Virgil Abloh has found the perfect partner to express himself through Nike shoes.
âNike is progressive. They could easily have said, âDon’t do this. You cannot expose the heel counter, it must be covered. Instead, they said, âWe collaborated to find a new space,â Abloh told FN in 2017, of his take on the iconic Air Jordan 1 silhouette.
In May 2017, Abloh, who died today after a battle with cancer, presented the style at the Met Gala. It was an atypical take on the basketball shoe-turned-lifestyle created to showcase its features and functions. Abloh’s reinvention of the shoe had prompted sneaker fans to clamor for a pair, and that energy was further fueled by prominent celebrities wearing early pairs, including Roger Federer, A $ AP Rocky and Bella Hadid.
It was his creativity, coupled with the footwear hype, that earned Abloh’s Air Jordan 1 the coveted shoe of the year honor at the 2017 FN Achievement Awards.
âI know for Virgil, personally, that this collaboration has fulfilled a lifelong dream of working with Nike,â famed designer Heron Preston told the FNAA, presenting the award to Abloh.
Shortly before the awards show, Abloh – while in FN’s New York office – said the Air Jordan 1 when it was released to the public had hardly taken place.
As he walked through the airport in Newark, NJ, Abloh recalled spotting a pair of sneakers that looked like the look he had just finished designing. “I couldn’t tell if they were [Nike] Dunks or Jordans. The bulb has lit in my head: what makes shoes iconic is the color. That’s when I almost made a mistake, âAbloh explained.
He quickly called Nike to make changes, which posed a big problem for the sports brand. âInternally, we said to ourselves, ‘can we be successful? âRecalls Andy Caine, Nike’s vice president of shoe design. âWhen you make shoes, there is a moment when you have to lock everything in order to order the materials to produce the quantities. We were over that deadline, literally two days early.
In the end, Nike and Abloh agreed it had to be done. “The powerful narrative from Virgil’s side, plus the Jordan 1’s color heritage and the original colorway story being banned [by the NBA in 1985], related and have a lot of meaning, âCaine explained. âThat’s where we got together and said, ‘Let’s go. “
While audiences were wowed by Abloh’s Air Jordan 1, that excitement has not been lost on those who work for the brand. âThere is so much about this AJ1 that is completely new but completely familiar, and to me, it’s magic. It has so much more depth than anyone has ever brought, âCaine told FN.
And Abloh’s Air Jordan 1 wasn’t the only look he created with Nike that made headlines in 2017.
Abloh’s Air Jordan 1 would become the assertive look of a 10-shoe collaboration with Nike dubbed “The Ten,” which the sportswear giant would reveal three months after its Met Gala debut in August 2017.
Billed as â10 icons of reconstructed Nike shoes,â the line has been split into two themes. Nike said the first theme, which was called “Reveal”, was designed to appear accessible. The second, dubbed “Ghosting”, was designed with translucent rods “to further the idea of âârevealing and uniting the second set of silhouettes through a common material”.
The shoes chosen, although dominated by Nike looks, covered the company’s shoe banners. In addition to the Air Jordan 1, the other non-Nike shoe that Abloh reinvented for the line was the Converse Chuck Taylor. The collection also included new versions of the Air Max 90, Air Presto, Air VaporMax, Blazer Mid, Zoom Fly SP, Air Force 1 Low, React Hyperdunk 2017 and Air Max 97.
” Thet Virgil [Abloh] made with [Nike] is fincredible king; deconstruction, reconversion. And getting Nike to let him do it was huge. This is one of the most unhealthy things I have seen in a long time. The [Jordan] 1 and the [Air] Presto are my favorites – I’m a huge Presto guy, âfamousâ Hawaii âsneakerhead Mike Salman told FN in 2017.
In the years that followed, Abloh and Nike delivered a successful collaboration after a successful collaboration. And as you might expect, sneakerheads went out of their way to get their hands on a pair. After 2017, Abloh continued to reinvent several of the shoes from âThe Ten,â including several takes from the Air Force 1, Blazer, Air Max 90, and Air Max 97, to name a few.
He also gave several other Nike Inc staples new looks. For example, Abloh – a football fan and player since childhood – delivered a collaborative Nike Football collection with the Nike Mercurial Vapor 360 shoe, his Bold interpretations of the Air Zoom Tempo Next% running shoe became instant stars, the women’s Air Jordan 4 “Sail” quickly became one of the most coveted sneakers of recent years and its new-look Air Jordan 5s. were arguably two of the best sneakers released in 2020. And Nike delivered Abloh’s extensive Off-White x Nike Dunk line in August this year, featuring 50 different iterations of the iconic sneaker.
Abloh also often delivered messages that were just as punchy, if not more, than the product he created. For example, Nike revealed the collaboration between the great tennis player Serena Williams and Abloh in May 2019 before Roland Garros. The superhero themed look boasted a printed cape with the words “Mother, champion, queen, goddess” in French throughout.
And the relationship extended beyond shoes and clothing. In January, Nike unveiled “Icons”, a book produced in collaboration with Abloh which provided sneakerheads take a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of “The Ten, âwhich also revealed never-before-seen sneaker prototypes, which include Air Jordans striped Swooshes and reapplied with new materials. It also featured original text messages between designers Abloh and Nike and looks from the Nike archives.
Abloh, the prolific designer who founded and made Off-White a formidable brand and made a huge mark at Louis Vuitton as the men’s art director, died Sunday at 41. His death was confirmed by LVMH in a statement.
âWe are saddened by the news of the death of Virgil Abloh. Since 2016, Virgil has been a beloved member of the Nike, Jordan and Converse family. He was a creative force who shared a passion to challenge the status quo, to advance a new vision while inspiring several generations along the way. But more than a collaborator, colleague and prolific creator, Virgil was a husband, father, son, brother and friend. We are proud to call it family. We offer our condolences to the many people who shared a connection. He will be sorely missed, âNike wrote in a statement on Instagram.