It started with a simple but high-pressure question: “How could I do something that has not already been done?” From there, other stresses revealed themselves to Piet Parra, the multidisciplinary Dutch artist who was beginning his latest collaborative Air Max 1 project with Nike. Who is the audience today? What risks can be taken? Where should the work be a little conservative? How do you balance the interests of multigenerational enthusiasts?
The pressure he was feeling is understandable. Parra is responsible for several of the most coveted Air Max 1 colorways in history (2005’s Brownstone/Blue Reef-Dark Oak version, for example) and it has been almost a decade since the last one dropped. “There are two people who sit on your shoulder and watch what you're doing all the time. One says, ‘The collector is going to like this,’” he explains. “And then the opposite, which queries: ‘How does somebody who is 17 or 18 years old — with no idea about what I did before — how are they going to look at this?’”
Since his last Air Max 1 with Nike in 2009, Parra’s work has shifted from the typographical humor he was once known for toward an experiment with abstract compositions. He transitioned from working as an illustrator/designer to focusing more on painting and gallery exhibition.
How could I do something that has not already been done?
If the first of Parra’s works with Nike were on what were known as City Packs, this current collaboration could be defined as a revival of that spirit — with both idea and opportunity expanded. This is reflected in the flat representation of city and countryside that forms a pattern that was applied to both the Air Max 1 and the Zoom Spiridon.
“I made a drawing first and then thought, ‘How can I get a shoe to be involved in this piece?’" he says. “Back in the day, I was thinking color blocking. I didn't think about that this time. I just wanted to make cool work and then see how the shoe can relate to it.”
So, what else is new then?
Most evidently, Parra’s F&F version of the Air Max 1 withholds the shoe’s lateral Swoosh. “I remember back in day, you would take a little knife and remove the side graphic,” he says. “It freed up that panel to incorporate the cloud that's in it now. But I was also very — and still am —very afraid what people will think of it. It does change the shoe visually.”
While the risk opened up possibility, it also instilled in Parra a new confidence in pushing collaborative boundaries. “In some weird way, I feel freer now than earlier in my career,” he notes.
On the retail version of the Air Max 1 and Zoom Spiridon, Parra’s pattern is expanded across the silhouettes — both carry a blue Swoosh — and his signature appears, as on F&F releases of old, on the forefoot. The fun twist is that the two shoes reveal the signature placement’s origin. “The Spiridon has that little Swoosh on the front. The first time saw that I thought, ‘That's perfect. You put your little logo there,’" Parra remembers.
The collection is rounded out by a tracksuit, which also carries Parra’s new pattern, and effectively celebrates the role of each piece (the two sneakers and the garments) in Dutch street culture.
The Nike x Parra Air Max 1 and Zoom Spiridon, along with associated apparel, launch July 21.