Henry Davis aka Pillow Heat is one of the leading collectors of vintage Vans shoes. His impressive collection has partially been moved into the very centre of London into Vans’ Carnaby Street store. Entering the remodelled first floor feels like time travel. The walls of the staircase are plastered with Vans memorabilia, old catalogue pages and oddities tied to the world’s most famous waffle sole and of course has shelves and shelves filled with collectible and rare kicks.

During the opening night of his new shop, we met the passionate collector to find out why the next pair of Vans’ you buy could be older than your dads most precious scotch.

What’s up with the name, you want to know? Well damn, forgot to ask..

How did you moving into the Vans Store come about?

It’s been about two years in progress based on motivation by Vans to help keep my shop open. I was struggling over the years based on London rents, expensive shoes and limited supply. To help keep the operation alive, a simple way was to integrate somehow – I didn’t think it would be quite on this scale, but it’s amazing!

How long has the shop been running previously?

The business is about nine years old, I had two shops, four years each.

How did you select the pieces you’re showing in the new spot in Carnaby Street?

This space is smaller than my old one, so I had to be selective. A good size run was important, so I broke it down by sizes and picked the best of each size. A lot is archival stuff that I’m not selling, so that is maximum impact material.

When you’re selling these rare shoes, do you mean them to be worn, do you want to see them in other collectors hands?

I always want them to be worn, even when they’re deadstock. That’s the beauty of these shoes and that will have people come back. They feel the comfort, they’re amazing to wear. I always encourage that you gotta wear them, skate ’em, ride ’em, whatever.

Majority of your collection is from before Vans moved production from the US, right?

All the product for sale is before that time, some apparel and clothing will be after, but that’s the point of my collection.

Daydreaming about the next purchase, collector Henry Davis

So there’s nothing worth collecting after that?

There are things that are collectable, just in my eyes, the quality of the product changed after that, plus I’d go insane if I tried to collect everything, so I just draw a line in the sand, that’s my focus.

What did you decide to throw on tonight?

An early 90’s collaboration with “Coors” beer. These are kinda my festival shoes, or street, party shoes, so tonight’s a good night.

How did you start collecting?

I’ve always collected things growing up. Fashion, I always obsessed with shoes. I was looking for something vintage I could still wear and my friend, a guy from the US I went to school with, planted the seed about old Vans. The release of the “Dogtown and Z-Boys” documentary was key and I remember picking up a catalog in a BMX shop when I was a kid and seeing these red checkerboard Vans and I was like: “Holy shit I want that!”. Meeting Van Doren was epic and reinforced everything about the brand.

Mini van Doren approves. That pair of kicks goes for 666,66£ by the way – price goals!

So skateboarding played a role, but you’re more less from a BMX background?

A little bit. It was always about the product for me, never really about skating or BMX. I’ve always been on the fringes of those subcultures, but never hardcore into skating. Had a BMX when I was a kid, but I’m not like a proper head. I’ve always loved shoes.

There’s special moments in time and Vans was there for a lot of those things. The birth of modern skateboarding – people were wearing Vans. The birth of BMX – wearing Vans. The birth of American hardcore, punk rock – they were all wearing Vans. That stuff is meaningful to me.

How much time do you spend looking for shoes and how do you hunt them down?

A lot online, realistically that’s where they are. They’re just scattered around, no way you can just go and just find them. You gotta be relentless online, have people around the world help you look at local flea markets or estate- and garage sales.

I have a daily routine when I get up, and certain regions that I’ll search throughout the week. You need to have a kind of refined routine.

“These are fire yo!”

Do people sometimes just show up with rare stuff at your shop?

Yeah, several times that’s happened. That bag that’s hanging up there, the gold one with pirate skulls for example. Someone walked in with that over his shoulder. He had a skateboard in there and wanted it evaluated, but I was just looking at the bag going: “Oh my god.”

Anything you can’t seem to hunt down, a bucket list shoe?

There’s still a couple early one that I need. I had this long list, most of them I found, but you want them in your size, so that becomes next goal. All the oldest of that variety, because the quality was better the earlier. Finding a 60’s or 70’s pair that you can still wear – that’s sick.

So first and foremost you’re a collector, living off of it is just sort of a lucky byproduct?

A lot of luck was involved! When I opened my first shop it felt like it was meant to be all the time. I met this landlord that was willing to give me a chance, 6 months lease, four years later I was still there. It was fortuitous, but it felt like it was meant to be the whole time – the whole path. When you feel this strongly about something, you make it happen, one way or another.

What do you think about the resell business, you’re kind of a part of it?!

I don’t like it generally. I am a reseller, but it’s like a scurge in the scene. I’d like to think that in Vans culture there’s a bit substance and meaning. It’s not just a quick flip online, I like to tell the story, indulge in the history. It’s not about money, it is about acquiring that shoe, having it and documenting it.

People’s imagination when you say you’re a size 12.

Are there other collectors you network with, or compete?

It’s a community and we’re friends, but in the end we want the same stuff. Sometimes it can get tense. This scene is not cutthroat like Nike heads, so it’s cool. When my friend finds a pair of shoes I’m stoked on it.

Are they the same size as you?

One good friend is the same size, so we battle.

Favorite piece in the collection at the moment?

Silver Man! He’s been sitting in my friends garage for some years. He found him in some guys man-cave and it turned up on eBay. I had no idea it was that big and it was mission to transport it and put it back together, he’s huge. These are the things I love now, like the surfboard, the bags, silver man, the neon signs, because you see shoes, you don’t really see this stuff.

From man cave to store wall – Silver Man!

So you do still get suprised by stuff you find?

I get suprised every day, I’m learning something new every day. Some of the shoes were custom made. The three on the shelf are customs, so someone came in and said I want pirates here, logos here.

Could someone come up with a colorway in the Vans’ online customization that’s so special it becomes collectible?

Maybe, if someone famous does it. The shoes could be coverted 40 years down the track, so who knows. But the customisation is slowly getting back to that. There’s not as many options as there were once, but they’re adding things on the online platform and it’s becoming sick, like it used to be, it’s pretty cool!

You’re talking about how you, back in the day, could just take any fabric to Vans and get a shoe made?

That must be the next step, imagine we could that here. We can’t construct the shoe obviously, but imagine someone could make the uppers on the spot and then send it to a factory and produce it. These are some of the things I’d like to implement. In a dream world.

What happens to your old store?

I still own the lease and we’ll keep it for the time being, but eventually I’ll close it.

So you can be found here mostly here?

At the moment I don’t have any other choice. I do have one member of staff, but at the moment I don’t have any money so I gotta run it myself. Hopefully at some point it will become self sustaining and I can have some time to do the digging behind the scenes and really focus. If I lose opportunity to look for the shoes, the business dissolves. But I also love to meet the people, hear the stories, so I’ll be here!

You can meet Henry and his collection in 47 Carnaby St. or check out his online shop at pillowheat.com.