After releasing a couple of attention-grabbing mix tapes, Houston-born rapper Travis Scott debuted his acclaimed album Rodeo late last year. Scott wears a NikeLab x RT jacket ($225), T-shirt ($75), and shorts ($120);nike.com/nikelab. Nike tights and sneakers.
Amid our ongoing love affair with sports—and boasting new collaborations with Riccardo Tisci, Kim Jones, and Jun Takahashi—Nike steps up into fashion’s premiership.
In the beginning, sports and fashion were two worlds, separately created by separate gods. In 1964, when Bill Bowerman shook hands with Phil Knight and set out on the road to designing Nike’s now iconic shoes with a waffle iron in a kitchen in Oregon (all function, very little form), Yves Saint Laurent was on the verge of debuting a Mondrian A-line dress that was, conversely, designed not for speed or stretching or any kind of performance aside from, say, a Merce Cunningham premiere.
Sprint forward to today, when we are all faster, stronger, more flexible in terms of how we move, what we do, and when we do it. Which means that fashion and sports (and the streets that sports live on) have become one world, with crossover gods. Today, a young designer like Shayne Oliver starts his career not at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, Saint Laurent’s alma mater, but by making T-shirts and sweatshirts for friends. Alexander Wang is showing neoprene sweats. Rihanna is working with Puma, Kanye with Adidas. And now the paradigm shift as Nike, the world’s top-seeded maker of clothing designed to help break world records, steps in to play in the world of ready-to-wear. Nike’s designers haven’t just been hanging out in locker rooms. “We go to a lot of shows,” one of them told me.
Movement and speed and ease and functionality are now intrinsic to so much that we wear, whether on the field or in an Uber. Thus we have NikeLab, the place where Nike designers work out with that fashion world. Up to now, the results have been on the gorgeous side: In her fall/holiday pieces for NikeLab (she did a spring/summer collection, too),Sacai’s Chitose Abe took company staples like Windrunners and Tech Fleece and added sheer trapeze pleats and proportions that made the pieces seem to fly. Now we have three NikeLab collections (Summer of Sport, they’re calling it) set to leave the gate to celebrate the Rio Olympics—in collaboration with Kim Jones, Jun Takahashi, and Riccardo Tisci.
These days, everybody wants to work out with a fashion designer. As Apple picked up people from Burberry, Saint Laurent, and Gap prior to launching its watch, so Nike Women—the largest women’s athletic brand in the world, currently weighing in at a valuation of $5.7 billion—is partnering with the fashion world with the goal of gaining about $5 billion in sales by 2020. And then there are the athletes, who, in a crossover world, are rock stars. “Look,” says Tisci, “in the seventies and eighties, sporty people could wear only sportswear, and artists had to look only dirty and underdressed. Today the world has changed, and these kids who are heroes of sport want to look good—they want to bring their own personality to the playground!”
To investigate the practicalities of Nike’s fashion partnerships, I took a trip out to the company’s world headquarters in Beaverton, a place where people work with sensor-draped athletes on treadmills in simulated Brazilian climates. (When I was in the Nike Sport Research Lab, the sprinter Ryan Bailey was running at what seemed close to the speed of light while images of his body were being examined in a room that looked as if it were supporting the power grid for L.A.) It struck me that Nike designers were drastically more open about their interest in fashion than on my visits in years past. “Do we geek out on Givenchy?” a designer who worked with Tisci asked. “Yes.” But they still stress performance as their core. “If there were a photo finish between performance and style, performance would win, but the two go hand in hand,” said Martin Lotti, Nike’s global creative director.
Model Joan Smalls wears a NikeLab x RT crop top ($110) and 2-in-1 shorts ($210); nike.com/nikelab. Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci earrings and shoes. Givenchy Haute Couture by Riccardo Tisci bangles.
And yet fashion’s benefit to performance remains relatively undocumented. “I remember talking to Maria Sharapova, and she was telling me that she will play better if she looks better—that is definitely a common thread with athletes we work with,” said Lotti. (When I spoke with the Olympic-champion decathlete Ashton Eaton recently, he seconded: “Feel is connected with physical. I very strongly believe that if something in your mind feels lighter and faster and makes you feel stronger, that placebo is not a negative thing; it’s a thing that works.”)
One way to lure designers is with vintage Nikes. Jarrett Reynolds, senior design director of NikeLab, talked about fashion’s forever interest in shoes like the Air Force 1, which Tisci redid (his new-old model, the Dunk Lux High, came out in February). That shoe’s icon status, Nike argues, came second. “We made a real-deal performance product and the culture adopted it and made it an icon,” Reynolds said. Working on Air Force 1 was a dream for Tisci, affectionately referred to at Nike as a “sneakerhead.” “If somebody asked you to work on the Sistine Chapel in Rome, you wouldn’t change it completely—you would just modernize it, because it’s so beautiful,” he said.
For the new Summer of Sport collection, Nike flew to Paris, Tisci to Beaverton, where, in the gorgeous gym, he momentarily relived his childhood basketball career, even if the shots he took did not reflect his prowess as a designer (“I hadn’t played in a long time,” he stressed). He got pushed into performance aspects of the design. “We made Riccardo uncomfortable,” Reynolds said. The end result: shorts morphed with tights, kaleidoscopic color prints that no Nike apparel designer would have dared suggest, and botanical nods not only to Brazil but to his own upbringing in the south of Italy—all engineered into Nike’s best-selling sports bra.
“He pushed us to a place where we wouldn’t have had the confidence to go on our own,” Reynolds said. Tisci also pushed them to a place where gender lines were blurry, where male and female pieces are interchangeable—something you see a lot of when sportswear is on the street. “The walls between him and her were less important,” said Reynolds.
The designer Jun Takahashi runs close to 20 miles a week dressed, he says, “head to toe” in the pieces he’s been collaborating on with NikeLab since 2010, a highly technical and sharply cut layered collection called Gyakusou (translation: “running in reverse”). “We usually start by saying, ‘OK, Jun, what’s been happening with your running?’ ” explained Reynolds. If you replaced the terms art and beautyin the definition of couture with design that gorgeously frames and assists the performance of the body, then Gyakusou would be couture. Takahashi’s own ready-to-wear collection, Undercover, has always included functional elements, raising the question, What is the difference between sportswear and ready-to-wear out in the field? “I think we’re seeing very little difference between the two on the streets,” he says.
With a self-titled debut album that went straight to number one and the honor of being the only artist to have his first four singles simultaneously in the top ten, Fetty Wap has made himself a force to be reckoned with. Fetty wears a NikeLab x Kim Jones jacket ($275), T-shirt ($175), and pants ($225);nike.com/nikelab. Nike zip-up sweater, $65; nike.com. Model Cameron Russell wears a NikeLab x Kim Jones top, $175; nike.com/nikelab. Louis Vuitton Bermuda shorts; select Louis Vuitton boutiques.
When I finally caught up with Kim Jones, the Vuitton men’s style director, he had just taken a plane to a plane to another plane, each one smaller, until it let him out in a southern coastal forest in Vietnam, track-suited and trainered-up. (The NikeLab team had pegged him years before as a sneakerhead.) “He knows tech, and he’s been part of street culture forever, so he spoke the language of Nike culture,” said Reynolds. For his collaborations, Jones was shown the Windrunner, a 1978 Nike piece that quickly crossed over from marathoning to New York City break-dancers in the eighties. Jones was also shown technical data—along the lines of charts by Nike’s research lab that indicated where a runner is hot, where not. “It’s no use to outcool them,” Reynolds said. “You have to outnerd them.”
Jones approached athlete performance from the vantage of travel—a silver in South America one day, a gold in Europe the next—something he knows in his bones as the son of a globe-traveling geologist. In the end, Jones collaborated on jackets that are, among other things, nearly seamless engineering marvels of packing performance, perfect to work out in, perfect to pack, perfect to run in—and vaguely secret agent–like. “It really gets down to almost zero when you fold it in your bag,” he says. (When we spoke he was headed out to see his first extremely endangered black-shanked douc langur in the Ninh Thuan province. “There’s only about 600 of them left in Vietnam, and they are called the painted monkey—and they are the most beautiful monkey in the world,” said Jones.)
All the designers sounded ready to burst out of the gates to fashion new sport—and vice versa. Tisci, for one, thinks his fashion idols would approve. Though he never met Coco Chanel, he finds her a simpatico spirit when it comes to breaking down the differences between events and categories. “She was one of the first people to bring women from Victorian-looking dresses to a male look when she deconstructed the jacket,” he said. “What I’m doing today, she did already in her time. I think she would be like, ‘Go, Riccardo, go!’ I think she would be a supporter.”
Fashion Editor: Sara Moonves
Hair: Didier Malige; Makeup: Gucci Westman
Produced by Kate Collings-Post for North Six
(Source Cowan : Vogue Magazine