Virgil Abloh Knows You Can Make These Sneakers Yourself
It’s billed as a “design project” rather than a sneaker collaboration. Virgil Abloh—the man behind high-end streetwear label Off-White and one of Kanye West’s right-hand creative directors—has teamed up with Nike for a collaboration collection of ten sneakers, which he’s dubbed “The Ten.”
The Ten is split into two sets of five iconic Nike models, all reimagined by Abloh. The first set is named Revealing and consists of an Air Jordan 1, an Air Max 90, an Air Presto, a Blazer, and a VaporMax. The second set is named Ghosting and consists of an Air Force 1, an Air Max 97, a VaporFly, a 2017 Hyperdunk, and a Chuck Taylor All-Star (you’ll recall that Nike owns Converse now). The pieces under Revealing have a much more tangible, material look-and-feel to them, while the pieces under Ghosting are blurred and translucent and obscure.
The theme that holds the entire collection together is certainly discernible, if a little unintelligible. All ten sneakers have this industrial, do-it-yourself aesthetic about them, expressed by plastic lock straps, open stitches, patchwork, bare foam, overlapping panels, misplaced logos, and loads of Helvetica-type text with superfluous quotation marks. They’re all messy and loud and straggly and weird—purposely flawed footwear Frankenstein monsters that have somehow managed to become the most anticipated sneaker release of the quarter, and easily among the biggest of the year. But are they works of art, or just pretentious pastiches?
Abloh himself has no qualms about admitting how quickly and loosely the project was strung together. In Nike’s news release for The Ten, he said, “Most of the creative decisions were made in the first three hours,” recounting how, in his first visit to Nike’s campus in Oregon, he took apart an Air Force 1 with an X-ACTO knife, wrote on it with permanent markers, and then put it back together. Nike calls it his “reconstructed design language,” but you could also just call it ruining shoes.
“Most of the creative decisions were made in the first three hours.”
And that’s precisely how the entire collection came together: haphazard cutting and sewing and pasting and drawing. In designing this collaboration, Abloh supposedly used the X-ACTO knife again to cut shoes apart, exposing the foam inside, misplacing and enlarging the Swoosh logos, and adding stitches and pops of color. “The Jordan 1 was done in one design session,” Abloh says. “I work in a very like dream-like state. I see it, and it's done.” It seems a little more like crafternoons at Beaverton than a real design process.
There are, however, some who would argue that the haphazardness and the breakneck speed at which these sneakers were all designed are part of the message they intend to convey. Virgil Abloh’s narrative for this collaboration is one of aspiration: he recalls being a child who loved to sketch and customize sneakers, and that he would even send them to Nike in hopes of having them made. So he wanted to infuse that DIY spirit into his Nike collaboration. He meant to democratize sneaker design by making something you could make too. “Yes, we're making a desired product,” he said. “But by making a trip to your local store, and using tools you have at home, you could also make this shoe,” says Abloh. At least he’s honest.
So as with most matters of fashion and art, the significance of The Ten is really a matter of perspective. Depending on your tastes, Virgil Abloh’s Nike collaboration could either be clumsy, lazy, and pretentious; or raw and bold and groundbreaking. But regardless of where you stand on them, you can expect to find these sneakers on a lot of people’s feet after they launch later this month. Meanwhile, we don’t expect the arts and crafts stores to run short of household sundries, so you might be better off trying your luck there.