In the world of sneaker culture, only a handful of silhouettes are rooted in a specific place. Around the world, the Nike Air Force 1 is regularly associated with New York City and, moreover, with the nickname “Uptowns.” Meanwhile, love for “Le Silver” gives the Air Max 97 an unparalleled cultural validity in Italy. While these two examples have a certain gravity, no single connection between a shoe and a city is as strong as Los Angeles’ embrace of the Nike Cortez, originally released in 1972.
Nike’s history in Los Angeles extends over 50 years. Jeff Johnson, the brand’s first employee, opened the original BRS retail outlet in Santa Monica in August of 1966. By the end of 1973, four of Nike’s 10 The Athletic Department stores were located in the greater LA area, with a fifth added (in Westwood) by decade's end. This wide footprint helps establish brand equity in the city, and while important, is not a singular catalyst for Cortez devotion.
Just as New York’s allegiance for the AF1 developed years after its initial ’82 release, the foundation of Cortez affinity materialized over time. Los Angeles’ climate plays a role. “I feel like the weather created the trend of Cortez in LA. We don't see winter; we don't have to worry about crazy rain and puddles,” explains stylist Aleali May. “When you think of LA, you think of really light, inexpensive shoes that are simple and easy to wear.” Over time, the silhouette became a staple of the city’s swap meets, car clubs and schoolyards.
Continuing Nike’s celebration of the Cortez’s 45th Anniversary, three notable Angelenos share their memories of their city’s signature shoe.
MISTER CARTOON, Artist
Wearing the Cortez in my neighborhood let people know you knew what was up. It meant you listened to West Coast oldies, funk and rap music. Wearing Cortez in my neighborhood meant you were part of the lowrider culture and part of an inner circle that rebelled against society.
LA embraced the shoe in the 1980s because of the simplicity yet boldness of the design. LA identified with the nose design of the shoe and it looked good with raw denim, khakis and corduroy. No other shoe said LA like the Cortez did.
My fondest memory of the Cortez is being a teenager and saving enough money to go cop a brand new pair every Friday at my local Footlocker.
JANAE ROUBLEAU, Designer
I was introduced to Cortez by the cholos within the five-block radius I was raised in. They wore Cortez until the teeth were completely ran through. Then, we’d restock and always with the nylon/suede joints. Never leather! Although, leather was the first material used to construct the shoe. In my neighborhood, Cortez meant business and power.
ALEXIS QUINTERO, Model
I grew up in East LA. When I see the Cortez I feel like it’s my shoe and think of home. My fondest memory of the Cortez would be my first day of middle school. I walked in super scared and anxious (and a little upset I had to wear a uniform). I walked on the yard and saw a group of cool kids wearing their navy and khaki uniforms with the Navy Cortez. I was in awe of how cool they looked and rocked the shoe.
The Nike Cortez Basic Nylon Compton and Long Beach are available June 1 on Nike+, nike.com and at select retailers.