1977, they instead began releasing casual shoes under the original moniker.
The man who shaped the Gel Lyte III, Shigeyuki Mitsui, still works for the company today- racking up an impressive 30 plus years of loyal service to the label. He originally worked as an assistant on the Gel Lyte, designing small parts of the heel protector and midsole, before stepping up to work as the assistant designer on the Lyte II, finally getting commissioned to be the chief designer on the III.
The Gel-Lyte III was originally released in 1990 and features one unique characteristic not found on many shoes before or after it, a split tongue. This distinct element of the shoe has become its trademark over time, and makes it stand out among the crowd of retro runners to this day.
So why the strange tongue? The split tongue was designed to replace a normal shoe tongue that sits in the middle, but will often slip to one side of your foot as you run or walk. Not only will this tongue not slip to one side, it offers a well-padded, foot hugging feel and overall comfortable fit. A little odd looking? Yes. But that atypical look has helped the Gel-Lyte III stand the test of time, and made it a true classic among all retro running shoes—from any brand.
Okay, so there’s got to be more to the Gel-Lyte III to make it so classic than just a unique tongue, right? Luckily for it, the rest of the shoe’s design is also good enough to be memorable with or without the uncommon tongue. The Gel-Lyte III pushed the boundaries of design to feature a triple density sole unit along with their split tongue, this led the brand into the realms of a whole new market of fashion-first products. Other design features of the shoe (in its original construction) include a lightweight mesh, nylon and synthetic suede upper, 3M reflective detailing at the heel and toe, a two-toned midsole, and of course, classic ASICS striping. It all comes together as an archetypal design reflective of the brand’s design aesthetic of the early 90’s.