1982 and 1985 are pivotal years for NIKE, Inc. These are the respective birth years of two of the most recognized shoe silhouettes in history, the Nike Air Force 1 and the Air Jordan 1. Almost instantly, each shoe transcended its intended court purpose; over subsequent decades, the two basketball shoes have inspired countless versions. Both have been canvases for artists (including Dave White and Mister Cartoon), fashion houses (from CdG to PSNY) and more. Through shifts in style and trend, both have also endured as footwear staples for people from all backgrounds.
With the latest effort against these iconic silhouettes, The 1 Reimagined, a discrete group of internal Nike designers rethink the Nike Air Force 1 and Air Jordan 1 for the first time. The 14 women behind the project represent distinct skill sets within Nike’s more than 1,000-strong design group. Among them are colorists and materials specialists, as well as men’s and women’s mainline footwear designers. The focus of their work was to establish five new articulations of both icons, unrestrained from concerns beyond pure design.
Here’s how it happened:
At root, The 1 Reimagined is a project predicated on shaking things up. With that in mind, Footwear Director Andy Caine picked the 14 participants with a clear objective consideration. “The genesis of creativity is diversity,” he says. “From a design point of view, each of the designers has a very unique background and personality. Our theory is that when you mix diverse creative talents you realize some magic.”
Caine tapped Georgina James to lead the group, which includes Marie Crow, Magnhild Disington, Jacqueline Schoeffel and Chiyo Takahashi from color and material, along with footwear designers Shamees Aden, Reba Brammer, Melusine Dieudonne, Jin Hong, Angela Martin, Kara Nykreim, Marie Odinot, Louisa Page and Jesi Small. Their brief: “Make some cool shit.” Their time frame from brief to final design: Two weeks.
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“Everyone was so excited to work on a project and collaborate together with a focus on women’s product,” notes James.
Aware of the tight timeframe, she initially pulled the group into meetings at Blue Ribbon Studios, Nike WHQ’s integrated design space. There, the women first got to grips with their respective talents — as many were working together for the first time — and started to flesh out prospective plans.
“We spent about a week here putting pen to paper to nail down what our goals were,” says James.
"We're diverse, talented and strong-minded."
During that time, the group started by pulling and grouping imagery, intent on defining the dimensions that make a woman. They discussed the athletic mindset and fashion trends — both in isolation and where the dots can and do connect. Additionally, they examined the elements of each of the shoes, both initially designed by men for male athletes, which have enticed female wearers and could be further accentuated. All these considerations helped with the process of categorization.
Eventually, the groupings formed five pronounced personas: explorer, lover, sage, rebel and jester. James declared these archetypes and combined them with a set of rules (covering how the designers were to balance critical candor and respect while working) as the lone parameters to follow during the project’s next steps.
Once initial ideas were on paper, the group headed to London. The location was chosen for two reasons. First, Nike’s London BRS studio provided space from the daily activity at WHQ. Second, as Caine notes, “London is a fashion hub.” Near the office you have the likes of Samuel Ross and J.W. Anderson — both pioneers in their own right.
“It was luxury to work on one project for one week and not think about anything else,” says James, while Crow notes that the location was “exciting” as it allowed observation of how people “were wearing sneakers, styling them and, ultimately, what was relevant.”
But it was also quick. With just four days, the group had to deliver. James ensured that the hard work was balanced — fueling the integrated creative impulse with the proper down time.
The test, of course, was to translate the luxury of space (offering focus) and the excitement of observation (a freedom to explore) into a cohesive set of shoes. The designers broke into two groups, one for the AF1 (Dieudonne, Disington, Martin, Nykreim, Odinot, Page and Schoeffel) and the other for the AJ1 (Aden, Brammer, Crow, Hong, Small and Takahashi).
“The biggest challenge actually was trying to get the 10 shoes to have their own personality but still connect,” says James.
One solution came as, within the groups, members gravitated to individual archetypes almost naturally — leading the styling of single shoes and relying on the respective expertise of teammates to refine ideas. Another answer, James notes, was through color and materials.
Crow shares that they explored expressive color and materials for the collection but the group ultimately decided on a muted palette. “We soon realized that the silhouette had to be the headliner. Color and materials had to be complimentary and boldly wearable. So we looked at different blockings and different details that we could accentuate,” she says.
After the four (working days) in London, 10 radical shoes were designed, which was a testament indeed to the power of diverse, creative and tight collaboration.
Within The 1 Reimagined, the 14 designers realized a number of first-time efforts against the storied icons. These are demonstrations of the freedom granted and ideas fostered, and are highlighted by the following elements:
- The tallest stack height ever on an AF1 (12mm), from a new tooling developed for the AF1 LOVER XX and AF1 SAGE XX.
- The first AF1 Mule in the AF1 LOVER XX
- A progressive back-to-front construction, complete with corset lacing, on the AF1 REBEL XX
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