Practically every major fashion designer dabbles in sneakers these days. But few can match Riccardo Tisci in terms of credibility.
This story first appeared in the February 3, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Started playing basketball at age seven credible.
Wears sneakers every day credible.
Lost count of his sneaker collection credible. (He figures he’s surpassed 1,000 pairs, most of them bearing the famous Swoosh.)
So his second collaboration with Nike — with the first shoes arriving at NikeLab retailers in North America and at nike.com on Feb. 11 — is bound to be greeted enthusiastically by sneaker heads, who snapped up Tisci’s colorful, tribal-tinged interpretation of the Air Force 1 in 2014.
The complex moniker of his second project — NikeLab Dunk Lux High x RT — is a foil to its slyly minimalist design.
“I live my life in Nike trainers,” Tisci told WWD in an exclusive interview about their latest collaboration. “It’s interesting because I come from a couture background and I’m the first couturier who is doing a project with them, bringing my way of thinking about couture and about fashion.
“It’s so easy for me to do couture and at the same time, it’s easy for me to be urban and to be street. I bring my fashion approach and a couture touch to trainers, which is interesting.”
Having logged his first decade as Givenchy’s creative director, Tisci has earned a reputation for being able to straddle ultrasophisticated fashions as well as cool T-shirts and backpacks.
Asked by Nike to reinterpret the Dunk, which marked its 30th anniversary last year, the designer proposed a reduced version based more on precise proportions than surface decoration. “A symbol of couture in a way — strong, but clean and simple,” Tisci said. “They were very excited with what I proposed to them.”
The designer stretched the height of the sneaker — “somewhere between boxer shoes and high-tops,” he noted — and enlarged the foxing (the rubber sidewall), eyestay (the leather strip with the lace holes) and the belly of the Swoosh, which culminates at the Achilles heel with an upside-down leather tab just above an “RT” logo.
“They’re still related to basketball, street, skateboard culture and all that, but much more pure, much more minimal, and with very strong details,” he said. “This can be used by everybody and it can be worn every day, not only for sport.”
While embodying Tisci’s vision was essential, the shoe “also needed to perform,” noted Nate Jobe, senior design director of NikeLab Footwear Innovation. To wit: The design team incorporated a host of performance and comfort features, including full-grain leather for uppers, an ultrasoft Lunarlon insole, and memory foam in the quilted leather collar and tongue.
Tisci’s understated design is sure to be influential, and is very much in the minimalist vein of the hit Yeezys done by his great friend Kanye West. (Although the rapper collaborates with Nike’s rival Adidas for his footwear and fashion line.)
First out is a black Dunk with a white Swoosh, followed by a white version with a black or red Swoosh.
“The goal we wanted to achieve was to create a Dunk that was lighter, very recognizable and, very iconic, but very pure,” Tisci said.
To be sure, the designer knows the legacy of the Dunk by heart. Growing up poor in Italy amid a craze in Europe for American basketball, he witnessed the shoe, created in 1985 only a few months after the Air Jordan I, becoming popular for off-court wearing before being embraced wholeheartedly by the skateboard community.
Tisci was only able to afford his first pair of Nikes around age 12 or 13 — they were either Dunks or Air Force 1s — having contented himself with a Nike sticker before that. That first purchase ignited what would become a lifelong passion for collecting sneakers, along with polos and T-shirts — other wardrobe mainstays of Tisci’s, who still dresses like a college kid at age 41.
“I would say I’m a trainers freak. They’re the only shoes I’ve worn my whole life,” he said. “I have a lot of boxes in Como where my family lives, and a lot in Paris and in New York.”
While his fall 2016 collection for Givenchy put a big emphasis on cowboy-style boots, Tisci remains a passionate proponent of sneakers, which his collaborations with Nike reflect.
“Men today are more open-minded about how to dress. It’s not like you have to wear a loafer or classic shoes with a suit,” he said. “On the weekend, you can be more relaxed and cool, and very chic trainers can make a man look chic without being formal.”
Tisci confesses he was surprised by the success of his first Nike collaboration in 2014. Sneaker enthusiasts queued up to nab a pair — dubbed Nike + R.T. AF1 — and some went to town customizing them, sharing their interpretations on social media.
Now he’s gearing up for his second collaboration with Nike that’s due out before September. He describes it as “bigger” and “more articulated” but won’t say anything more than it comes to him naturally.
“I always loved Nike as a child,” he said. “It belongs to my history.”