Timothée Chalamet’s ‘Wonka’ Nike Dunks Are Limited to Five Pairs: 'It’s Sort of Unbelievable'

In an exclusive interview with Complex, the 'Wonka' star talks about designing his own Nike Dunks, prepping for his latest leading role, and more.

Via Warner Bros. Pictures

Nike's network of collaborators extends far beyond the traditional sneaker boutiques and streetwear brands these days. So, it isn't necessarily surprising to see Nike create a sneaker with a movie star inspired by a major motion picture. That being said, I bet few people expected actor Timothée Chalamet would be visiting the Nike campus to help design a super limited pair of Dunk Lows inspired by his upcoming lead role in Wonka. Even the 27-year-old was in disbelief.

"I definitely never thought I would get to be able to say that I got to design a Nike shoe, let alone a Dunk," Chalamet told Complex in an exclusive interview.

Ahead of the film's Dec. 15 release, five pairs of the Wonka Dunks will be part of a special giveaway to help promote the movie. Fans can submit videos of their Wonka-inspired creations to enter. Five winners will be sent a pair of these insanely limited Dunk Lows. Talk about a golden ticket.

The pair itself riffs on the wardrobe of Wonka in the film with an upper made to mimick the colorful pattern seen on the inner lining of his jacket and a burgundy velvet tongue to match the coat's outward appaearance. Chalamet even brought the jacket he wear in the movie to the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon for the design team to reference. The heel tab features the cloud candy that Wonka peddles in the new movie, while the tongue features a brown leather tab complete with the recognizable Wonka "W."

"It’s unlike any pair of Dunks I've ever seen," says Chalamet. "I just didn't know how it would come out and they totally nailed it."

Chalamet says that he was channeling old Dunks like the "What The Dunk" and the unconventional layered Swooshes on Sacai's Nike collab when creating this chocolatier-inspired design. The distressed detailing throughout was meant to nod to the wardrobe of the young Wonka that Chalamet plays in the movie.

This marks the second Willy Wonka-themed Nike sneaker to release (and the first with official ties to the movie). In 2005, Nike SB released its "Oompa Loompa" SB Dunk Low that mimicked the appearance of Wonka's tiny minions. Chalamet says that it's been "almost impossible" to track down a pair of his own thus far.

We got a chance to sit down with Chalamet for an exclusive interview to discuss the special sneaker project, his history with sneakers, and how he channeled the Wonka's of year's past to prep for his leading role.

Not everyone gets to say that they've been able to design their own Nike shoe. Did you ever think that you'd get to say that you did? What are your overall thoughts on the project?
No, I definitely never thought I would get to be able to say that I got to design a Nike shoe, let alone a Dunk. The shoes perfectly represent the Willy Wonka of this movie and this origin story. It's not the Gene Wilder Wonka with decades of success, and lots of money, and a chocolate factory behind him. It's a young Willy Wonka that is ambitious, and joyful, and full of good spirit, and not quite that level of success yet.

So, that's why the shoes are kind of distressed and tattered out of the box right away. That's why we didn't want it to feel too new or too on the nose with the purple. We wanted to feel like something that was representative of the movie. Getting to work on the shoe is literally a dream come true, which is one of the main messages in the movie, not to give up on your dreams and not to let anybody tell you no. 

For the design process, you got to visit Nike campus. What was that experience like?
Well, visiting Beaverton was like visiting the real Willy Wonka Factory. It was unlike anything I'd ever imagined, just the level of dedication. And this isn't a marketing plug by the way because I don't have a Nike deal or anything. This is all sincere. It's literally like a magic factory over there.

And it's part of the beauty that it's located in Beaverton, It's not in the thick of things in LA or New York or Chicago. It's really its own world, at least from my outside perspective. I brought the Willy Wonka jacket, the tattered young Wonka jacket. [The designers and I] thought it might be a little obvious to do the shoe in purple or something. We saw that there had been previous dunks and AF1s that were matte purple or velvet purple. So, we tried to think outside the box and we figured the inside lining of the jacket from the movie was actually a little more unconventional and more representative of what a young Willy Wonka would actually want his own pair of Dunks to look like, if they were around in the late 1940s. [Laughs.]

But the campus at Beaverton wasn’t like anything that I've ever been a part of. It was so fascinating for me too. Nike is representative of so much more than in sports. It's culture. It’s the stuff that so many young people dream of. But when you're on campus, you really realize how it's an athletics brand. They dream and they innovate for athletes at the highest level. So, to get to partner with them under the guise of a chocolatier,  I just knew how lucky I was. I was a kid in a candy store.

When you look at the final design, there's this very loud print on it and the materials are very premium. Were you almost surprised that they could execute it in that way, with those type of unique details?
I really was. It was inspiring, even from a filmmaking or an acting perspective, how streamlined the creative process is there, how organized it is. Sometimes when things get too bureaucratic, it stifles innovation or creativity. But I couldn't even believe, like you just said, how distressed the Nike logo is. It’s unlike any pair of Dunks I've ever seen. And how they added the Silver Linings Chocolate. It's one of the iconic chocolates in the movie. That's on the back of the shoe, and it’s sort of 3D. Distressed is the word I probably used the most in the creative sessions. I just didn't know how it would come out and they totally nailed it. There's even a secret message underneath the sole of the shoe and even that's distressed. I was looking at them right before I got on this call and there's little threads that jump out of that. So, it’s sort of unbelievable.

Do you have a favorite detail on the shoe? Why does that particular one stick out to you?
My favorite detail is probably that quote. “It's not the chocolate that matters, it's the people you share it with.” Because again, working on a Nike shoe was literally a dream come true. And this movie is about not giving up on your dreams. We live in times where the world is so unforgiving that it's perhaps easier to look at things from a dark perspective, and not dream, and accept things for the way they are sometimes. But this movie, the things within it, and getting to work on the shoe are emblematic of everything opposite of that. It's about your dreams coming true. 

You have to win a contest. It’s literally not a product that's bought and sold. It's to be won, like the golden tickets. 

There’s eight pairs total, right?
Yeah. And they’re hand embroidered too. So, I think they literally couldn’t have made more than that. [Laughs.]

Are you excited to see who ultimately gets their hands on them? I feel like some people are gonna want to wear them and then others are gonna treat them like a display piece on their mantle.
That's exactly my dream. I like to imagine some in a glass box and some people wearing them, but that's why it's so wonderful. I have massive respect for the sneakerhead community. But there isn't gonna be a way to bot this, or get an upper hand, or spend your way into getting these. It's gonna be by creative submissions. 

I love how you put it. I think some people wear them and I hope the fact that they arrive distressed would make you less paranoid about wearing them, as opposed to a brand new pair of AF1s. 

Are we gonna see you wear your pair?
Absolutely. It’s just stressful trying to pick out the perfect fit.

Anything in mind?
I can tell you what it's not. It’s not going to be anything that's too matchy. I'm figuring it out. 

Were there any old Dunks or sneakers in general that you were thinking about when creating your Wonka Dunks?
What the Dunks were in mind, like a scatter shot pattern, something that didn't feel uniform. The Sacai logo, obviously it's different. It's not distressed, but the Sacai Nikes and the way they doubled the logo just felt a little unconventional. 

Any early sneaker memories you had growing up? How did you initially become interested in sneakers?
It was the “Pigeon” Dunk. That happened when I was like 11 or 12 in middle school. So, that was sort of my indoctrination. I always was an enormous Nike fan. The love took off from there.

When I first heard there was another Wonka dunk coming out, I immediately thought of the “Oompa Loompa” Dunks from back in the day. Have you tried to track down a pair?
Almost impossible.

You’ve gotten to a design a shoe with Nike. Is there someone that you would love to collaborate with? I feel like you and Cudi could make something cool together.
To do something with Cudi would be the first and foremost dream. I’d love to work with Haider Ackermann or Peter Hawkings, the new designer at Tom Ford. I bet they would cook up something crazy.

For my last question, I wanted to shift to the movie. When prepping for the role of Willy Wonka, I'm assuming you studied Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp's performances of the past. What did you borrow from their performances or try and tap into? And then two, what did you do for your performance to make sure that you set yourself apart from the past renditions people are so familiar with?
Those are both cinematic legends. This is really the companion piece to the 1971 Gene Wilder film. The color palette. The song “Pure Imagination” is one of our centerpieces of our film, the way it is of the Gene Wilder film. So, this really feels like the story of a young, ambitious, almost naive Willy Wonka, before the Gene Wilder version that we all grew up on. As joyful as he was, he kind of got a demented look in his eye that's almost scary at times. 

As far as sending it in its own lane, I feel like the script really took care of that for me. Paul King, the director, I don't know if you've seen the Paddington films, but they're sort of out of this world. They kind of take on a life of their own. He's got a crazy world view that's full of heart and hope and is all about fulfilling your dreams. So, I felt safe in this interpretation of the character. 

It's not the story of the chocolate factory that's been done massively twice. It's a brand new story. The character itself is set apart already because it's not about a chocolatier who's fried from his experience after decades of success and paranoia. It's quite the opposite. It's true to the tattered nature of the shoe, about a young guy who is just getting going. 

Thank you for your time. Congratulations on the role and the shoe.
Well, hopefully there'll be another one.