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Yesterday at work started like most other days. I finished writing a story we were going to publish, and I talked about sneakers with the other guys in the office. Gerald, the editor-in-chief of Sole Collector, proposed an odd question:
“Did Marc Dolce leave Nike? I just emailed him and it bounced back.”
Dolce, the man behind the revitalization of the Penny Hardaway line at Nike Sportswear and other updated classics such as the Lunar Force 1, had become a ubiquitous symbol of Nike. His Instagram feed is full of sneaker porn from Nike and Jordan.
Gerald's question, however, wasn't spurred from anything that Dolce had posted on social media—it came from a cryptic Instagram post from fellow senior Nike designer Denis Dekovic, who has been involved with Nike Football and worked on the Magista boot. Later on that morning, Dekovic would go on to post another photo on Instagram that confirmed that himself, Dolce, and Mark Miner, another senior Nike designer who did work on the Nike Free line, had all left Nike to join forces with adidas.
The news seemed unreal. Three of Nike's rising design talents, who were instrumental within different aspects of the brand, were leaving and going to Nike's longest-standing rival. The announcements didn't stop there. Shortly after the news broke, adidas confirmed that it would be opening a design studio in Brooklyn, where these three designers could work, far away from the American sneaker hub of Portland, Ore. and even further from adidas' global HQ in Germany.
Adidas wasn't just telling the world that it has a new sneaker coming out, it was making changes from the inside out. It was, in a sense, re-branding itself publicly.
By now, everyone is well aware that Kanye West, Pharrell, and Nigo had joined an adidas roster which already included the likes of Jeremy Scott, Rick Owens, Raf Simons, and Yohji Yamamoto. This move gave adidas star power, and a visible face to reel in and relate to the public—which has already caused lineups and enthusiasm, most recently with the release of Pharrell's monochromatic Stan Smiths.
the signing of these three designers only confirmed that adidas is serious about dethroning Nike.
If there was any doubt remaining that the Big Three could reposition adidas to make a serious run at Nike's top spot in the athletic and footwear industry, the signing of these three designers only confirmed that adidas is serious about dethroning Nike. All of the hype and celebrity status that Kanye, Pharrell, and Nigo bring to adidas means nothing if they can't deliver good product, and bringing in new, provoking designers could be the linchpin to make adidas a serious threat.
Kanye, Pharrell, and Nigo are great additions to adidas' growing roster, but they can't do everything themselves. Their influence and names can only do so much for a brand—someone still has to design the sneakers. Linking proven designers with big names is the recipe for success: Just look what Nathan VanHook, the designer who collaborated with Kanye West on the Yeezy II, was able to do for not only Kanye, but NSW and the brand's outdoor category.
Yes, adidas has put out new and interesting designs this year in the Pure Boost, SL Loop, and ZX Flux, but it's going to take much more than three sneakers for adidas, which was just passed by Under Armour as the second biggest sneaker/athletic apparel brand, to replace Nike in the hearts and minds of consumers.
Getting Dolce to re-interpret its archival products, which have been flourishing under the adidas Originals umbrella, and having Miner work on lightweight running concepts could prove as a positive step to reshape adidas' identity within the current market. The acquisition of Dekovic and his football savvy comes at an interesting time as well. It's widely regarded that adidas "won the 2014 World Cup," with two adidas teams, Germany and Argentina, playing in the Final, but Nike saw huge gains within soccer over the past year—inching closer and closer to adidas' prominence.
Stripping away Dekovic, who designed the stellar-looking boot that scored the game-winning goal in the World Cup Final, from Nike further continues adidas' push towards integrating its soccer line into gear that can be worn off-field. (Just look at all of the "Battle Pack" sneakers that released this year.) It also gives adidas more leverage at something it's good at, and a boost to clearly separate itself from Nike.
We haven't seen anything from these three designers yet—and more than likely won't for quite some time (it's likely that they have non-compete clauses in their contracts and it will take time for their designs to get put into production)—but it's a sign that adidas isn't just going to go along being its old self. It's here to make a change, and Nike is the brand's target.
If one thing's for sure, this has caused excitement for adidas' future. The next year will be filled with a bunch of what-ifs: What will Kanye's first collection look like? What will Marc Dolce do with the brand's history? Will soccer finally cross over into the mainstream of America? What new running sneakers can adidas create which will find acceptance in the lifestyle category?
And, most importantly, will people trade in their Swooshes for a set of Three Stripes? Dolce, Miner, and Dekovic already did. It's a start.
Matt Welty is an editorial assistant at Complex and he wishes more sneakers came with Boost and Primeknit. You can follow him on Twitter here.