Virgil Abloh wrestles with the idea of sneaker culture being an art form.
“I believe in sneakers as a culture, but saying sneaker culture is art….Why I don’t know yet is because there are missing books on the bookshelf to get there and I think ‘Icons’ is one of them,” he said in a conversation on the Snkrs app led by Shaniqwa Jarvis and with Zak Kyes and Glenn Adamson.
“Icons,” a coffee table book retrospective of Abloh’s collaborations with Nike and published by Taschen, explores the multi-hyphenate’s inspirations, creative process and prototypes that led to the creation of The Ten, his 10 collaboration sneakers with the brand.
The year “2020 should’ve been the nail in the coffin [for books], but we saw the opposite happened,” said Kyes, founding partner of Zak Group, which art directed and designed “Icons.” “Physical objects still have an incredible power and books are just that.” He added that books and magazines were his primary forms of gathering information and a catalyst to his studying art history and becoming a graphic designer. “I realized someone must’ve designed these things.”
Sneakerheads and other communities of enthusiasts and fanatics have similar stories, digging for more information on a particular subject, he said, adding that “Icons” provides something unique for such connoisseurs.
“Icons” explores the logic Abloh said he created for his collaborations, complete with a lexicon of terms and information that make the information richer for both readers who are new to the topic, as well as purists who may have missed references in the collaborations. Abloh refers to these two groups as the “tourist and the purist,” two groups that together define sneaker culture.
Like “Figures of Speech,” a book from Abloh in 2019, the cover of “Icons” doesn’t have the book’s title. Instead it reads “Something’s Off” as both a play on Abloh’s Off-White brand, and a nod to the original Nike swoosh logo from 1971 that looks off when compared to the Nike logo of today.
“Art says something about us and previous to making this book or to sneaker culture I was grappling and asking, ‘Am I just a consumer or can I write a narrative where others can fit in this narrative?’” Abloh said. He spoke of a breakthrough moment when he gave the codes for consumers to make their own Air Jordan 1 sneakers.
“If someone gets this book and says, ‘Virgil is trash and I’m going to do my own,’ then it’s a success,” he said and explained that he wants to inspire others to make their own sneakers like a young fan that made their own Air Jordan 1 sneaker after Abloh broke down the design.
Adamson, a curator and historian, compared this approach to Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and late 1960s artists who “created intellectual machines” to produce artwork. However, he said this isn’t without fault and could be a poison if people start repeating terrible ideas and commentary to each other.
“Icons” was offered for sale beginning Jan. 12 at select independent Black-owned bookstores and will launch on the Snkrs app on Jan. 22. The wider release through Taschen and global retailers will be on Feb. 5.