It all started with a dream. Well, that's not quite right. It all started with a shoe. The dream came later. And the end result is a collection so large it needed to be divided in two, to be released on consecutive weekends, one part an ending, the second a new beginning.
But we'll get to that in a bit. We start in the Queens of the mid-'90s, where a young Ronnie Fieg and his crew were looking for a way to stand out from their peers. Instead of Jordans, they wore Uptempos. “Off of the Uptempos we were waiting for the next bulky Air Max basketball shoe,” Fieg says. “When the Pippen 1s first came out, me and my crew all bought those, and we were riding our bikes in packs by 26 Park, by Fresh Meadows, all rocking the Pippen 1s. That was the most fun, if I had to think back, that was the most fun I ever had in my life. I had no worries, I was making a lot of money for my age, working at David Z.”
That original pair of white Pippen 1s is long gone, but since Fieg had started getting multiple pairs of each shoe by that time—one to rock, one to stock—he still has OGs. “I remember buying two pairs of those shoes. In fact, I remember buying one pair in Sneaker Market, they didn’t have another pair in my size, and buying the other pair in Rugged Sole the next day. So all those pairs that I collected back then are definitely somewhere. Somewhere safe.”
Fieg has since gone on to open a shop—and launch a brand—of his own. He’s equally as well known for Kith as he is for the long list of brands he’s worked with on collaborations, from New Balance and ASICS to Puma and Adidas. But he’d never gotten to do something big with Nike.
So when the time came, Fieg thought back to those carefree days riding bikes and what was on his feet. “To me it was like, I need to do something that’s, number 1, unexpected, because that’s something we’re trying to do when working on anything of that magnitude, and it has to be timeless. And it needs to stand for something that digs deep.” The Pippen 1 fit all of these qualifications.
“And none of this is a layup,” Fieg continues. “I think that’s the most important thing to me—let’s not work on something that people will respect and want to buy just because it’s a certain product, let’s actually bring something together where the product and the story is something that people resonate with, but something that’s new and fresh where if I can educate the consumer on Pippen, on Scottie, and respect Scottie for what he did in the ‘90s that maybe we didn’t respect enough back then, then that’s a win. To me it’s not the obvious hype shoe. I saw Pippen as a great opportunity for Nike to tell a great story, to relive some of those moments. I wanted to help Nike do it.”
It wouldn’t just be the Pippen 1, either—that was just the starting point. And while the More Uptempo had already been given a big push—or at least was in the pipeline—there was a lot more to be found in Pippen’s pre-signature line. “When we went back and looked at the history of what Pippen wore, the Maestro 2 really stood out,” Fieg says. “That shoe to me was one of the most slept-on basketball shoes by Nike. It wasn’t a signature shoe, it was just one of those really, really well designed basketball shoes. I thought there was a lot of potential.”
Still, Fieg thought the Maestro, designed by Tracy Teague in the early ‘90s and not retroed since the early 2000s, needed a revamp. “I wanted specifically to bring the Maestro 2 to where people can respect both sides of the coin,” Fieg says. “There are timeless features of the shoe we brought with us, but there are things that we added to make it more relevant for today, which is the asymmetrical lacing, the Swoosh on the vamp, the tech zipper on the medial, which makes it a lot easier to slip the shoe on and off.”
And then there were the matter of colorways. There’s the red, of course, symbolic of the pair Pippen wore in the 1994 NBA All-Star Game, and the Team USA-style friends and family pair. But there’s also a dusky purple. “The idea was to treat the Maestro 2 like the college years before he graduated to his first signature shoe,” Fieg explains. “Which is why the colorway is [Central] Arkansas, for the purple. For me, the ashy nubuck and the shades of purple represent a colorway that I don’t think I’ve seen on a Nike shoe before. Working on colorways is one of my fortes and what I love doing. So being able to put this together, I think it’s a masterpiece honestly.”
As for the Pippen 1, it receives a pony hair upgrade, in both all-black and a wild animal print melange. Even the TPU strips on the original are replaced with pony. This wasn’t just for effect, as Fieg praises Aaron Cooper’s original design. “I feel that this warrants pony,” Fieg says, “because this shoe is a beast, man. The shoe looks like a beast.” One moreso than the other. The Atmos-esque cheetah and tiger and everything else print pair represents “the chimera of the court,” Fieg says. “Pippen is the chimera of the court, he was all positions in one, all animals in one, he brought that to the game. That was the idea for the animal print Pippen 1.”
Fieg and Kith went through several iterations of the animal print shoe, trying a cheetah print on the airbag (“We could have, but it turned out a lot busier with the cheetah”) and the laces, as well as a dusky purple Pippen 1 (“It isn’t coming out, it was just for the show”). They also mocked up a whole bunch of Maestro 2s in OG colorways, again just for the show. A pair of cream suede Maestro 2s weren’t even done in time for that—only one pair exists. And there are four different subdued suede versions of the Pippen 1, in navy, cream, tan and olive, all with white midsoles, as well as a more-OG style black pair. But the craziest is another friends and family pair, a Pippen 1 done up in the style of the neon Air Max 95. The Pippen 1 is a perfect canvas for the gradient colorway, complete with neon air bag.
“The first time I wanted people to see the shoe was at the [Kith NYFW] show,” Fieg says. “And if you were sitting in the show, which I purposely did not livestream, which I purposely did not record, then you got to see the profile shot of the shoe. If you weren’t sitting in the show then you only got to see the front view. Coming to the market the way that we did with the show, and then with the ads, then with the lookbooks through the ads—to me that’s just the dream that you can only wish for when working on product like this.”
Because the product, which includes a dizzying array of apparel, was only the beginning. Starting last week there was a rollout that’s included phone number ads like Nike’s original ones from the ‘90s—only these numbers you can text—as well as a short film Fieg directed with a Pippen voiceover and ballers on NYC courts re-enacting four of his iconic plays, including, yes, his emphatic playoff dunk over Patrick Ewing. For Fieg, a Knicks fan, this must have been difficult. It ends with Pippen facing off against his own son in a Chicago gym, the future squaring up against the timeless past.
All of this was as important as the product itself. “If you look at Kith DNA for what we have done since we started, we are storytellers,” Fieg says. “We dig and tell stories, that’s what we do. We are an experiential brand that knows products come and go but experiences live in the memory bank. You’ve gotta be able to go through and experience with us, so you can feel the same way we do about the product when we’re done with it.”
How Fieg feels about the product is obvious—his signature, as it were, is all over it, from the Flight logo on the Maestro 2 to the “Pip” logo (which now reads “Kith”) on the Pippen 1. “To play with the Flight logo,” he says, “to incorporate JUST US on the bouffant, to get our branding on the back of the shoe, to me—I don’t know where it goes from here, but this is an important milestone.”
Where it goes from here, for now, is the drop. That’s this Friday and, if you remember, we mentioned that would be both a beginning and an end. “The Maestro 2s release first on September 29 with half the apparel collection, and the Pippen 1s will go a week later on October 6 with the rest of the apparel,” Fieg says. “The first collection will be the last release that we have in the Kith Nike space. Then the next drop, the second collection, will be the opening of my three-story building. There’s not much more I can say about that. I can say we’re opening a building, we’re gonna leave the rest of the details for another time.”