In August 2016, just before a powerful tropical cyclone hit Tokyo, John Elliott met with Fraser Cooke, Nike’s Global Brand Energy Product Lead, at a cafe in Japan’s busy capital. At the time, the American sportswear designer had already collaborated with Nike on the LeBron Soldier Xs, which were released later that year. But Elliott had hopes of retooling another personal favorite: the NikeLab Vandal High.
“I told him I really wanted to work on the Vandal and how much that [sneaker] represented my personal style,” he says. “Fraser immediately was like, ‘Let’s do it. I love the Vandal.’” Elliott pauses, his eyes widening with excitement as if he’s back in that exact moment. He’s still amazed that Cooke, who has orchestrated some of the company’s most successful campaigns and collaborations, was on board. “I was like, ‘Really? OK.’”
Yesterday, Elliott unveiled two new iterations of the John Elliott x NikeLab Vandal Highs at his Fall/Winter 2018 “Delirium” runway show in New York. He premiered the first version of his take on the Vandals at his Fall/Winter 2017 show, where he sent models down the catwalk in monochromatic suede renditions of the sneaker.
The latest Vandal High, which Elliott says only went through one iteration, is available in pale grey and black and features nubuck leather on the upper, a custom removable strap, and tonal stitching throughout. The corduroy swoosh is available in either teal (sourced in Japan) or brown (sourced in Milan), mirroring the material used throughout the new line for straight fit trousers, a button up, wide pants, and basketball shorts. In addition to launching a women's line, Elliott also debuted three new women’s Nike silhouettes on the runway—the Nike Air Vapormax High, Nike Air Monarch M2K Tekno, and Nike Vandal Creeper 2K. Despite recent rumors online, none of these are collaborations between his label and the sportswear giant; Elliott only worked with Nike on the Vandal.
“This version of the Vandal is exciting because it has our DNA, meaning that it’s our silhouette,” says Elliott, sitting in his showroom in Dumbo, Brooklyn on the day before his Fall/Winter 2018 show. “It still has the leather tongue, folded seams, and beautiful materials without compromising the original design. The straps were sourced and created by us. Last time, Nike did the entire silhouette. This time, it was more us coming together and utilizing both of our sourcing abilities to craft the shoe.”
A lifelong Nike fan, Elliott first fell in love with the Vandals—which were originally released as a basketball sneaker in 1984 and has come in and out of Nike’s rotation—in his teens. Growing up, he skateboarded and played basketball in the shoe. “I thought the strap was an interesting option and it seemed very wearable. Plus, it was a nice alternative to the Dunks,” he says. “When I started wearing them all the time, I realized the versatility and problem-solving nature of the silhouette. And that’s the thing I love about the Vandals.”
“It’s like an album that you didn’t think you’d love but then there’s a bunch of songs that get stuck in your head and you end up listening to it all the time,” he continues. “That’s kind of like the Vandal for me. I didn’t know I was going to fall in love with that silhouette when I first saw it. But once you start wearing it all the time, you can’t live without it.”
Elliott’s NikeLab Vandal High isn’t just a collaboration—it’s the fulfillment of a childhood dream. When he was eight years old, he sent Nike some sneaker designs for his hero, and former baseball and football player, Bo Jackson. Roughly 26 years later, he released the first John Elliott x NikeLab Vandal High. The sneaker sold out in under 15 seconds (“I wasn’t expecting that type of hype or fervor,” he says) and has attracted stars like LeBron James.
“I definitely had a drink that night when LeBron put the Vandal on,” Elliott says with a laugh. “It was Game 1 of the NBA Finals and I was rushing home and my phone started to go nuts. LeBron James wore the Vandal”—he emphasizes the word almost as if to show his disbelief—“into Game 1. He looked so dope. He’s a friend, he’s such a good person, he’s such an important person in culture. He’s probably the greatest living athlete, maybe greatest athlete of all time. It was an honor, honestly. I don’t think I can even put it into words.”
But the Vandal Highs are just the start. Elliott wouldn’t divulge concrete details, but he notes that 2018 is going to be the brand’s biggest year working with Nike so far. “To be a lifelong swoosher and a kid that was drawing shoes when I was eight years old and sending them to Nike, to see how many shoes we’re dropping with them this year is exciting,” he says. “To be able to have the chance to re-appropriate a little of their heritage for my line… It’s a dream come true.”