Nike is a brand that means so much more than just the swoosh in the top left corner of your football shirt, or the imprint on the sole of your AirMax. Like any brand, It’s DNA is built around collaboration; from their very first silhouette, the timeless Cortez, Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight have been on a mission to elevate athletic culture, whilst cooperating with the stars we idolise to reinvent perspectives on lifestyle. You may be 4ft 9” and hate basketball, but hold a secret admiration for Nike’s longtime collaboration with Michael Jordan. Sport, fashion and music are now all synchronous, and we have the American Sportswear giants to thank for this.
When you look at the history of collaboration within Nike, one man is referenced time and time again. Since 2003, Fraser Cooke has been the mastermind behind the companies’ most prestigious of partnerships; his job title is simply: connecting Nike with the people driving culture in any form, from art and design to music and fashion. The ex hairdresser has worked tirelessly to lease with everyone from Rai Kawakubo to Skepta and Travis Scott to Riccardo Tisci, who have both reworked the timeless ‘Air Force 1’. If Nike are bringing out a new collab, Its almost always to do with him; he was the soul reason Stüssy and Nike started to work together in 2000, reimagining the Air Huaraches.
In the 70s, Nike retained their previous name ‘Blue Ribbon’. Even all these decades ago, they persisted on endorsing athletes, promoting them as they promoted the brand in a simple state of synergy. The first on their books was Romanian Tennis player Ilie Nastase, although this act of advocacy has become far more elaborate recently. Christiano Ronaldo signed a $1billion life time contract with Nike back in 2016, and so did Michael Jordan the year prior.
Arguably the most definitive of collaborations in the Nikesphere is with the Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan. In 1984 the company pulled out all the stops to work with the Brooklyn native; they pipped adidas in a $2.5million deal, and to say the sneaker was revolutionary would be a major understatement. if you want a pristine pair of OG 1985 Air Jordans, you will be paying no less than 5 figures. This ‘collectable culture’ is now in every corner of the fashion world, with resellers scurrying through the streets of capital cities for the most sought after of garms and crepes.
One man who has had the privilege of reworking the famous Air Jordan One is DJ and designer Virgil Abloh. The deconstructed black and red Jumpmans, which were part of his ‘The 10 collection’, go for $2,000, a shoe that used to be banned from the NBA for not passing the 51% uniform rule. Jordan got fined $5,000 every time he played in them. Lifetime friend and hip hop idol Kanye West is well known for his Yeezy line with Adidas. However, this originally started as a trainer collab with Nike. Dating back to 2009, the musical maverick made some interesting, to say the least, shoe models. The relationship has evidently broken down though, and West has persisted with using Adidas’ technology; although you will still find it difficult to find an original pair of ‘Air Yeezys’ for any less than £1,500.
One of the most hyped days on the streetwear calendar is the inevitable collaboration between Nike and James Jebbia’s Supreme. Since 2002, the labels have developed an unbreakable bond, evolving from reinterpretations of skate shoes to admiring every corner of Nike’s influence on modern culture; the Airmax 98s and, more recently, the tailwind 4s pay homage to the UK rave scene, especially the aesthetic consumed by garage heads. The brands have also addressed the world of basketball by designed a pair of Uptempos and Air Jordan 5s, but true lovers of Supreme will always remember the days of the dunk low pros. Jeff Staples’ dunks were perhaps a more memorable collaboration however, in 2005, riots broke out on the streets of New York because demand was so high for them despite such a limited release.
Throughout the past 50 years of Nike’s existence, the label has developed into one of the most open-minded and supportive in the world, giving creatives, athletes and designers a platform to convey their passion for innovation through the form of sportswear. You really feel part of a community once you start to explore and gain an interest in Nike; the 1998 world cup advert with the Brazilian national team is simply genius, and really makes you want to consume their products.
Sean Wotherspoon’s exclusive AirMax 97 and 1 hybrid was one of the most celebrated collaborations last year, showing just how open Nike are to collate with everyone, the streetwear entrepreneur owns American chain store Round 2. The anticipation was so high for these shoes that fans had to chase a Camper-van around the streets of New York hoping to collect packets of cards that would redeem them as a fair alternative to cuing outside Kith’s store.
People are consuming fashion in a completely different way since the days when Nike, which in Greek mythology is the Goddess of victory, was ‘Blue Ribbon’. The label have arguably revolutionised our perspective on lifestyle and art just by working with some of the world’s most championed individuals. We just hope Fraser Cooke and Co continue on their everlasting quest of collaboration, and invigorate fashion in the way they have this century.