Olympians, designers, dancers, rappers, kids in Kobe Bryant-emblazoned L.A. Lakers uniforms — Nike’s Wednesday night fashion show at The Shed was a spectacle.
Like any mega-sports event, the $39.1 billion Nike banked on elite athletes on and off the runway to help get fans in their seats. The well-rounded roster included eight-time gold medalist runner Carl Lewis, former WNBA champion Lisa Leslie, retired sprinter Michael Johnson, gymnast Gabby Douglas, NFLer Saquon Barkley, pro BMXer Nigel Sylvester and pioneering marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson. There were also ultragreen 11-year-old skateboarder Sky Brown, a Nike ambassador, as well as the more-seasoned fencer Miles Chamley Watson, high-jumper Vashti Cunningham, Paralympian Blake Leeper, and former soccer star Brandi Chastain.
After passing through a stadium-like dark tunnel to enter the all-white arena, the crowd didn’t have to look too far to see what was what. A mirrored backdrop eliminated the need for any corkscrewed necks. During the pre-show lull, many clocked Drake seated with Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, Rosalía and Nike chief executive officer John Donahoe. In the opposite section, the artist Haroshi kept former ceo Mark Parker, who now serves as executive vice chairman, company. A Stormi-free Travis Scott was on the scene, as was former “The Bachelorette” contestant Tyler Cameron (also known as Gigi Hadid’s ex). The night’s fashion squad included Matthew Williams, Martine Rose, Heron Preston, Simon Jacquemus, Dao-Yi Chow and Adwoa Aboah.
True to Nike’s mission statement that “if you have a body, you’re an athlete,” the casting celebrated the proven, the ordinary, the physically challenged, youngsters and retirees. Staged like a series of vignettes, one of the more touching moments occurred when a handful of children wearing Los Angeles Lakers replica jerseys walked to the end of the runway and stood silently.
Set up as a curtain raiser for this summer’s 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the all-encompassing, exuberant show doubled as an unofficial kick-off for New York Fashion Week. A stack of Nike-clad dancers strut, snapped, popped and shimmied across the runway and up the cantilevered space to bring the show to a close — amidst a rainbow of lights.
As the bleachers cleared, Drake, Abloh, Preston and others hung back a bit to huddle up. Drake has worked with Nike – ditto for Abloh, who recently teased a new Off-White x Nike jacket on Instagram. None of the all-star entertainers were involved with the show at The Shed. But some of the designer guests are still getting in on collaborations in fashion and music. Drake, who just dropped his second collaboration with Future, said he sometimes trains with “King” Hino Ehikhamenor. Asked about his collaboration plans with Nike, Preston smiled, “That’s a secret.”
The high design quotient inevitably led to more questions after the show. The brand continues to work with Abloh’s Off-White on footwear and apparel, but Nike’s chief design officer John Hoke was not at liberty to specify what is in the works. “We’re constantly looking at our deals all the time so we’re trying to secure a deal with Virgil. He’s been a great partner for us over the years and we welcome even more creativity with him. I’m actually going to see him now,” Hoke said.
Nike is also trying to ink a deal with Travis Scott, “He’s been a great representative of our brand, loves our brand — more to come. They’re all incredibly creative and we’re attracted to people who are authentic and passionate about design and creativity. That’s one of the central things we talk about, when we talk about getting collaborators to come in. So that we meet on equal footing. We share a passion for sports, design and culture.…Those people really fit that bill.”
Nike is looking into a deal with Preston and talks are ongoing with Chow. “We’re not ready to come out completely with everything, but we are always looking for collaborators. The ones that connect with our brand and our vision is important, so those are great examples,” Hoke said.
Wearing a black baseball hat, sunglasses, a camouflage hooded jacket (just like Drake), a black Nike hoodie and ripped jeans, Abloh was a source of much attraction as guests left. Another Nike-friendly designer, Chow said he is working with the company “on a project-by-project basis but it’s not contractual stuff.” Chow said he first met Hoke about 18 months ago. The Tokyo Olympic Games were a point of discussion, but Chow is not currently working on anything Nike-related. He said of Hoke, “He’s good at reaching out to the community to get [insights] about social responsibility and things happening in that space, leading up to Tokyo.”
Chow, who is Sergio Tacchini’s creative director, dismissed the suggestion he was on enemy camps. “No, not really. Tacchini is pretty tennis-focused and more ready-to-wear stuff is what I’m working on, not performance and sport.” As for whether Chow will have his own collaboration with Nike, that would be a ”we’ll see” situation.
While his Public School cofounder Maxwell Osborne has delved into design for e-sports, Chow isn’t following that route for the time being. “That space is a little foreign to me,” he said.
Being able to see Nike’s new Vaporfly sneakers “up-close-and-personal” during Wednesday night’s show was exciting, Chow said, “I’m a big runner. They debuted the versions of the Next% that Eliud Kipchoge wore when he broke two [hours for the marathon].”
But he hasn’t yet tried them out. “I’m waiting — silently waiting,” Chow said.
After much of the crowd had thinned out, Donahoe stood contentedly in the near-empty makeshift arena. Asked why he felt it was important to be part of New York Fashion Week and to unofficially kick it off, Donahoe laughed good-naturedly and declined comment. Mention of such topics as China, social justice and free speech led to a similar response.