Riccardo Tisci has worn white Air Force 1s for the last 15 years, and so when the call came from Nike seeing if he was interested in collaborating, he knew exactly what style he would be working with. When the creative director and head designer of Givenchy sat down with Complex to talk about this project, the love he has for Nike and the pride he felt from the collaborative efforts were nearly palpable. 

The details of this project have been swirling, but here they are in full: Tisci re-worked two classics (the Air Force 1 Low and Mid), and created two entirely new silhouettes (the Air Force 1 Hi and Air Force 1 Boot). The Nike + R.T. Air Force 1 Low will cost $230, and the Nike + R.T. Air Force 1 Mid is priced at $260. The Nike + R.T. Hi—a three quarters shoe—will cost $320 and the Nike + R.T. Boot comes in at $340. 

Recently, images of the white colorway were revealed and already have people making plans for the 3/21 release date at select retailers. The black colorway, presented here for the first time, will be released in the weeks to come.

Read the interview below to hear Tisci speak on why this collaboration worked so well, what his goals were heading into the project, and get a first look at the black colorway that will be released very soon.

Interview by Matthew Henson.

Complex: What is it like to have a huge name like Nike asking you to create your own version of an iconic sneaker?

Riccardo Tisci: It's an amazing experience. It's something that, in life, when you become successful at the job I am doing, you get a lot of people that ask you to do projects because of your name, especially in fashion. I think a lot of times, I didn't want to mix myself with that. A year and half ago they approached me about this project, and it was a very emotional moment because Nike as a company is one of the biggest companies in the world.

This is for the kids, the ones who love Nike, and the ones who love my style.

Being a European person, what you dream of when you think of America is all of these iconic things—the flag, which I am obsessed with, and collect personally. You have Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Nike, many things for you that are quite normal. But for an outsider, these things are so beautiful, strong, and powerful. 

The call from Nike was amazing for two reasons. The company is very pure, and everything they have done in their 41 years of operation, which is almost my exact age, I've always remembered as a child, because back then I was a basketball player.

They've never done any collaboration that was wrong, or didn't make sense to the company's codes, never done anything too much, the history is one that respects its roots.

The second point is that I have been obsessed with Nike. I've been wearing Air Force 1s for 15 years. It's always been the same. The white ones. When people take a picture of me I almost always have on the same thing. A black T-shirt, black trousers, and white Nike shoes. This collaboration is something that to me, is not work, it's more of a celebration of life, a celebration of something that I love, respect, and believe in.

The respect part was one of the most important things for me when doing this project, because these shoes are so iconic. Any big brand or any big house have their successful products or items that represent them. The fact that they approached me to reinterpret these shoes made me very proud. Regardless of me doing menswear, womenswear, and couture, I've been lucky to have 100 percent freedom to express myself and for me this was a "Wow" project because Nike gave me an iconic shoe, and basically gave me a white sheet of paper to do what I want. 

What is the design process like for something of this magnitude? Do you alert everyone on your team, and how do you keep this from leaking? You have been working on this for a long time. 

I went out with this project in mind, and I kept it a secret and very close to me. Nobody knew about it because I didn't want anyone to know or find out, because I am very secretive. I worked on this project for days and days doing research, and I presented a lot of stories to Nike, like five or seven stories but I already knew which one was the best one. I knew that this particular story was the right story for me. But it is important to have the opinion of Nike as a company, also in terms of merchandising, because another important part of this project for me was how it would be merchandised. It needed to combine the elements of this iconic shoe, my style, but also at the same time make it accessible to everyone. And that point of accessibility is very important to me, and is what makes Nike so cool. 

You must have made a ton of prototypes.

There were different ones, that were a little bit more crazy, or rather experimental. Then there were the ones here that we decided on, that my gut told me were the best ones, and the ones Nike could stand behind. And we all agreed. 

Nike gave me an iconic shoe, and basically gave me a white sheet of paper to do what I want.

What were some of the things that you knew you wanted to change or focus on, since it's a shoe that you personally wear every day?

I changed very little of the shoe. I kept the volume, the shape, and beauty of these shoes. Also keeping to the roots of these shoes, I used the same leather. The changes are mostly in the details. The perforation on the toe, and even at one point during the process we were going to change the sole, but I went back to the classic sole because when I am wearing the shoes, it's one of the things that I really enjoy about them. I thought about the people who will wear them and what those people wouldn't want to see on them anymore. 

The end result is something I am very proud of. And I wore them in a shoot and I thought wow, this is a really cool pair of Nikes, and I felt at home in them. What I brought to this sneaker was the different textures and colors, because they tell a story of tribes, and tribes are a very important thing to me. Today people live in tribes. It's a big inspiration on my life.

How many styles and colorways did you decide on? You mentioned earlier, they gave you complete freedom. 

I did four styles, including the two classics, which are the lows and the mids. And then I did two new styles: a three quarters, and a higher version that is like a boot.

There are two groups of coloration. There's the white, which everyone can relate to. And then there is a version where the base is black, which might sound mechanical but it completely changes the shoes. We are releasing the white first because that is the one that I wear, but the black one is quite amazing. 

This collaboration is one of respect and not of finance. It's one where I respect the company, and the company respects my style. This is for the kids, the ones who love Nike, and the ones who love my style. For them to be able to buy it, and wear it. 

 

You have a natural connection to the streets and street culture, and I think this is one way for you to reach the customers and fans who cannot otherwise get something that you have designed under the house of Givenchy. 

Well yes, because it was very easy to work with Nike. Sometimes you get approached by these big companies that want you to do a collaboration or whatever it is, and it's very violent. I won't mention names but I have worked with other big companies in the past and they were quite violent. That's the good thing about Nike: It's a company with a lot of young creative people behind the wheel. They focus a lot on technology to make you better. To make you run better, to be faster and I asked myself what I can bring to the table. And I thought about creating something that is just cool, that people will want to buy, and wear it, and the best thing about AF1 and these particular ones, as they get worn in and destroyed they look even better. 

...as they get worn in and destroyed they look even better.

It's an extension of identity really. Kids today in the world need to be able to have an identity outside of the social, economic, political and religious constraints around them. That's what I mean by tribes. Some are more goth, more punk, more rap, or maybe R&B, and I think who this collaboration speaks to is the younger generation. 

When I was young I used to play basketball from the age of seven to about when I was 15 because it made me feel good, and I felt very free while doing it. I'm not from a rich family, so I know what it's like to not be able to afford nice things, and basketball was an escape. But then I injured my knee and I could not play so I had to find another way to make myself happy and express myself. So I moved to England, and it was there that I decided that I wanted to become a designer. So this collaboration is also a celebration of my childhood, through this amazing company, and a shoe I feel connected to. It's a dream. Seeing my initials on the shoe is a great moment for me as a designer. And I of course have so many amazing moments as a designer, but when you see your name next to a big brand like Nike, it's very personal, and makes me feel epic and so proud. 

 

Kids will wait outside for days for these sneakers.

Seeing my initials on the shoe is a great moment for me as a designer.

Yes, and sometimes people do these collaborations and they put numbers [to show the limited quantities of the pieces], and it creates the wrong sensation. Because I come from a normal family, I want my niece, and my nephew, to like it, to be able to afford it, and actually be able to get a pair. 

The shoe's packaging will be amazing. Kids will want it because of the shoes, but also, I am so proud of the packing. It's very innovative and I am so happy that Nike let me do it. Its a true innovation of packaging. 

In terms of innovation, that is what Nike does, even with the classic styles.

It's a real testament to Nike as a company, because sometimes these big companies are scared to take a risk. You know that feeling when you are scared to meet your icon, because you are terrified that you will be disappointed. I'm very lucky that I have met a lot of icons, and gotten the chance to work with them, one that I've loved since I was a child, and have not been disappointed. In that same chain of experience Nike is the same. I was very surprised on how much freedom they gave me, and that is a huge risk for them. And the reach they have is very important to me.