Nike are rolling out the celebrations for Air Force 1’s 35th birthday this year. The next instalment of commemorations sees Virgil Abloh, Travis Scott, Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke (Roc-A-Fella), Errolson Hugh (Acronym) and Don C (Just Don) designing their own Air Force 1’s. Making their mark. We spoke to Off-White’s Virgil Abloh about his design process behind his version of the Air Force 1. See all the designs below.
This is technically your third Air Force 1 if we count the Design Miami shoe. The Ten, and now this one. What was the process behind this shoe? Was it simply like something you might have been working on around the same time as the Design Miami shoe?
“It’s all one expression. You know, it’s like the Off-White ideology of altering product. That’s my brand and my way of making things. I like to start with something established and then iterate on a process to edit it.
And what I love about the three Air Force 1s, it’s all one idea executed in three different ways. And the colorway is important. The shoes aren’t iconic in any color, they’re iconic in one. It’s white. White is the theme for this third one, looking at the cultural context of the white on white. Editing it, but not editing it too far to where it becomes something else.
Like the Basel one was black. I personally love black shoes. So that one was simply making a shoe so that I could wear it.
And then the one within The Ten was about ghosting and revealing.
This Air Force 1 was almost going backwards from that extreme. That’s why the white of The Ten is so extreme because I knew that the white on white coming later is going to be the universal, wearable, signature shoe.
It’s still got the sort of cut collar. The foam is exposed. It has the metallic Swoosh. It’s the one that sits in between wearable and artistic.”
What do you like about using metallic on shoes?
“I like metallic and I like transparent. It’s a play with light. My approach as a designer of ready-made objects is to find new space, and that new space is playing with light, not color. Which is also why I like reflectiveness within the metallic. I like trying to experiment with different plays on light.
It’s about having a signature. I want it to be recognizable because I’m trying new techniques. I want there still to be a through line in all the work. Every Nike shoe that I do will have some reference to that signature vocabulary, whether it’s a text or this tab that appears next to the swoosh.”
Is there anything that you’ve learned about the Air Force 1 that you didn’t know before that’s like become now important to you?
“Yeah. Everything. Every activation I have learned like a thousand things. Because we’re playing. We’re iterating with the shoe in real time. It’s not just like in one session, one time. Like we’re having workshops. I might have been through 12 workshops in between that time and now.
Sitting with Tinker today, I have learned more about sneaker design, to my way of thinking, than ever before. It’s this Nike process, it’s a creative community between Nate, Joe, Enrico, Matt Kilgore, Tinker, Michelle Lynn, Peter Saville. You know, anyone that’s sort of been in this sphere, we’re talking design. We’re talking about generational design, whether it’s art, architecture, fashion, and so all those things are informing my decisions.”
Is there anything specific from Nike’s history that speaks to you?
“The Air Force 1 means something beyond basketball. I’m designing it from that point. I’m not designing it as a basketball sneaker. I’m designing it as like a cultural signifier. And it has my aesthetic.”
Does the editing ever end?
“No. What I am interested in is like finding new ways of editing. You don’t get to Tinker status by having one good idea. You get there by having a succession of ideas. That’s what design is. It’s a treadmill. You must continually get on it and run.”
Through this editing process, is there a balance between like function and aesthetic?
“I think because these are Nike shoes, they’re already maxed-out on function. They’re also, you know, from a different era. I’m more interested in having a dialogue with the perception of the icon.
It’s about either distracting or reacting to something that’s already there. It’s about an aesthetic. Peter Saville taught me this in the lecture in London. He was like, ‘What we all are is stylists. Like we’re stylizing things. We put this next to this, and its curation.’ I’m curating. I’m taking something that exists and I’m putting a different tab on it. I’m changing the Swoosh. I’m not Bruce Kilgore. But that’s the first phase, is understanding that I’m not redesigning the shoe. I’m just stylizing it and presenting it back.
I’m not starting from scratch. I’m not starting like, ‘Hey, here is a blank canvas.’ But I’m a stylist. You know, I have a design sensibility, but I stylize in a way of breaking the rules.”
by Roxy Lola