History Check - ASICS GEL-Lyte from 1987 to 2017 | Grailify
History Check - ASICS GEL-Lyte from 1987 to 2017

History Check - ASICS GEL-Lyte from 1987 to 2017

The ASICS GEL-Lyte is back! And we don't mean the shining star of the series - the iconic ASICS GEL-Lyte III - but the model that started it all in 1987: The original ASICS GEL-Lyte returned on July 7th, 2017 to celebrate its 30th anniversary. It's a rare occasion to have the original back on the shelves, so we put this successful runner on the cover of our print issue No. 35. Also, in this history check, we present 30 years of a shoe series that is forging ahead where others are trying to follow.

1980s: Performance Through Technology

Who has the best technology? In the mid-1980s, athletic footwear manufacturers engaged in an arms race, with each brand vying for supremacy by introducing the next big performance-enhancing innovation. While Nike was fully focused on air cushioning, ASICS Tiger was tinkering with some marvellous technologies in its research lab in Kobe, Japan, to excite runners.
The research lab was founded in 1979 by Kihachiro Onitsuka, the godfather of the company, with the aim of improving athletic performance through technology. Since then, research has been conducted into various alternatives to the cushioning methods prevalent in running, such as sponges and foams. One promising approach was the "Air Flex" channels, which were inserted into the moulded EVA soles to optimise energy return; they were first used in progressive running shoes such as the Alliance model.

1986: The Next Step - GEL Technology

Better than running on air? After extensive testing in real running experiments, ASICS is looking for an alternative to the shock-absorbing effect of air systems: Silicone-based gel, manufactured by the Japanese company Taica under the name Alpha GEL. The material has already proven itself in ballpoint pens and rocket technology. Injected into the EVA midsole of running shoes, Alpha GEL proved effective in redirecting the vertical impact forces of running into horizontal - i.e. forward pushing - forces.
The rest is history. ASICS signed Taica as its official supplier and first announced the new technology in 1986 under the name Alpha GEL System. Boom! The space-age cushioning system was hailed by the running community as the key to reducing impact-related injuries, reducing vibration and perhaps even improving long-distance records by a few seconds. The audience had listened, now all ASICS had to do was package their GEL system in a flashy silhouette.

1986: The Precursor - ASICS Freaks

The Freaks are here. Japanese runners got their first taste of running on GEL when the Freaks Alpha model was released in 1986 in Japan only. The jogging shoe followed the classic ASICS running formula, paired with Alpha GEL technology in key impact zones at the heel and forefoot, as well as stylistic innovations: An extended heel area provided extra grip on the running track, while reflective silver overlays added to the "freaky" style.
While runners in Japan were already getting to grips with the GEL technology, their counterparts in North America and Europe had to wait a little longer for the GT-II model - with a less "freaky" design - to hit the market. But once everyone had tried GEL, the running world was hungry for more. Behind the scenes, ASICS Tiger was already planning a global shoe collection that would take GEL technology to the next level.

1987: World Premiere - ASICS GEL-Lyte

A call to all serious runners! In 1987, running magazines around the world announced the arrival of a novelty. "Speed freaks, we've got your number.... it's 9.9", said the ASICS advertisement, announcing a shoe that was only 9.9 ounces light - which was featherweight at the time.

So called because of its "intimidating lightness", the GEL-Lyte featured nylon mesh inserts and Alpha GEL technology under the heel. The use of colour blocks in classic white, black and neon orange - complemented by reflective panels on the upper for safety - single-handedly created the stylistic formula for the entire GEL series.

And of course, the shoe had more to offer than just style: true to the advertising promise "We don't take speed lightly", the ASICS GEL-Lyte was all about Kihachiro Onitsuka's philosophy of better performance through better technology. It went down in history as the shoe that helped a whole generation of runners run faster with carefully selected technical features like a tri-density midsole and an anti-torque stability system. Runners didn't like the new ASICS shoe - they loved it. And they were ready for more.

1989: The Sequel - GEL-Lyte II

Another one. Many fans out there will argue that The Empire Strikes Back, released as the second Star Wars film, was by far the best entry in the entire series. Not too many people will make such an argument about the second Asics GEL-Lyte, however.
Released in 1989, the Gel-Lyte II had some flashier colour accents on the collar - including bright splashes of neon green that reflected on the outsole - as well as shiny Polyspac II fabric and a moulded PVC heel counter for stability. Not bad for a runner-up, but the best was yet to come...

1990: Birth of a Classic - GEL-Lyte III

Image via SIZE UK
All good things come in threes. The next entry in the GEL-Lyte series created the blueprint for the quintessential ASICS runner. More than 25 years later, the GEL-Lyte III remains one of the most popular and recognisable silhouettes in footwear history, joining the ranks of classics like the Nike Air Max, the adidas Stan Smith, the Puma Suede and several others.
ASICS shoe designer Shigeyuki Mitsui made the GEL-Lyte III one such classic: the shoe introduced a split-tongue design that allowed for a better fit and overall stability. The tongue split in the middle when the runner entered the shoe and then contracted to seal the foot, making the shoe fit very well.

Other compelling features included the triple density sole and carefully positioned GEL cushioning. And while "visible air" had already become an important feature for Nike, ASICS set new standards with "visible GEL" in the heel tab of the GEL-Lyte III.
From a cultural perspective, the high-tech marketing message and high price of the GEL-Lyte III - as well as style features like the reflective heel panel and colour blocking - helped make the transition into the lifestyle segment a small step on the wings of "athletic chic" for ASICS.

1992: A Number Skipped - GEL-Lyte Ultra

Image via Footasylum
Who says high-tech shoe manufacturers are immune to superstition? When it came time to develop a successor to the GEL-Lyte III, ASICS decided against a GEL-Lyte IV because the number four is associated with bad luck in Japan.
Instead, in 1992 the world welcomed the GEL-Lyte Ultra as the official successor, which changed things quite dramatically: the split tongue design was gone and replaced by a "mono" tongue, while the upper was split into a completely new panel pattern.
GEL technology was used more generously in the GEL-Lyte Ultra, including a porous GEL wedge under the forefoot in combination with heel cushioning. The shoe received an all-new wave-shaped dual-density midsole, and the outsole was also updated to provide an all-new, snug-fitting flex.
Did the fans like it? Maybe, but here's the unfortunate part (number four notwithstanding): With the release of the GEL-Lyte Ultra, the GEL-Lyte III's days were numbered. It disappeared from the shelves, leaving a void that couldn't be filled for many, many years. #sadface

1993: Winning Performance - GEL-Lyte V

Image via Footasylum
Another fan favourite appears. The GEL-Lyte V combined all the insights from previous iterations into a sleek, performance-enhancing package. The Ultra's new upper design was combined with mesh inserts on the sides and toe box to create a progressive, slimmer aesthetic.
Under the bonnet, the "V" has GEL cushioning in the heel and P-GEL in the forefoot for added comfort during long distance runs. Speaking of long distance, over the years the GEL-Lyte V has proven to be the most consistent shoe in the series with the most retros and collaborations, just behind the shining star, the GEL-Lyte III.

Mid-1990s to mid-2000s: The Dark Side of the Moon

Don't be distracted by the fact that amazing GEL developments like the GEL-Kayano by Toshikazu Kayano came along in 1993. Yes, it became a classic - still often reissued today - with its visible Theta-GEL heel cushioning and flexible grooved outsole. And yes, it became a favourite of marathon runners and sneakerheads for decades.
Image via Footpatrol
But no, the GEL-Kayano is not a direct descendant of the GEL-Lyte family, which disappeared from the footwear universe as if it had crawled into a hibernation pod, pressed the cryo-freeze button and floated off on a decades-long journey to a galaxy far, far away.

Mid-2000s: The GEL-Lyte III Returns

Image via PATTA
Return of the Jedi. In the mid-2000s, ASICS began re-releasing the GEL-Lyte III in limited edition. Although running technology had evolved over the years, GEL still proved highly relevant and functional, as did Shigeyuki Mitsui's carefully selected anatomical paneling and support structure.
Runners rejoiced that the shoe they loved was back in fashion. But what really catapulted the revival of the GEL-Lyte III into the stratosphere was the fact that leading sneaker outfits around the world teamed up with ASICS for exclusive collaborations.
The year 2007 sparked a wave of stylish GEL-Lyte III releases involving designers, artists and shops. Some of these shoes have gone on to become true grails, and the legacy of GEL-Lyte III releases continues to this day. Here are some of the standout models from recent years.

2007: Patta x ASICS GEL-Lyte III

Camp-out mania! In June 2007, Amsterdam-based Patta created a real buzz. The ASICS GEL-Lyte III was the Patta Store's first co-branded shoe with a major footwear label and set the bar high by using the colour paneling of the upper, lining and midsole embellishments to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
The colour scheme is inspired by the red and black of Amsterdam's city crest with a healthy dose of Patta green. Accompanied by matching softgoods like T-shirts, New Era Hats and a Varsity jacket, this shoe made history - also by triggering the first campout in front of the shop.

2007: ALIFE x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Monster Pack“

Image via FlightClub
No, they didn't! Who in their right mind would put googly eyes, sharp teeth and a monster skin pattern on a shoe? The folks at ALIFE did, and not just on one shoe, but on two versions of the ASICS GEL-Lyte III in the 2007 "Monster Pack": the "Green Monster" and the "Black Lagoon" crawled out of the swamp and onto the street in a heavily limited edition. Even more limited: The Friends & Family model "Kryptonite" with its glow-in-the-dark upper - if you see one today, it's as rare as an encounter with Bigfoot.

Photo via FlightClub

2007: Ronnie Fieg x David Z x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Stainless Steel“ & „Solid Gold“

This model added fuel to the fire. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of New York sneaker boutique David Z, designer Ronnie Fieg created this double edition of 200 pairs each in "Stainless Steel" and "Solid Gold". The release during the 2007 Christmas season paved the way for many Ronnie Fieg collaborations - this man was a big part of the entire revival of the shoe - on the ASICS GEL-Lyte III.

2008: Solebox x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „The Sun“

Image via @asicsteam
There's only one shoe that changes colour under the sun. Hikmet Sugoer from Solebox went beyond fashionable colourways and materialisations and equipped the ASICS GEL-Lyte III with a light-sensitive midsole. Ingenious! Also check out the impressive introductory video of people in Berlin holding their shoes up to the sun. Strong stuff!

2010: Ronnie Fieg x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „The Cove“

Image via ronniefieg.com
Ronnie Fieg strikes again. The 2010 "The Cove" model brought Caribbean inspiration to the streets with premium suede in a brand new blue hue to keep the GEL-Lyte III going. One of the finest moments in ASICS and Ronnie Fieg history.

2011: Hanon x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Wildcats“

Hot, hot, hot! This shoe came in a special dust bag with Hanon's "Keeps On Burning" logo and was inspired by the Wildcats running club. The orange and red upper was red hot and showed that the revival of the ASICS GEL-Lyte III was more than just a sizzle in the pan.

2011: Pick Your Shoes x ASICS GEL-Lylte III „Teal Dragon“

Image via SoleCollector
Rawr, rawr, like a dungeon dragon. Online shoe retailer Pick Your Shoes has picked a stylish colourway for its limited edition turquoise, red and white "Teal Dragon". Originally available online at the modest price of $80.00, this shoe has really roared like a dragon on the resale circuit.

2011: Zillion x ASICS GEL-Lyte III

Image via Zillion
So fresh, so clean. Tokyo-based designer David Guarino distilled the GEL-Lyte III down to its pure essence in a bright drop with an all-white upper and cream accents on the midsole. The ivory upper is made from Chirimen fabric, traditionally used in making kimonos, while customers also received a special set of Zillion laces. The shoe is now out of stock and sells for more than $2,000 rather than a zillion.

2011: Ronnie Fieg x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Salmon Toes“

Image via www.ronniefieg.com
What a catch! For the opening of his KITH store in Brooklyn, Ronnie Fieg released a special ASICS GEL-Lyte III. The strictly limited "Salmon Toes" had a navy blue upper with the toe box dipped in a salmon colour variation. Only 72 pairs were available on September 30th, and it's a rare sight to find one in the resale streams today.

2012: Woei x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Cervidae“

Image via SneakerNews
Let's get out into nature. To celebrate its fifth anniversary, Rotterdam-based sneaker store Woei's has teamed up with ASICS to create the trail-inspired GEL-Lyte III "Cervidae". One of those collaborations that exemplifies the power of materials to make the same silhouette appear in a completely different light. In this collaboration, the upper eyelets have been replaced with trail hooks to take the GEL-Lyte III on a walk through nature.

2012: Ronnie Fieg x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Total Eclipse“

Image via RonnieFieg.com
Lights out. With a sleek, dark upper in black and navy blue contrasted with sharp red lines, Ronnie Fieg has once again proven the stylistic versatility of the GEL-Lyte III with the "Total Eclipse" release. With the half nubuck and half leather model, the lifestyle runner ventures into nightlife.

2012: Slam Jam x ASICS GEL-Lyte III

Image via Slam Jam
So bright, it should come with sunglasses. This December 2012 release in collaboration with Italian retailer Slam Jam brought a healthy dose of neon to the table: the Slam Jam x ASICS GEL-Lyte III shone with yellow-green elements on the upper, complemented by reflective ASICS stripes, silver speckles on the midsole and glowing laces. It was launched in December and brought a much-needed burst of colour to the dreary winter streets.

2013: Ronnie Fieg x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „New York City“ & „Miami Beach“

Image via ronniefieg.com
Big shout-out on the East Coast. In 2013, KITH's basketball-inspired East Coast Pack came out with ASICS GEL-Lyte III versions themed "New York City" and "Miami Beach". The NYC version is obviously based on the official colours of the New York Knicks and features the pigskin and soft nubuck upper in royal blue and orange. The "Miami Beach" version, on the other hand, is a nod to the Miami Dolphins team with an orange and white upper made of airy, micro-perforated nubuck and woven mesh.
Image via ronniefieg.com
Historical side note: KITH sold the shoes in a pop-up store in Miami at the time, three years before they settled permanently with a Miami flagship.

2014: Concepts x ASICS GEL-Lyte V

Image via Concepts
Turn off the lights and it will glow. Running at night was the inspiration for the release of the ASICS GEL-Lyte V in summer 2014: by day, the shoe is very stylish with its grey suede upper, some red reflective accents and a dark grey speckled midsole. But viewed at night, it heats up with reflective stripe accents and lace-up prints, while the red shell really comes to life.

2014: BAIT x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Nippon Blues“, „Guardian“ & „Vanquish“

Image via BAIT
Big thing! A year before the official 25th anniversary of the GEL-Lyte III, the stylish folks at BAIT have released a trio of styles for the ages: The "Nippon Blues" model refines the silhouette with Japanese-style kasuri textile and nailhead suede on the upper.

Image via End Clothing
The military-inspired "Guardian" and "Vanquish" models cleverly played with the use of camouflage and army fatigue colours like tan and olive, complemented by finer details like dust sprinkles on the midsole. Boom!
Image via End Clothing

2014: The Good Will Out x ASICS GEL-Lyte V „Kojo“

Wait, who's stealing the limelight again? While the (sneaker) world prepares for the arrival of the 25th anniversary of the GEL-Lyte III, the spotlight is on the other fan favourite: The Good Will Out x Asics GEL-Lyte V "Kojo", released in October 2014, took its inspiration from nature. "The Kojo is inspired by the colour of Japanese autumn leaves. Koyo is to Japanese autumn what cherry blossoms (sakura) are to spring." The upper is made of high-quality nubuck leather in burgundy and red with carefully selected splashes of colour.

25 years GEL-Lyte III


2015: Mita x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „25th Anniversary“

Let's get the party started. This January 2015 release in collaboration with Japanese sneaker store Mita kicked off the 25th anniversary celebrations of the ASICS GEL-Lyte III, setting the bar high for special anniversary releases: premium materials, lush colourways, carefully selected colour contrasts (the red outsole!) and fine details like branded laces. That's how you get the ball rolling.

2015: Afew x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Koi“

Image via AFEW
Blink and you've missed it! With the ASICS GEL-Lyte III "Koi", the good people at Afew have landed a classic - and made it onto the cover of a sneaker magazine. The "Koi" is based on a 1-of-1 sample made in 2012 in collaboration with ASICS, and fans were thrilled when the ultra-rare example became available in a limited 25th anniversary edition. Those who were in shops for the release on May 30th were in for a treat: a special wooden bento box with a special booklet, Afew x ASICS chopsticks and two pairs of extra laces (wasabi & soy sauce). Delicious!

2015: atmos x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „B-Day Dinner“

Image via atmos
Inspired by a birthday cake. When it comes to those who have been loyal to the GEL-Lyte III all these years, atmos also deserves an honourable mention. And they know how to set a birthday table festively: For the 25th anniversary, atmos has launched one of the cleanest GEL-Lyte IIIs ever, in white-on-white with only tiny silver details. Delicious. 

2015: Footpatrol x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Squad“

Image via Footpatrol
Military precision. It's all in the details on this 25th anniversary Footpatrol London: the "Squad" features the Morse code "FOOTPATROL GEL_LYTE III" on the laces and a "FOOTPATROL SQUAD" patch on the tongue, paired with the shop's gas mask logo. The main suede upper is finished in olive, while the tiger stripes feature black on the lateral side and gold accents on the medial side. Crisp.

2015: ASICS GEL-Lyte Kids Collection

Image via ASICS
Let the little ones have fun. After all the big shoe brands had great success with mini versions of their iconic silhouettes - because sneakerheads are dads now - ASICS Tiger finally released some of their most popular shoe models like the GEL-Lyte V and the GEL-Lyte III as special kids' versions in small sizes.

2015: BAIT x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Nightmare“

Nightmare on GEL Street. BAIT from California has played a key role in the revival of the GEL-Lyte III with numerous great collaborations over the years. So naturally they were invited to design a shoe for the 25th anniversary. The "Nightmare" is one of the finest editions of the GEL-Lyte III: rare and precious materials like Tilapia suede, suede with reptile print, tanned leather from Japan and a great leather for the lining. Combined with black metal mesh, silver metal mesh and 3M hexagons, BAIT created a wonderfully dark, twisted fantasy that sold out in no time.

2015: Hanon x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Light Night“

Light up the night. The folks at Hanon in Aberdeen have brought back the "Fire" emblem from their Wild Cats collaboration in a special edition for the official 25th anniversary of the GEL-Lyte III: The "Light Night" colourway is inspired by the colour of the air in the time before sunset and sundown - the blue on blue makes it a highlight of the anniversary release.

2016: atmos x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Midnight Tokyo“

Image via atmos

Sleepless nights. atmos has taken inspiration from the unlimited energy flow of the city of Tokyo and created a stylish release with luxurious materials. In the words of atmos: "By using a special 3M material, the colour of the shoe changes in contrast to the incident light. In addition, a pattern of reflective materials can be seen throughout the shoe, representing the bright lights of Tokyo's construction signs in the night rain." This shoe literally sold out overnight.

2016: Mita x BEAMS x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Souvenir Jacket“

Image via Mita
Run with the latest trend. In 2016, there was a huge streetwear craze for "Souvenir Jackets", basically aviator jackets with Japanese lettering and embroidery made famous by US soldiers in the post-WWII era. ASICS teamed up with BEAMS and Mita to create a "Souvenir Jacket" themed GEL-Lyte III and apply these style elements to footwear. The upper is a mix of black suede and quilted textile and sits on a black midsole with a green contrasting outsole. The heel, side and split tongue feature embroidered logos and a "Japan" tag - typical of souvenir jackets. Beautiful history, beautiful shoe.

2016: 10 Corso Como x ASICS GEL-Lyte III

Bild über Corso Como
Ultra-limited. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Milan-based art gallery 10 Corso Como has brought the ASICS GEL-Lyte III into the realm of high art - in a highly limited edition: only 50 pairs of the black and white 10 Corso Como x ASICS GEL-Lyte III have been produced. All models in the edition feature hand-lettering style painting by US artist Kris Ruhs and individual numbering on the heel. Pretty enough to put in a display case?

2016: Solebox x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Blue Carpenter Bee“

Image via Solebox
Hikmet Sugoer's last dance before he leaves Solebox. This shoe, colour-inspired by Xylocopa bombylans, better known as the blue carpenter bee, is legendary. The split tongue of the GEL-Lyte III has never looked more gorgeous than in this baby blue version. Check out the launch trailer for the shoe.

2016: Ronnie Fieg x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Super Green“ 

Image via ronniefieg.com
Good things come to those who wait. Announced for over a year, this Ronnie Fieg special finally came out in May 2016 for the fifth anniversary of the KITH store. Only 700 pairs were handmade in Japan to provide superior quality for an exclusive release that initially sold for $250. Sneakerheads are willing to spend money on this shoe, as it currently resells for $750.

2016: ASICS Tiger GEL „30 Years“ Pack

Image via ASICS

First things first. Before the GEL-Lyte silhouette saw the light of day, 1986 marked the arrival of GEL technology in ASICS footwear. To celebrate the 30th anniversary, the company released the GEL-Lyte III and GEL-Lyte V, as well as the GT-Cool Xpress, which was the first shoe with visible GEL elements in the early 1990s. All three silhouettes are in black, which is softened by light blue accents and forms a strong contrast to the clear white midsole. High-quality materials round off a beautiful birthday drop and whet the appetite for more festive releases.

2017: Patta x ASICS GEL-Lyte III „Patta Exclusive“

Image via Patta
A throwback to the classics. Amsterdam-based Patta pays homage to the classic silhouette and its roots at ASICS with this June 2017 release. "The classic ASICS GEL-Lyte III, which also happens to be the model of choice that started the relationship between Patta and ASICS in 2007. Patta and ASICS chose an SMU to bring back the feel of the old sneaker scene and bring back the days when sneaker releases were about a specific model and colourway and not about who the collaboration partner is or the exclusivity of the product. We want to give every sneaker enthusiast the chance to buy the shoes." And they did, because this was another hit.

2017: The Return - GEL-Lyte Original

Guess who's back? With all the amazing reissues of the ASICS GEL-Lyte III and GEL-Lyte V introduced in this story, it's hard to imagine anything fans haven't seen before. But for the 30th anniversary of the silhouette that started it all, ASICS is bringing back the GEL-Lyte Original for the first time in history. And staying true to the classic, the colourway is the original white, black and bright orange - plus reflective accents - while the silhouette shines in all its retro glory. Officially launching on July 7th, 2017, this shoe has also made it onto more sneaker magazine covers. Happy anniversary!

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