Nike

There is, and always has been, a fine line separating style and practicality, and it’s a line that designers have been toying with it for a while now. For every luxury garment crafted by an atelier to champion creativity, there’s a no-frills piece of activewear that focuses on function before aesthetic.

Over the past few years though, we’ve seen the line blur a little; high-end designers linking up with sportswear giants (mainly Nike and adidas) to provide a more stylish edge to sportswear. But few brands execute it in a way that fully respects the two sides of the fashion coin. Most are just satisfied lending their names to a collaboration, taking the paycheck, and nothing more.

But Gyakusou, the link-up between Nike and UNDERCOVER founder Jun Takahashi, seems to have it mastered. Providing an outlet for both the Japanese designer’s creative imagination and his affinity for running, the project is a perfect fit. The execution of the garments themselves is the primary reason the collaboration is so respected in niche circles, eight years after it first formed.

Nike

In 2010, the idea for a running gear-slash-couturier crossover came to Nike Global Energy marketing director Fraser Cooke. Already aware of its potential (at this point, Y-3 was killing it in the luxe sportswear space), but cognizant of the fact there was a link missing among the pieces already out there, Cooke reached out to Takahashi to form a new brand, one made with real-life runners in mind.

Takahashi’s passion for running means he’s as hands-on as possible when it comes to creating Gyakusou’s two collections a year. Every development, from the colorways to the innovative technology used, stems from his own experience.

Even now, while juggling his packed work schedule, Takahashi still manages to run up to 10 miles every other day around his local park in tandem with his team of running subjects, the Gyakusou International Running Association, who test out the latest gear. But in true Takahashi spirit, he sprints in the opposite direction to the masses completing the same circuit. After all, in English, Gyakusou means “running in reverse.”

You might think Takahashi’s approach to creating his own brand of luxe running gear is obsessive and meticulous, but it’s further proof that he’s doing it for the right reasons — as a consumer rather than as a brand representative. From the collaboration’s beginnings up until the most recent examples of Takahashi’s Nike designs spilling onto the UNDERCOVER catwalk, here are the key moments in Gyakusou’s history to get you clued up before you cop.

UNDERCOVER x fragment design x Nike Match Classic HF

Press / Flight Club

Before the launch of Gyakusou, there was this three-way collaboration. When a sneaker crossover involves more than one party, the end result can wind up looking either a little too busy or, at worst, completely unwearable. But when you leave a vintage Nike silhouette in the hands of two clearheaded design geniuses — in this case, Takahashi and long-time collaborator Hiroshi Fujiwara of uber-stylish fragment design — the result is crazy wearable.

Early in 2009 (then again for a second drop in 2010), Takahashi and Fujiwara joined forces to put their stamp on Nike’s Match Classic, a basic suede tennis sneaker that could’ve been a blank canvas for the duo to wreak havoc on. But in the end, all they did was run orange and blue train-track print along each rubber sole, placing their brand logos just below. Of all of Takahashi’s Nike sneaker collabs, this was perhaps the most simplistic — but it’s up there as one of the slickest and most considered, too. If you’re in love with Gyakusou collections but feel weird about wearing running gear out in the wild, or fear Takahashi’s more audacious designs, this hookup with fragment and Nike might be the thing for you.

The Inaugural Collection

The first link-up between Nike and Takahashi, for FW10, was announced in September 2010, hitting Nike stores a month later. The collection gave us our first look at the now famous lightweight stretch jacket, which has been reinvented a number of times throughout Gyakusou’s history. Its first incarnation was laser cut with a strategic seam placement to provide more freedom of movement, as well as removable sleeves to make it adaptable to different climates.

Functionality was important from the get-go. The collection’s shorts were designed to accommodate pockets in the least obtrusive of places, so runners could store their keys, phones, and other accessories in places that would keep their movements comfortable and natural. It was the kind of design element other luxury fashion-turned-sportswear designers hadn’t fully considered up until that point.

The aesthetic elements of Gyakusou were of equal importance to Takahashi, too.

At the time — and even still today — most athletic gear was designed in neon shades, purposely clashing with everyday environments as if they were designed for race cars rather than human beings. Gyakusou’s colorways, however, were quietly revolutionary. Instead of lightning yellow and lurid blue, Takahashi opted for steel grays and earthy browns to, in his own words, “reflect a harmony with nature.” The only hint of bold color in the initial collections was a red piping on some garments to represent the blood coursing through our veins.

Pieces from Gyakusou’s early collections in good condition are quite hard to come by, mainly due to the environments they’re exposed to, but don’t be surprised if original stretch jackets or well kept Zoom Spider TT+ sneakers show up on Grailed or StoreX sometime soon.

Nike x UNDERCOVER Gyakusou LunarSpeed AXL

Finding running sneakers that pair flashy design with an equally impressive set of athletic benefits can be hard, but Takahashi’s take on the LunarSpeed AXL delivers on both counts.

Gyakusou SS14 tapped into the concept of yin and yang with a new silhouette for NikeLab designed to bring a sort of rested harmony to its wearer. That shoe would go on to become a coveted Takahashi x Nike classic. With a lightweight, shock-absorbent Lunarlon sole and a python leather upper stitched over mesh, it was a comfortable running sneaker that didn’t compromise on style either.

Anybody who suffers from mild OCD might be freaked out by the purposely clashing colorways, but these were a reference to the yin and yang concept Takahashi and his design team had in mind. In grays and burgundies, blues, and yellows, the left foot looks like an inverted version of the right, color-wise — laces and all. The bold Swoosh branding on the toe tops it off. While all styles are now out of stock (Gyakusou is yet to revive the silhouette), you can still catch them on Grailed every so often if you keep your eyes peeled.

NikeLab Gyakusou LunarEpic Flyknit

Having first dropped two years ago, Takahashi’s take on Nike’s LunarEpic Flyknit silhouette is still one of the most revered sneaker styles in the brand’s history. Adapting Nike’s preexisting technology, the LunarEpic Flyknit is known for its water-repellent, second skin flyknit upper — a must-have for all-weather running — and slick Lunar sole that’s contoured to the shape of your foot.

The LunarEpic Flyknit style felt like a perfect fit for Gyakusou. Rather than completely revolutionizing the silhouette merely for the sake of it, Takahashi applied his own spin by toning down the futuristic colorways and instead offering a deep red, gray, and navy version with a Gyakusou-branded heel strip.

For fans of Balenciaga sock runners, this bolder, more practical skintight style is a must-cop and can be found on resale sites for around cost price. Those with quick fingers who’re willing to settle for a slight compromise can still cop more recent colorways.

NikeLab x UNDERCOVER SFB Jungle Dunk

Highsnobiety

Takahashi kicked off 2017 with a NikeLab x UNDERCOVER link-up for the ages. His SFB Jungle Dunk, a sort of monstrous work of art, combined elements from three silhouettes to create a sneaker that, despite its wild parts, looks more fly than freakish.

The Jungle Dunk comes in two colorways: navy and black, and white, royal blue, and black. The upper is taken from Nike’s classic Dunk silhouette, while the sneaker’s tooling and outsole come from the hiking-style SFB Jungle Boot. Finally, it’s finished off with the heel cage from the once-ubiquitous Huarache. On paper, it sounds excessive, but Takahashi is a designer who knows how to make things work. Appropriately, UNDERCOVER’s legendary buzzwords — “CHAOS” and “BALANCE” — are molded on the left and right heels respectively.

A lot of what Takahashi does in his Nike collaborations is to unpack the idea of heritage — usually that of his home country or the brand’s relationship with running. But here, three silhouettes with little in common were taken and stitched together Frankenstein-style to create a sneaker that is completely singular. They’re sold out now, but you can catch them on sites such as StockX in mint condition for a little more than the original RRP.

NikeLab Gyakusou Shield Jacket

Nike

We’ll be the first to admit that it’s difficult for the average streetwear aficionado to flex running leggings on the daily, but thankfully there are plenty of sought-after pieces from the Gyakusou archives that work as pure fashion pieces, too. Take the shield jacket as a prime example. Now a staple part of almost every Gyakusou FW drop, it’s a jaw-droppingly dope piece, depending on the colorway.

Our favorite is the gray and moss version Takahashi released for FW17. The branding might be a little more subtle, but the beauty is in the details: an iconic perforated design on the back; a down-stuffed panel on the front that has the Gyakusou logo laser-cut into it; a ninja-like wraparound hood; and knit sleeves complete with thumb hole for maximum coziness.

While a lot of running gear made today resembles, well, running gear, there’s something about Gyakusou’s snow-friendly shield jacket that feels much more hype-friendly. That might have something to do with the fact it’s pretty much sold out everywhere and goes for more than cost price on the second-hand market, too.

Next-Level Cool for SS18

Takahashi’s progress over the last eight years leads us to Gyakusou’s most recent, and still coppable, SS18 collection.

For this season, the classic, lightweight pack-away jacket gets its most technically audacious re-up and is perfectly suited for humid summers. Presented in a whole array of colorways — from traditional earth red to a more futuristic pewter — it takes a step forward in terms of intuitive design. The sleeves are a little shorter than the versions Takahashi has released before, but the material is still wind- and water-resistant and is packed with reflective panels for late-night or muggy-weather running.

Making a jacket that suits hot and wet weather isn’t easy, but it’s essential given Japan’s humid summer months. Now, after nearly a decade of testing what works best, Takahashi has given us a slick-looking, beautifully branded jacket that fulfills every streetwear and athletic fan’s needs.

Our favorite piece is the “Running Monks” tee with Gyakusou branding in a gothic font. Not only is the material breathable, with Dri-FIT mesh placed in correspondence with research done through body mapping, its loose fit makes it a cool piece to add to anyone’s casual daywear. It’s also starting to sell out, so grab one while you can before the resale price skyrockets.

UNDERCOVER x Nike React Element 87

Highsnobiety / Eva Al Desnudo

While Gyakusou is strictly performance wear, Jun’s collaborations under the UNDERCOVER umbrella are imbued with more streetwear appeal. Enter the UNDERCOVER x Nike React Element 87. Debuting on the feet of models at UNDERCOVER’s Paris catwalk show for FW18, the React Element 87 silhouette stunned sneakerheads when it made its debut back in early March.

Aesthetically, its translucent upper, elaborate tape designs, and off-kilter lacing system (it looks more like a hiking boot than a traditional sneaker) mean it’s one for fans of the “ugly sneaker” trend. Its React sole, meanwhile, makes it one of the most comfortable sneakers around, rivaling adidas’ YEEZY-approved Boost technology.

It’s another symbol of how Takahashi has made the most of Nike’s wealth of knowledge when it comes to sportswear. Even when creating a fashion-forward silhouette — and one we’re pretty sure will overhaul COMME des GARÇONS’ Nike collaborations as the most sought-after sneaker of the season when it drops later in the year — Takahashi still has his eye on what makes sense from a practical perspective.

As UNDERCOVER grows with every season, gaining further notoriety as a disruptive and beguiling fashion week staple, Gyakusou grounds itself and focuses on what matters. Instead of getting wrapped up in elaboration, Takahashi makes everything under the Gyakusou banner simpler and more intuitive for the consumer.

Before, fashion designers butting into the athleticwear scene made clothes for people who found the idea of keeping fit fashionable, people who had no real idea of what constituted good running gear. Now, Takahashi has proved that, with the right intentions, fitness obsessives and lovers of high-end clothing can run in the same circles — and in the same direction.

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Words by Douglas Greenwood
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