In the mid-’80s, Nike released the Air Force One. It was the first sneaker to incorporate its pressurized air technology that absorbs shock to help athletes perform better. But, to everybody’s surprise, the shoe became an instant fashion sensation on the streets of New York. They were so popular in Harlem and the Bronx that they acquired the nickname “the uptowns.” “It’s just one example of how sport and design collided,” says Adrian Fenech, Nike’s senior brand director for North America. “It created a bond between Nike and the New York City community.”
At New York Fashion Week, Nike is paying homage to its roots in New York City with events throughout the week as part of its “New York Made” series. On Thursday, Nike revealed its collaboration with Comme des Garçon, which resulted in a re-conceptualized Dunk Hi shoe with a clear panel that allows wearers to express themselves through the socks they wear underneath. On Saturday, at Bergdorf Goodman, Nike had a party to celebrate Riccardo Tisci’s new design: a Dunk made of high-end full-grain leather.
At the cult sneaker store Kith, Nike displayed a collection inspired by its 50 years of creating shoes for basketball players, featuring one iconic design to represent each decade. “We’re listening to athletes about ways that shoes impact performance, but also hearing about their passion for luxury materials,” says Fenech. “We’ve merged the two, responding to their day-to-day needs, as well as their style inspiration.
To cap things off, Nike unveiled a new version of the Air Force One designed by Acronym’s Errolson Hugh, which retains elements of the iconic shoe, but incorporates futuristic elements like a quick-release fastener to make it easier to get into the shoe. “Errolson is all about form and functionality,” Fenech explains. “The original shoe had heel tabs that allowed ease of access. But Errolson took that idea and moved it forward.”
This concept of “moving forward” is a big theme at Nike. Fenech says that the company is trying to push the boundaries in terms of innovation, by creating high tech products that improve athletic performance, but it’s also working to push ahead as a fashion brand. Mark Parker, Nike’s CEO, began his career at Nike in the late ’70s as a designer and believes that design thinking should infuse everything the company does. (To keep his own artistic instincts sharp, he still occasionally collaborates with designers Tinker Hatfield and Hiroshi Fujiwara on limited-edition sneakers as part of the Nike HTM Project.)