Hoop Dreams: Riccardo Tisci on His Newest Collaboration with Nike

With their latest, biggest collection to be released in time for the Summer Olympics, Riccardo Tisci and Nike are bringing designer-level performance gear to the masses.

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Designer Riccardo Tisci has no shortage of ways to describe Riccardo Tisci; in one 20-minute conversation, he refers to himself as a pioneer, an athlete, a streetwear obsessive, and “not very technological.” But in the context of his latest collaboration with Nike, out this summer, there’s one descriptor he uses time and again: dreamer. Tisci’s third release with the iconic brand—officially titled NikeLab x RT: Training Redefined, but you can call it “the one with clothes”—makes use of a combination of Tisci’s own distinctive design sensibility and top-tier Nike technology. Most importantly, it also taps into his desire to share how he felt when he saved up enough money to buy a pair of basketball sneakers when he was younger. “I know what it’s like to dream, to be part of a dream, and not be able to buy financially,” he recalls. “It’s sad. I remember when I was a child and I couldn’t do that, and this is why I was obsessed with Nike—because I could afford Nike.”

Tisci’s day job as Givenchy’s creative director caters primarily to a clientele with ample disposable income. Thanks to that brand’s status as the go-to choice for the Kim K’s and Victor Cruz’s of the world, Tisci has been elevated to a household name, even among people who don’t have a spare $2,000 for one of the label’s leather T-shirts. Working with Nike for the past two years—first on a series of reimagined Air Force 1s, then on a reworked Dunk—has put Tisci’s designs within the reach of a younger crowd. And he’s definitely checking for their reaction. “Usually I never look on Instagram for what people say,” he says (it’s the only social media platform he uses). “But when it’s a launch for something for Givenchy or Nike, or another project, I love to see the reaction. For me, it’s the most important thing to see what the really young generation thinks.”

If Tisci’s past success with Nike and the ‘gram-worthiness of his collaborative sneakers is any indication, this release—the first Nike x RT drop to include clothing—should get kids shopping and posting. Shorts (some with built-in leggings), T-shirts with mesh cutouts, jackets, and Nike Free Train Force Flyknits are available in two colorways: One in black and white, and a second in a mix of a kaleidoscopic print and a floral design that incorporates flowers from Oregon, Italy, and Brazil—representing Nike, Tisci, and the site of this summer’s Olympics. The sneakers were designed to recall a cleft hoof. “An animal is the best with running, jumping,” Tisci says. “So, I wanted to bring that geometry into the shoe.”

Despite the near-guaranteed success of the line, Tisci wasn’t resting on his laurels at the inception of the project. As a designer, he has long had his feet planted in both couture and streetwear—​see pretty much any men’s piece he’s shown for Givenchy in the last five years—​but this is the first time Tisci designed true performance gear. Making the leap to clothing one can actually wear to work out (or “do sport,” as he calls it) wasn’t the most seamless transition. “I was a virgin in this scene,” he admits. “I work in fashion and do couture. You do think about movement, but not as deeply as Nike does. In the beginning, I was a little bit scared [that I wouldn't] achieve what they wanted me to achieve.”

To get to the finished product, Tisci focused on fit and fabric first; normally he says he starts with—​yup—​“a dream.” He recalled his youth spent playing basketball and his own athletic endeavors, plus the inspirations listed above and invaluable input from the many Nike experts at his disposal. He's also keyed into the current trend of genderless clothing. “I never really design a collection for a man or a collection for a woman,” he says, although, for retail and marketing purposes at least, the NikeLab x RT line is divided between men’s and women’s pieces. “There are certain items that a woman wears that a man doesn’t wear, and a man wears that a woman doesn’t wear, but part of [the collection] being open is fantastic.” He adds, “I’m going to wear everything.”

Nerves behind him, Tisci is anxious for the world to see his take on a new performance uniform this summer. “When you hit somebody door by door, that’s the best thing, because it’s not only a dream, it’s a reality,” he says. “Today, reality is much better than dreams.”

Styled by Matthew Henson

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