Whispers of a Virgil Abloh x Nike footwear collaboration started circulating as far back as November, 2016, and leaks have persisted on social media for the last eight months. Only this week did Nike confirm the partnership, showing official images of 10 different Nike sneakers designed by Virgil Abloh.
It’s a huge move from both parties, as Virgil was allowed to tear apart and re-build some of Nike’s most iconic running and basketball silhouettes. This is no doubt a career highlight on Virgil’s CV, and a major personal accomplishment for him, but on the other side, this collaboration is also a very timely arrival for Nike.
Here’s why Virgil Abloh is in fact the best collaborator Nike could ask for right now.
Nike does several things exceptionally well, including performance research and marketing, giving rise to key proprietary technologies like Flyknit and Air cushioning, as well as some truly awesome advertising campaigns. But over the past several years, the brand’s track record of high fashion collaborations has been less than impressive. Co-branded Swoosh projects with designers Olivier Rousteing and Kim Jones were announced with much fanfare, only to flop in contrast with adidas’s work alongside Raf Simons and Rick Owens. Even Nike’s work with Riccardo Tisci, which started on an immensely strong note three years ago, has tapered off into relative obscurity.
Virgil is now an integral part of the contemporary high fashion fabric. He regularly shows OFF-WHITE on the Parisian runway, and secures headlines with Vogue and the biggest fashion publications, cheesing for photos with Anna Wintour. Yesterday, his Nike project even debuted on GQ, a publication that showed zero interest in 2005-era streetwear, when Virgil was still running his own blog, The Brilliance. Times have changed. But given Abloh’s couture clout, Nike is surely looking to turn the page by being more assertive in the high fashion sphere, which becomes more intrinsically tied with streetwear each season.
adidas has been making a ton of noise in hip hop and fashion, and silhouettes like the NMD and Ultra Boost have become massive signifiers on Instagram. While the 16-25 sneakerhead demographic only represents a fraction of business for a brand like adidas or Nike, the general consensus is that adidas has become more appealing to the tastemaker crowd these days.
Virgil Abloh x Nike is one step toward reversing the effect that Kanye West and Pharrell’s adidas collaborations have created in the sneaker market, and simply, Virgil can help shift the momentum in Nike’s favor, entreating some eyeballs which previously may have been trained on the latest Boost kicks.
In a lot of ways, Virgil is indeed the perfect partner for Nike because it’s clear he genuinely loves the brand, in fact you’ll seldom see the trained architect in anything other than Swoosh kicks or Vans. Obsessed with Nike and the legacy of Michael Jordan, Virgil revealed to Nike “We were enamored with Air Jordans. Michael Jordan was larger than life — he was Superman to me.” Virgil and his clique of #NikeBoyz (Travis Scott, “Just” Don Crawley, and RSVP Gallery buyer Easy Otabor) have remained staunchly in Beaverton’s corner, while the Three Stripes has become popular to an almost insufferable degree.
Virgil As a Long-Term Partner
There was a time when it was necessary to preface any coverage of Vigil’s work with the title “Former Creative Director of Kanye West…” Now in his own right, the 36-year-old is one of the most commanding names in the industry, and the new “The Ten” collection could be the beginning of a long-term partnership that sees much more happen between Nike and “Air” Abloh.
In many ways, Virgil is the ultimate multi-creative. Splitting his time between DJing and designing, the opportunities for Nike and Virgil to work together – particularly in the role of consultant and ambassador – are nearly endless, especially now that Nike needs collaborators to appeal to the Instagram-driven, Gen Z crowd, particularly to fill the place of A$AP Bari, who was actually doing some great things for Nike. Although Virgil’s “The Ten” project was focused around footwear, the future could prove to open up even more doors.
“Just Do It”
Not long ago, the host of Virgil Abloh’s lecture at Columbia University introduced him to attendees as as “the ultimate synthesizer.” Virgil’s greatest strength is perhaps his ability to take multiple variables or touchpoints and quickly crystallise them into one final product, which surely proved to be a key strength when turning around ten shoe designs in ten months. When sifting through 53 years of Nike design history, Abloh’s ability to analyze and execute surely benefitted the end result.
Nike’s news release chalks this up to “a Just Do It mentality — one rooted in working hard to realize one’s own potential,” and a similar mentality to that of Nike founder Bill Bowerman, who hacked together his own track and field prototypes with the tools in his home. Virgil shows a similar mindset, and his “no sleep” attitude and considerate qualities makes him the ideal collaborative partner for Nike.
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