That shoe, of course, wound up being just as iconic as the album – thanks in no small part to Kanye’s exacting attention to detail. “We don’t want something mall,” Kanye once told VanHook, who notes, “It couldn’t be basic, it couldn’t be cheap.”
NikeCraft Mars Yard 1.0
Tom Sachs is bothered by his Nike sneaker’s hype. “When I first got involved with Nike, the motivation was to make a sculpture for everyone,” the artist says. “So when it became so coveted, it was really annoying.” The appeal is obvious: the shoe is packed with rare technologies intended for serious use.
“I gave a pair to a friend who later asked, ‘Oh, do I get the new ones, too?’ And I said, ‘No, because the Mars Yards are still in the box on your mantel, so you didn’t pass the test.’ Another friend of mine wore them to death, put a new sole on ’em, patched ’em – and that friend gets a lifetime supply.”
Nike KD 6
Kevin Durant’s sixth signature trainer employed a football boot-like, low-slung cut and asymmetrical lacing for an extra-close fit and improved lateral quickness. Those unusual details made the KD 6 one of the most distinctive and instantly recognisable basketball shoes of its era, and the easily printable synthetic upper lent itself well to a slew of memorable colourways, from the rose-covered Aunt Pearl makeup to the paint-splattered Texas version, inspired by his old university.
Nike x Riccardo Tisci Air Force 1 Boot SP
“How can I work on something that is so iconic?” Riccardo Tisci asked Fraser Cooke when the then Givenchy designer prepared to put his spin on the Air Force 1. “He described it as the Hermès Kelly bag of footwear,” Cooke recalls. “He was scared to destroy this thing he had so much reverence for.” Despite those fears, Tisci still took a radical approach to the shoe – adding a boot-inspired leather collar that extended all the way up to the knee.
Nike x Acronym Lunar Force 1
When Nike approached Acronym designer Errolson Hugh about collaborating on the Lunar Force 1, he had only one question. “I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it, but you know we don’t just want to change the colour, right?’ ”
A few weeks later, a crate of shoes arrived at Acronym’s Berlin workshop. “We got out the scissors and the masking tape, and just went to town,” Hugh remembers. They sliced the shoe open straight down one side and added a stark black zipper. “We wanted to treat what we did to the shoe as an intervention,” he says.
That approach made the Lunar Force 1 one of the most divisive sneakers of the era. “People would stop my friends in the street and say, ‘Yo, did you do that yourself? Why did you destroy your Nikes?’ Or like, ‘Where did you get those?’ You could really tell the type of philosophical outlook somebody had by how they reacted to that shoe.”
Nike x Off-White Air Presto
Virgil Abloh worked fast. The Ten, his visionary debut footwear collection with Nike – a literal deconstruction of 10 classic Swoosh shoes – was produced in record time. The first five models of The Ten, including this standout take on the Air Presto, came together after just five hours in a workshop, says Shamees Aden, a Nike designer who worked on the project. “It was an incredibly hands-on session. We certainly knew that we were on the right track, but I still couldn’t have fathomed the impact that these sneakers would have on the world. They’re works of art.”
Nike x Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1/97
In 2017, Nike tasked a dozen creatives to design their own Air Max model and let fans vote on which shoe they wanted to see produced. Sean Wotherspoon, co-founder of the vintage store Round Two, read the rules carefully. “One of the big points was involving your community,” he says. So he rounded up his friends – including A$AP Nast and the jeweller Ben Baller – to help design his corduroy-happy hybrid. “It literally changed my life,” Wotherspoon says.
Nike x Undefeated Zoom Kobe 1 Protro
To help launch the Zoom Kobe 1 Protro – a remastered version of Kobe’s 2006 kicks for the modern game – Nike asked the LA sneaker outpost Undefeated, one of the Swoosh’s longest-running collaborators, to put its spin on the silhouette. The shop decked the shoe out in several different shades of camouflage, including a gold-and-purple version worn by LeBron on his first appearance as a Laker. “It speaks to Kobe’s mentality,” says Fred Lozano, Undefeated’s chief operating officer. “When you’re on court, you’re at war.”
Nike x Martine Rose Air Monarch IV
The Air Monarch IVs are your dad’s Nikes: clunky, sterile, and severely uncool. In the hands of the superstar London designer Martine Rose, however, they got transformed into a beacon of postmodernist funk. “[Rose] was looking at how athletes’ feet, because of the impact during games, can get morphed out of shape,” Nike designer Andy Caine says. To mimic that phenomenon, Rose amplified the Monarch’s ungainly proportions into something more amorphous and sculptural – and then coated it in Pepto Bismol pink.
Nike x Cactus Plant Flea Market Air VaporMax 2019
It’s not often that an outside collaborator brings a working prototype to their first Nike meeting, but that’s precisely what Cactus Plant Flea Market designer Cynthia Lu did with her take on the Air VaporMax 2019. “It was one of those moments,” Andy Caine says, “where you walk in and see that for the first time and just go, wow. I wasn’t mentally prepared for that.” Lu’s handmade mock-up – with its tubular swoosh and bubble lettering – wound up going into production with almost no edits. “Cynthia brought almost the opposite of what had been successful in VaporMax” – imposing her whimsical aesthetic on a sleek silhouette – “and it connected in such a humanistic way. That’s why collaborations are so powerful, because they bring that different mindset. That’s the magic of it.”
Nike x Ambush Air Max 180
When she first met with Nike, Yoon Ahn sheepishly admitted she wasn’t much of an athlete. “I had this impression that you had to play sports to collaborate with Nike,” says Ahn, the Ambush founder and Dior Men jewelry designer. “They said, ‘That’s okay, that’s not why we want to work with you.’” What Nike wanted was Ahn’s offbeat perspective and Y2K-tinged aesthetic, which she wove seamlessly into her first shoe—a hybrid of the Air Max 180 and Gary Payton’s Air Zoom Flight The Glove.
Nike x MMW Free TR 3 Flyknit SP
You know how sometimes you have to lug an extra pair of indoor shoes around all day because you’re hitting the gym after work? Matthew M Williams, the Alyx founder and Givenchy creative director, had a solution. For his first Nike trainer, Williams employed the outsole savants at Vibram to create a detachable rubber crampon for roaming around the streets. Un-Velcro it and you’ll find a futuristic high-performance trainer featuring tracklike speed laces and sci-fi moulded overlays.
Nike x Sacai LDV Waffle
Sacai founder Chitose Abe made her name on mash-ups – military flight jackets fused with cotton button-downs; chinos spliced with nylon tracksuit bottoms. So it made sense that the Japanese designer would bring this “Frankensteined” approach to her Nike sneakers. The double-swooshed LDV Waffle, an elevated, forward-thinking blend of the old-school Long Distance Vector and Waffle Racer models. “You can tell that they’re based on Nike,” Abe says, “but the silhouette and design work show Sacai’s ideas and identity.”
Nike SB x Ben & Jerry’s Dunk Low Pro
“I had a friend over at Nike SB, and he dropped me a text: ‘What do you think about a collab?’ ” says Jay Curley, Ben & Jerry’s global head of integrated marketing. “I’d love to say it was a much deeper thought than that, but I really don’t think it was.” Just like that, the wackiest shoe of 2020 was born. Affectionately dubbed the Chunky Dunky, the low-top SB Dunk came smothered in Ben & Jerry’s iconography: hairy cow print, stitched-on clouds, and a whole lot of tie-dye for good measure. Despite its goofiness, the shoe was a surprise smash, reselling for thousands of dollars online and showing up on the feet of unlikely fans like Quavo and Killer Mike. What do the eponymous ice cream moguls think of the kicks? “Ben and Jerry each got a pair,” Curley says. “I’ve never seen them wearing them, but I think they thought it was cool.”
Nike Zoom x Alphafly Next%
When Eliud Kipchoge ran the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon in October 2019, it was hailed as a remarkable feat of individual speed. But getting to that moment required hundreds of scientists, designers, and engineers at Nike working closely with him for years to develop a prototype for a revolutionary new running shoe. “We needed a faster shoe,” Kipchoge says. “But above all, we needed faster recovery. A shoe where you could run for three hours and then have your muscles recover very fast.”