Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Digital vs Analogue

Nike’s big reveal of their Air Force One ‘High Frequency Digital Camouflage’ is a clear cut reminder that their aesthetics committee is willing to test new waters. Like the Nike Foamposite Galaxy and Tom Sachs x Nike Craft: Space Camp Project, the HFDC is deeply rooted in Nike’s burgeoning conceptual portfolio. It feels indebted to the groundwork laid by independent design projects, in particular Matt Stevens’ Max 100. Despite his conceptual designs appearing on Nike Air Max 1’s, similarities to the HFDC are easy to spot when comparing it to the Returned, Logical, Puzzled and Equal prints. This is by no means a negative observation. On the contrary it proves that Nike are not just willing to support artistic collaborations but more importantly try to play the game themselves.

It is increasingly feasible that Nike will be releasing a commemorative AF1 pack for each of the AF1’s 30 years of existence by the end of this year. If true, time dictates that there will be a flurry of new AF1’s in the coming months fuelling much speculation over Nike’s every creative step. With speculation, however, there always needs to be clear differentiation between what is probable and what the consumer desires.  The following ideas certainly reflect the latter. 

Continuing with the principal theme of camouflage it would be interesting to see how Nike would approach creating a sister pack to the HFDC by basing the aesthetic on analogue not digital image making. Having a digital vs. analogue aesthetic is a jovial reinterpretation of the classic battle between old and new. Nike has been scripting this narrative for some time with their integration of the latest technologies and design elements onto their classic silhouettes. The challenge set with the analogue pack is it’s not just enough for the innovation to be the hyperfusing, Vach Tech or using of FreeSole, but in creating a dated visual affect using these modern of modern methods. To understand the extent of this problem here are some images of analogue interference that would best suit the camouflage theme. 

Importantly, Nike can draw inspiration from elsewhere too. Attempting to imitate the images above onto fabric pixel-by-pixel runs the risk of loosing the original effect altogether. The differences in material property between electronic images and fabric designs are not only numerous but also hugely complex. The differences between graphic design and fabric design however are concretely more similar. The work of Op artist Bridget Riley is a case in point. Although she investigates many areas of perception, her work, with its emphasis on optical effects is the perfect bridge between electronic images and fabric design. As she explains in this video about her working methods, she emphasises the importance of repetition of pattern to create an overall effect and not the repetition of singular cells or pixels.  


If Nike were to create something along the lines of what has been speculated here, it would be first and foremost a triumph of cerebral design but more importantly a reinforcing of Nike’s increasing success at bridging the world of art and artist with the world of commercial and consumer driven design.  

Friday, 18 May 2012

Nike Craft | Blank Canvas

For some time now Nike have experimented with traditional craft techniques in developing new lines of sneakers. Based on the number of existing models, weaving and knitting have proved to be the two crafts most accommodating of the design requirements set by Nike. The success of the Nike Air Woven, Nike Lunar Chukka Woven, Nike Air Presto Woven, Nike Air Footscape and Nike FlyKnit is that the techniques of weaving and knitting are still congruous with the increasing array of performance based synthetic materials available to Nike’s disposal.

Nike’s adoption of weaving and knitting is not simply performance led. There is also a strong aesthetic incentive. Utilising techniques that integrate different strands of material in a variety of colours and capable of forming innumerable patterns and textures opens up a vast number of aesthetic choices. In truth, Nike has not experimented incongruously with the possibilities on offer. The most enterprising that they have been is with the Nike Air Footscape or Nike Lunar Chukka Woven. The Air Footscape is probably the more adventurous of the two. It’s woven seam running along the outside of the shoe defines it’s strong aesthetic, in ways similar to the Frankenstein monster. The colour combinations, however, serve as merely decorative distraction to the focal point that is the architectural and textural seam. The Lunar Chukka Woven Multicolour, though less adventurous in design, is principally a study of colour. However, due to the simplistic geometric design of the weave, the colours remain eye catching but the composition remains simplistic and very flat. If Nike is not keen to experiment with different techniques of weaving and knitting to bring an aesthetic complexity and interest to some of their models, it may be in their interest to experiment with similar crafts, in particular Needlepoint.

To those less familiar with what needlepoint it is a form of counted thread embroidery in which yarn is stitched through a stiff open weave canvass. The logic as to how this is relevant to sneaker design is simple. By understanding the role and properties that the canvass has in the structuring of the shoe will precipitate the comprehension of both the performance and aesthetic elements of the design.

Traditionally, canvass has been made of cotton, linen or hemp. It is open weave in design. This means that between each of the threads in the weave there is empty space forming a cellular design similar to that of a mesh. It is through this empty space that traditionally a yarn is stitched through to decorate the canvass. As the yarn is stitched through it reinforces the skeletal canvass structure so by increasing its durability and potential to form and hold any shape. Canvasses vary not just in the size of the spaces between each thread but also the number of threads that are woven to form the canvass. The smaller the holes then the stronger the canvass is and the more detailed the decoration can be. The same effects can be achieved by increasing the number of threads in the weave. The downside to these traditionally formed canvasses is that cotton, linen and hemp are all relatively heavy and heavier still once you account for the yarn stitched through for decoration. But this can all be changed.   

The current design trends in athletic footwear dictate that the lighter the shoe the better it is as long as shoe’s level of performance has not been sacrificed. A prime example of this is the Nike Air Roshe. The entirety of its upper, toe box and heel counter is made of a woven synthetic mesh. This mesh is similar in structure to that of a traditional mono canvass. 

Fundamentally, there is no reason as to why it would not be possible to use contemporary synthetic materials to re-invent needlepoint embroidery and make it part of an ever increasing Nike Craft range. Needlepoint should not be defined solely by the traditional materials that formed its earliest of expressions. Rather it should be defined by the actual technique of stitching any fiber through any open weave fabric whether natural or synthetic. As the premise of the craft is to link individual stitches together to from infinite types of shapes, patterns and images, there is no need for the whole shoe to be covered in needlepoint. Needless to say the synthetic mesh is pleasing to the eye in its natural state as the FlyKnit demonstrates.

The real coup de grace of needlepoint is its potential for complexity. Its potential is best compared to that of pixels in digital images. A single stitch equates to the same as a single pixel. The more pixels in a square inch the better the resolution is of the image. The exact same is true for needlepoint. The more holes that there are in a square inch of canvass, the more stitches can be made and the more detailed the image can be. Sadly no one has yet managed to translate this craft onto sneakers. It thus falls down to you to use your imagination to substitute some of the traditional needlepoint designs I have sourced below and re-imagine them on a sneaker. Your task doesn’t just end there. It is also vital that you imagine a variety of different synthetic and natural fibers have been used for the stitches to create the same design but for a different effect.

Monday, 14 May 2012

No Blood | No Foul

Subject matter: Street Basketball
Location: 180 courts throughout NYC's five boroughs
AuthorsBobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau
Content: An exploration of the definition, history, culture and social impact of New York’s summer b-ball scene through the voices of playground legends, NBA athletes, and most importantly the common ballplayer. 

Where Bobbito and Couliau explore the phenomenon that is street basketball, it is my intention to explore the many types footprints left over the years on the hallowed turf. To conquer outdoor hoops and it's outdoor weather conditions you need a sneaker designed for outdoor use only. It's requirements are to be more sturdy, more resistant to abrasion and to be all black to reflect the players black out and knock out game. The reality is any time spent in the street and your shoes get dirty. Black may look tough but by bringing dark colours to the outsoles and the midsoles two things happen. One it makes the stance of the shoe look tougher and more rugged. Two it eliminates the dirt variable. If you hadn't suspected already, the shoe in question is the 1992 Nike Air Raid - the first purpose designed outdoor basketball shoe. 

In 1992 there were seemingly two distinct approaches to innovation at Nike. They aimed to solve the shared problem of trying to make the ghetto's aura marketable. Solution 1 was the Air Flight Huarache. It stripped the shoe down to its bare minimum. It cut out the center of the shoe exposing the ankle and used a reinforced phylon midsole to lock down the forefront of the shoe, causing less stress on the ankle bone. Seemingly so left field that the mainstream ignored it, Nike found 5 freshmen from the University of Michigan  to make it their own. It didn't take long as the Michigan 5 came with the most impressive urban skill set set since Texas Western in 1996. Their only question was, do they come in black? 

Solution 2 was the Nike air Raid which channeled the ghetto's aura not through player associations but rather its own image. Where the design mentality with the Huarache was less is more, the Raid's X-strap, thick outsole, and sheet metal detailing on the outsole suggested the reverse. If there was a shoe that was going to call next on the court this was it. Unlike previous shoe designs, Nike was designing with the street in mind. Interestingly the Raid's X-strap would come to represent the mentality and the mindset of the street. It's inclusion on later professional models like the Air Jordan VII and Air Force Max CB suggested that Nike thought even the professionals could learn a trick or two from the street game.     

Another notable chapter in Nike's street basketball ventures is the Darwin Hi. Its release in 1994 was building on the publics popularity of outdoor products. Nike's response to this trend was to design a shoes that was increasingly pushing to become overtly indestructible. The profile of the shoe feels like a boot for the basketball court. Rather than trying to incapsulate the meanness of the ghetto's aura it's design inspiration was for a time when you could be creative: the summer time, the outdoor game - all times when you could just have fun and not take yourself so seriously... the tick going in the opposite direction might just be testament to that.  


As a final offering here is a wrap up of some other notable street basketball staples.

Nike Air Ndestrukt:

Nike Air Unlimited:

Nike Air 2 Strong:

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Wu Tang Clan | The Whole Story


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Shoe Box | Past, Present & Future

The unsung hero of kicksology is indisputably the shoebox. More often than not its purpose is overlooked and worst still forgotten. It is accused further of hampering displays, incarcerating its contents and consuming space with little aesthetic reward. But this should all be forgotten and never dared to be mentioned again for what else is as capable to preserve and protect a sneaker better than a shoe box?

Since 1972 the Nike shoebox as a piece of design has changed little in style, size and colour. The formula up till the 1990’s had been a two-piece box comprising of a 6-panelled cardboard container and lid painted orange with Nike plastered on 5 out of the 6 panels. Post 1998 with the increased exposure of sneaker collecting the boxes used heavier and more sophisticated cardboard with additional extras of a beige/ orange and beige colourway paired with air holes for carrying purposes and the all important tighter lid seal. Those taking notice in the sneaker community were vocal in their appreciation of these latest minor developments. Much to their abhor and astonishment Nike were not finished just yet. The first two major releases to radically reinvent the shoebox aesthetic were the Nike Shox and the Air Jordan XVII’s. With the Shox it was the first time that Nike had moved away from the orange and beige colourway by decorating a larger than normal box in green, aqua and blue. The Air Jordan XVII’s on the other hand wanted nothing to do with the tradition of a shoe box thus starting afresh with a silver briefcase, investment banking style. Unforeseeably the reception of these changes was cold. A complete turnaround from the sneaker communities positive feedback of 1998. Thus since 2002 Nike has nearly always used a faithfully modernised version of the 1998 style. 

It would seem that the future of the shoebox will always hold true to that wise old saying ‘if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it’. This is simply not and cannot be the case. The current approach of thinking about the shoebox is too anaesthetic and scientific, too concerned and overprotective over its function rather than its identity. Why cannot it be treated to like a record sleeve? An album record is no dissimilar to a particular sneaker release in that both are new products and concepts illustrative of new ways of playing music or designing shoes. Yet where the record sleeve has its own unique album art to distinguishing it from any other album, a new sneaker release is doomed to be hidden within the same box like its predecessors with only a sticky label to distinguish it from the crowd. The shoebox should be reflective of what it contains. This is not a radical way of thinking. After all it was once the case when you bought a pair of Nike Air Force One’s you got a complimentary poster that was a graphic illustration of what that specific shoe stood for. If the poster is gone then why cannot we have that poster plastered on our box? It is really an empty canvass that is waiting to be explored fully. I can even add that artist collaborations with certain models of sneakers never fail to drum up excitement. What is required is their artistic input should not be limited purely to the designing of the sneaker but should be visible on both sneaker and box.

Obviously these ideas have been experimented with and the images below are examples of just that. But the message that should be taken from all of this is that in the same way that Nike tries to make every sneaker unique it should attempt to make everyone of it’s shoeboxes reflect that same ideology.