Virgil Abloh’s relationship to Nike began long before he first visited the company’s world headquarters in October 2016 to start a new collaboration. As a teenager, living in Rockford, Illinois, he and his friends sketched shoe ideas and mailed them to Nike. “We were enamored with Air Jordans,” says Abloh, who is now 36 and based between Milan and Chicago. “Michael Jordan was larger than life — he was Superman to me. My entire design background and ethos came from the ‘90s.”
Abloh took his early design education — drawn from athletic footwear, hip-hop and rock album covers and graffiti, he says — and merged it with formal training in architecture and engineering. Now a successful creative director, DJ, designer and founder of the brand, OFF-WHITE, Abloh blurs the lines of various creative processes, rewriting the rules of fashion and design and injecting humor and DIY elements into his practice.
“By the time I made my first trip to Beaverton, I immediately wanted to make something,” Abloh says. “I didn’t wait all those years just to have meetings at Nike.” During the first visit, he rebuilt a pair of triple-black Air Force 1 Low shoes using an X-ACTO knife and drew on them with markers, initiating one-offs for his staff to wear at that December’s Design Miami/, where he presented OFF-WHITE furniture.
This exercise became a quick turn of 12 Air Force 1s, all handmade by Matt Kilgore at Nike’s Blue Ribbon Studios. (Kilgore is the son of Bruce Kilgore, who designed the original Air Force 1 in 1982.) Abloh wanted the tongue’s inner foam exposed, a silver Swoosh with thick, obvious stitching and text nodding to the shoe’s origins in Beaverton, Oregon.
Establishing this reconstructed design language, combined with Abloh’s urgency to fulfill a life-long dream, would ultimately lead to The Ten, a collaborative exploration of 10 Nike footwear silhouettes.
“What we’re talking about here is larger than sneakers, it’s larger than design culture,” says Abloh. “It’s nothing short of state-of-the-art design. These 10 shoes have broken barriers in performance and style. To me, they are on the same level as a sculpture of David or the Mona Lisa. You can debate it all you want, but they mean something. And that’s what’s important.”
The 10 shoes were divided into two themes. The first, “REVEALING,” was designed to look accessible: hand-cut, open-source and reconstructed. It includes the Air Jordan I, Nike Air Max 90, Nike Air Presto, Nike Air VaporMax and Nike Blazer Mid. For more info visit Nike.