As we wrap up our coverage of Paris Fashion Week, one trend we noticed is the sneaker that fashion editors, street style stars, and cool kids all over Europe are currently rocking: the Nike React Element 87, which released on this side of the Atlantic on June 21. That's right, the EU got a few weeks' headstart on American sneakerheads, who have to wait until July 13 for the release of the highly anticipated silhouette.
Built on Nike's new React sole—which we reviewed earlier this year—the shoe is the general release version of the model first seen at designer Jun Takahashi's UNDERCOVER Fall/Winter 2018 womenswear show. When it debuted back then, it sparked a frenzy on social media, with people eager to cop the collaborative version, which is slated to drop later this year. But the Nike React Element 87, with its translucent upper, cork footbed, and liquid-like sole that almost looks like the Venom symbiote slowly taking over the shoe, is undoubtably one of Nike's most-hyped general release sneakers as of late.
What exactly makes it the kind of shoe that triggers the lizard-brain in sneaker fiends and recovering shopping addicts?
“The honesty of the design makes it different to a lot of current product in the market,” says Nate Jobe, senior design director at Nike, who oversees the Swoosh's special projects. “Our collective footwear design team is putting a lot of effort into making product that is technically innovative, but also straightforward and function-driven for urban environments.”
Indeed, Nike's own narrative spins the shoe as a “prequel” to the well-received Epic React Flyknit that dropped earlier this year. Meant more for walking (and flexing), the shoe was seen on the feet of many well-heeled style mavens at Paris Fashion Week—and street style photographers took notice.
“They’re Nike’s most innovative sneaker in a minute, and they’re still pretty limited,” says photographer Chris Fenimore, who lensed plenty of people wearing the covetable kicks while shooting street style for e-commerce platform Grailed.
The first colors of the shoe: a white Sail/Light Bone colorway and darker Anthracite/Black colorway are a more casual take on the performance-driven Epic React Flyknit, ditching the knit upper and utilizing a similar see-through material on the upper as Virgil Abloh's Converse “The Ten” Chuck Taylor, giving more shine to socks worn underneath.
“They’re very easy to wear, and comfortable,” adds Fenimore, who managed to cop a pair of the shoes from NikeLab P75 on the morning they dropped. “The translucence is a brilliant feature because they can change color based on your sock choice.”
The design of the shoe itself is inspired by Nike's heritage of fusing form with function. Only in this case, Nate Jobe says they “exaggerated the innovation” in the way the sole looks, as well as the pared-down, see-through nature of the upper. The shoe shares some similarities with another hot project Jobe worked on—artist Tom Sachs' Mars Yard 2.0 sneaker.
But it's important to emphasize the success of this shoe comes directly from the strength and appeal of the design. It's a testament to the work Jobe and his team have put into it, and all the more edifying when it becomes reinterpreted by fashion designers they happen to be fans of.
“It doesn’t hurt when designers like Craig Green and Jun Takahashi of UNDERCOVER support your work by including it in their fashion shows,” says Jobe.
Stylist Taylor Okata thinks the sneaker is the ideal canvas for a collaboration with a label like UNDERCOVER, one of his favorites. In fact, some of the brand's hardcore fanboys have likened the appeal of the React Element 87 to Jun Takahashi's Spring/Summer 2010 “Less But Better” collection, which deconstructed garments and accessories into austere, oft-monochromatic pieces. He also thinks it's timely, and in accordance with several of the trends he saw walking down the runway for the Spring/Summer 2019 season.
“I’m not surprised the outcome of this design was so on-point and highly visible during recent fashion weeks in Europe,” says stylist Taylor Okata. “The touch of transparency is a trend we’ve been seeing in recent collections—from clear shoppers to the sneakers at Kim Jones’ Dior Homme debut.”
Of course, Okata points out the sneaker isn't just on-trend—wearing it before the wider release date is worthy of bragging rights in itself.
“It’s also a flex, given the shoe just came out and doesn’t hit North America until July.”
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