There aren't many footwear designers with a career as storied as Nathan VanHook's. Even among Nike's legendary roster of talent, VanHook finds himself in the company of only a select few.
Currently Nike Football's Senior Footwear Designer, VanHook's track record includes the perennially hyped Air Yeezy II, Woven Footscape Chukka, Air Footscape Magista and Mayfly Woven. Looking through his catalogue of designs, a certain auteur-like aesthetic runs deep with hints of traditional Japanese footwear set against the Swoosh's constant quest for innovation.
Meeting up with the visionary creative in Munich, Germany for the launch of the Tiempo VI, we sat down with VanHook to find out more about his roots, as well as how he and his team managed to usher in the new era of boots.
Can you tell us about your design roots and just more about your background?
Sure, my name is Nathan VanHook, Senior Footwear Designer for Nike Football. I've been at Nike for seven years now working at NSW, ACG, Men's Training and now Nike Football. I think myself, similar to most of our design team, grew up loving sports and I also grew up loving art; I was always drawing and doodling.
Myself personally I went to school for product design and worked on some interesting stuff like surfing, wetsuits and performance product. I grew up loving Nike as a kid – Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Ronaldo and all these guys - then I had the opportunity to come to Nike and it was really a dream; making shoes and making product that everybody loves. Working at Nike Football and seeing our team create the product that really transforms a pitch, seeing guys score amazing goals, World Cup winners, Champions League goals – it’s really amazing.
Do you remember the first shoe you designed for Nike?
The first shoe I designed for Nike was the Nike Aina Chukka. I also worked on the Lunar Wood with those guys.
Do you have a favorite shoe among Nike's arsenal?
I’d say my favorite shoe is the Nike Presto. I was wearing them earlier and they're super comfortable and I think the whole idea of small, medium, large is just brilliant. I remember being just out of high school and going into university and I loved that shoe.
I also loved the Magista Footscapes and the HTM Superflys and when you put those on you just feel that amazing dynamic fit, and you see how these players feel out on the pitch and they're just amazing products to wear.
Do you think you achieved that feeling with the Tiempo 6?
Yeah, and when we show the players they're like, "wow, that’s the Tiempo?" It's a really great testament to the design and the designer that worked on this project, Vianney de Montgolfier, an amazing French designer, really pushed what the Tiempo is in the year 2016. You've got your football-obsessed teen and because of the stuff they grew up with, like the Nike Free and Lunar, their expectations are for us to push and that's what we’re doing.
On that note, you have a fan born in 2000 but the Tiempo or really any classic sneaker for that matter will have a much longer history. Is it important to communicate the story of that shoe to a new generation who isn't familiar with original?
I think that’s really important, the history of where things come from. It's almost like your family and how families tell stories of the past. I mean you have a whole generation out there of people wearing Jordans who didn't even see Jordan play. With the Tiempo, you have players wearing the current Tiempo that didn't see the '94 World Cup but its our job to educate them.
At the same time, were not holding onto the past but instead creating the future and driving towards the future.
What unites all of them? Is it a certain design language, a goal, a concept?
Our goal is always to create product that is super one on one with your foot and allows you to play and perform at the highest level. So, for instance, Mercurial is about the guy that wants the fastest boot on the pitch, the lightest boot; the Magista you just want great touch and play-making; the Hypervenoms are going to lock your foot down.
The one thing that ties them all together is they're all detailed out at the highest level. After the shoes designed, our amazing color team, materials team and graphics team come in and their job is to tie in the whole collection and how Nike Football shows up on the pitch as a whole.
I see you guys used kangaroo leather on the boot. Can you tell us about that?
Yea, so our highest level Tiempos all use kangaroo and it’s actually adapted kangaroo so it has another coating on it so it performs great whether you are playing in wet conditions or sunny/dry conditions, and it's super lightweight. You can get this leather really thin and with this package we’ve created you can get it thinner than before so you get a great touch - almost less when you touch the ball so you have that great sensation.
Around the last World Cup there were a lot of lifestyle releases around the Tiempo. Are we going to see the 6 moving to the streets in some kind of way?
Only time will tell on that so we’ll have to wait and see…
Similarly with the customizable plate. Will we be seeing that option across lifestyle sneakers?
I can say that Nike is always innovating and I do think the future is bright - especially for people who love customizing.
Look for the Tiempo VI to release on Nike.com on November 29.