We'd Noticed She Wore Sneakers, For Sneaking: Nike's The 1 Reimagined Collection Revealed
The Nike campus is an episode of Portlandia I somehow missed. It is populated by a fanatical subset of human: the athlete. Defined as much by its field and surface for every sport as it is by the people running around them, the campus hums with activity, even on the typically wet and cold Fall day.
Within the surrounds of the Nike campus stand buildings with names like "Pete Sampras" and "Michael Jordan." Out of about 12 dedicated structures (not including the Federer Plaza, a modest courtyard which begs one to ask what Roger did wrong), two are named for women: Mia Hamm and Joan Benoit Samuelson. This incongruity is a reminder that Nike is a company built around an industry dominated by men. However, the future is promising as Nike continues to forge an opening for the active, or at least trend-forward woman.
Nike AJ1 Lovers XX
"Nike has been designing products for women for 40 years" is an oft-recited line on campus. Nike Women's latest releases include a sleek, utilitarian athleisure line, advancements on the sports bra, and classic sneakers reimagined for the contemporary female. To provide some historical context on the new collections, Nike opened up their expansive archives to reveal a rich landscape of innovations in women's sportswear.
Nike employs a team of historians to gather and maintain a collection of every product the brand has produced in its 53-year history, from the original waffle trainer to the VaporMax and everything (seriously, everything) in between. Within the Nike archives, in a small room lined with pegboard, hang relics of Nike Women's past, including the bra Brandi Chastain exposed after victoriously ripping off her jersey during the 1999 World Cup and countless designer collaborations dating up to 2017ís Swarovski Air Max 97.
In the Tiger Woods Conference Center's auditorium Maria Vu, Nike Women's Senior Creative Director expresses her belief that Nike's women's initiative will propel an idea they've had brewing for a while now. "We believe women are the future of sport and fitness," she says. "Women are outpacing men in terms of participation and this is an amazing correlation between women in sport and leadership positions. In fact, 94% of women in C suite positions in companies around the world actually played a sport."
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Nike has emphasized the rise of women in sport in ad campaigns dating back to the 1970s. Past Nike campaigns have stressed the social impact that athletics have on women. In the noteworthy 1995 "If You Let Me Play" ad, Nike credits participation in sports as reducing breast cancer, domestic abuse, teen pregnancy and increased self-esteem. While it's not new, Nike is wise to invest in the role that sports will have in the empowerment of women.
At the core of my visit to Nike HQ was a sneaker collection of updated classics titled The 1 Reimagined. With around 1,000 designers, Nike touts itself as the largest design collective in the world, much like the Bauhaus, but sweatier. When a design brief for a new product is passed down from the hands of Maria Vu and the like, Nike picks the best team for the job from their designer pool, each brings a unique skill and perspective to the project.
14 designers--all women--were chosen to completely redesign two Nike Icons for their female audience: the Air Force 1 and the Air Jordan 1. From conception to launch, the project took approximately 10 months, which makes it one of the fastest moving projects at Nike. Moreover, the design phase took an unprecedented five weeks because the creative collective flipped the script on the typical design process.
Nike AJ1 Explorers XX
The 1 Reimagined started with a deck of cards. Each of the 80 cards depicts a unique archetype, which stems from ancient characteristics that exist on the spectrum of human consciousness. After studying their target consumer, the design team narrowed their scope to five archetypes that they believed to represent a facet of the contemporary woman: The Sage, The Lover, The Jester, The Explorer, and The Rebel. Symbolizing each archetype, there are five redesigned silhouettes of both the Air Force 1 (AF1) and Air Jordan 1 (AJ1).
The Air Jordan 1 was designed for the man himself in the mid-1980s and rose to notoriety after a young and irreverent Jordan was banned from wearing it on the court due to their black and red colorway violating the NBA's rules regarding sneaker uniformity. The Air Force 1, another iconic silhouette created for the court, just celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2017. Neither shoe has been typically used for athletic purposes since technology moved on from the clunky and flat sole, but both have had a stronghold in streetwear since their advent.
Headed up by specialists in color, material, and product, Nike's designers came up with an inventively sculptural line of sneakers with The 1 Reimagined. "The goal and the challenge was to create a collection that was boldly wearable, which women can wear to push the edges of their style," says Material Design Director Marie Crow. "The output is the ten silhouettes made up of rich materials like suede, leather and velvet so not only are the sneakers provocative, they are also premium."
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With a clean just off white palette, the focus is on form and the artfully altered characteristics of each sneaker. Completely reinvented and at times unrecognizable, the new icons come in an extreme range of silhouette--from high tops that climb the lower calf, as with the utilitarian AJ1 Explorer XX, to soft nubuck slips, seen in the simple and sophisticated AF1 Lover XX. Each sneaker is a complete departure from its original form. Many of the ten silhouettes do away with laces all together, opting for a slip-in or zip-up style (finished, of course, with a Jumpman pull-tab). The designers have twisted and flipped these shoes to fit into each of the five characteristics that paint the personality of a woman.
By reinventing icons, Nike is playing on its strengths while paying attention to a consumer base who yearns to have their individuality appreciated. "What I was most excited about was pushing what design can do with our most iconic footwear to ultimately create provocative silhouettes to bring sneaker style to a new place," explains Georgina James, Senior Creative Director of Women's Footwear.
Nike AF1 Explorers XX
From its genesis, Nike set out to make us run faster and jump higher, and they succeeded. But something else pretty incredible happened entirely by accident. Nike products started showing up beneath the hem of our jeans, not just our track pants. The 1 Reimagined collection is available in sizes up to women's 12 (US), with plans to expand to ensure the line is inclusive of both men and women. From sole technology that propels the foot forward to a shoe that propels a unique voice, Nike continues to build a platform for innovation and creativity, spanning from field to street and inclusive of all who stand in between.
Written by Charlotte Lethbridge
Illustrations by Aimee Levy
Photography by Jim Turner