Here’s What Went Down at Virgil Abloh’s Nike “OFF-CAMPUS” Installation

This morning Nike and Virgil Abloh opened the doors of 23 Wall Street, the building housing “OFF-CAMPUS,” an installation celebrating Abloh’s “The Ten” collaboration with the sportswear company, consisting of ten reinterpreted Nike sneakers. Throughout the day the site is hosting several panels which are being livestreamed by Nike.

The first thing people will notice about the space is the industrial look and feel, aligning with the aesthetic approach to the shoes. Staffers wore all white with customized Nike tees and headbands with “Staff” written in quotes, something that’s become an OFF-WHITE trademark.

Outside the panel space was an installation featuring shoes from the collaboration in dynamic displays. Behind that, a more sprawling exhibition explained the concepts behind the sneakers. The Jordan 1s hung from the feet of an invisible Michael Jordan mid-dunk. The Air Force 1s burst from a wall, and the Chuck Taylors lay atop a mountain of photos featuring plenty of people wearing different types of Chucks.

Upstairs, a pop-up “Nike Store” sold exclusive merch, ranging from tees, hoodies, caps, a tote bag, and a special toolkit enabling people to customize and cut-up whatever shoe they pleased. Take a look at some of the exclusive merch below. The sneakers went on sale to select participants who attended “OFF-CAMPUS” panels.

We attended the first panel, moderated by Phoebe Lovatt and featuring Virgil Abloh and Andy Caine, VP of Footwear Design at Nike. In the panel, Abloh shared how he and his friend Chris Eaton used to draw on Nikes when they were younger, sent them the company, and got rejection letters. But that inspired him to keep working, and provided Abloh with the premise of his collaboration.

“There’s windows within Nike—or any corporation—to insert young ideas,” Abloh said in the panel. Caine agreed, placing The Ten in the context of Nike’s current strategy of working with outside creatives.

“The philosophy is now very much collaboration-driven,” he said. “You want to get that synergy between creative people.”

One of the bigger talking points of the panel was how plenty of the sneakers featured in the collection are ones that have gained a second meaning through subculture. But initially, they were developed out of an athletic performance need.

“Usually when something is distinct and has a strong point-of-view, it tends to translate into different subcultures,” said Caine.

“These shoes are icons. They’ve sort of transcended into another space,” added Abloh. “We can look at them in 2017 and understand how they were important in the past.”

Some of the tidbits we learned was that the Chuck Taylor was the shoe that required “the most amount of e-mails,” namely with Abloh trying to include a Nike Swoosh on the Converse silhouette. He admitted that the politics of working within the context of intra-company brands was a bit tricky, and adds to the unprecedented nature of this project.

“I’m trying to perfect a mature way of being disruptive,” he said.

Another piece of trivia Abloh let slip is how the highly-anticipated Jordan 1 was initially supposed to be all white. However, he changed his mind upon seeing a pair of similarly colored Dunks while going through security at the Newark ariport, and decided to change it to reflect the classic red, black, and white “Chicago” colorway. The resulting shoe is something that he describes as having the vintage appeal of a well-worn pair bought from a shop like Round 2, but with the added satisfaction of being a new product.

Abloh addressed the kids in the audience who had managed to sneak in the panel, admitting that he would have been one of them back in the day. He also expressed his admiration for Céline designer Phoebe Philo, and passed on some advice for young creatives hoping to follow in his footsteps.

“First rule is never sleep,” he said. But he followed up with: “To be young and work within an industry means there are rules to follow and rules to break,” advising those in attendance to learn how to break the rules creatively.

The “OFF-CAMPUS” installation will run in New York until September 8, and guests can register on nike.com.

Now learn how you can buy “The Ten” sneakers.