Nike recently showcased 'The Ten' series in collaboration with Off White's Virgil Abloh, who will be appearing at this year's ComplexCon. The collaboration is a collection of ten reconstructed Nike footwear classics — from the Air Max 90 to the Presto, through to the new Vapormax model. The collection has divided opinion due to the radical nature of the designs but, despite opinions, this coming together may open the doors to more extreme, daring, and creative brand partnerships for the future.
Virgil has ultimately taken staples within Nike's armory and treated each as a blank canvas, a design playground on which he has free roam. Each silhouette has been radicalised to fit the aesthetic Virgil has nurtured over the past few years, using quotations to highlight the obvious — such as "AIR", where unseen units sit within the shoe — as bold design statements.
The Ten has allowed for a rare level of creative freedom within a collaboration, especially given the iconic status of some of the models reinterpreted within the collection. The Jordan 1 has largely remained untouched throughout its history, with collaborative efforts often focusing on alternative colourways or additional branding. Virgil's approach is one far more radical than one we are used to with Nike; each shoe has a stripped-down textile aesthetic that uses materials and layering to build on the bare bones provided by the sportswear giant.
By stripping each shoe down to its core, Nike's vision remains while allowing for Virgil to weave Off-White's aesthetic into every element of the shoe, such as sewn-on swooshes and monochrome palette. It is this freedom of expression the sets this collaboration apart from the pack. Where we are used to seeing additional or collaborative branding, Virgil toys with the branding provided by Nike. The size and placement of swooshes are altered in ways that are foreign to both the shoe and the brand, with Off-White's signature quotation marks acting like design notes on a blueprint. It is the act of going backward that pushes these designs forwards, a process that is fundamental to the legacy of Nike and champion by Abloh across each model. It's here where the true success of the partnership shines through, as the 'Just Do It' slogan is embraced and put into practice.
Customisation workshops pushed this ideal even further, giving consumers the opportunity to just do it and use a bare bones silhouette to recreate an icon in their own image. Throughout the rollout of the products, we've seen Virgil champion change even further via Instagram, showing the evolution of his design ideas with the products, putting the spotlight on DIY culture and challenging us to constantly shift our perception and ideas regarding design and fashion.
Every element of the collaboration — from the physical products to the digital presence — focuses heavily on presentation, and regardless of the opinions we hold towards each shoe, it is clear that every element has been designed to challenge our perception and expectations. The reinterpretation of classics will always polarise opinions, but by testing our perception of "acceptable design" and appealing to a niche, the future boundaries are set further and further apart, generating bolder and more daring designs.
Hype will always sell a product, but by allowing for style icons to be stripped back and put back together in such a radical fashion, brands are able to test the limits of design and allow for the creation of more and more desirable products. It is this approach to design and creation that has generated the arsenal that Nike has provided to Virgil as a canvas, the willingness to reinterpret and reinvent has afforded us products that have become icons.
Whether or not these collaborative designs will stand the test of time is down to the way in which we accept them, but I do believe that collaborations built on this level of creative freedom will provide bigger and bolder product that will surprise, divide, and inspire.