A stone’s throw away from London’s Soho Supreme, Palace and Stüssy’s boutiques, 19-year old music producer Tesfa stands in a dark alleyway, which is known for being a hotspot for local resellers trading new products on drop days.
In his hands he holds a paper Nike bag filled to the rim with products from the sportswear giant’s new, highly-anticipated collaboration with London-based menswear designer Martine Rose, which was announced in September.
“I’m a big Nike fan. All I wear is Nike, so for them to hit me up is crazy. It shows that they’re in touch with the actual youth,” says the North London native, who prior to the capsule collection’s launch needed to be contacted via Craigslist in what served as the collection’s lookbook-cum-sales-advertisement.
Tesfa himself was enlisted by Nike along with two other “regular” London merchants — painter and decorator Steve and photography student Suraya — as the brand’s exclusive stockists in what was an unorthodox advertising and distribution strategy, well fitting with Rose’s own codes of transforming the mundane into standout fashion.
“I’m really interested in real people and in fashion [and] there’s no reason the two can’t come together in a beautiful union,” Rose tells Highsnobiety at the secret Soho location in front of a dry cleaner and shoe repair shop. “It’s about making the ordinary, extraordinary.”
For the collection itself, Rose took cues from both heritage English and American sports cultures and was inspired by the way mainstream communities dress in those countries. For the apparel — oversized, multicolored tracksuits and fluorescent sports tops — she looked back to her teenage years when she would purchase clothing from JD Sports, while the deformed footwear, which will come in classic white, pastel pink and all-black colourways, are renditions of Nike’s Monarch model, often associated with “middle-American dads,” according to the designer.
Aesthetics aside, the line remains heavily connected to Nike’s performance roots. “For the whole collection I was looking at athletes, particularly basketball players and how their bodies form in different ways due to their profession,” explains Rose.
“So for the tracksuit we were imagining if I was to put on a Michael Jordan tracksuit, how that would be and how I would have to adapt that to fit my body. Then we looked at some of the sneaker lasts that Nike have of the athletes and their feet and we applied that to the shoes to create these amazing forms.”
Ever since founding her namesake label in 2007, Rose has become known for her down-to-earth take on streetwear as well as her innovative show sets. For her most recent Spring/Summer 2019 collection, the designer brought out editors and high-profile friends of the brand, including Luka Sabbat, to a North London cul-de-sac, where local residents sat between showgoers. The seasons prior to that she showed her collections at a community climbing center and a street market in Tottenham.
“With Craigslist it felt like a natural extension of how I work anyway. I’m interested in finding different ways of showing things and getting people engaged in different ways through new platforms,” says Rose.
For Nike, the collab reflects a wider ambition for the brand around merging its lifestyle and performance businesses — a strategy previously adopted by competitors including adidas, PUMA and Reebok. For over a decade Nike has collaborated with fashion designers like Kim Jones, Riccardo Tisci and Virgil Abloh, yet for years a major cross-over partnership between the two pillars was left out. That changed when Nike announced last May that it would be releasing a performance collection with 1017 ALYX 9SM’s Matthew Williams.
In addition, in a sneaker culture that has long been dominated by both male designers and consumers, Nike’s alliance with Martine Rose marks the next step in the sportswear company’s plans to scale its $6.6 billion women’s business to $11 billion by 2020. And while the collection won’t be exclusively targeted towards women, including more female designers such as Korean-American co-founder of Ambush, Yoon Ahn, who teased her Nike capsule collection earlier this week, will be part of that strategy.
“It’s a great honor to be among those women,” says Rose, who next to Ahn, joins Sacai’s Chitose Abe and Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo in Nike’s portfolio of female fashion collaborators. “Nike are supporters of putting women at the forefront of things so it’s a great privilege to be there.”
For those wanting to get their hands on the Nike x Martine Rose capsule collection, the designer will announce how to do so on Friday, followed by a general release on January 15 at Dover Street Market London and Browns, as well as at select stockists around the world.