why the nikelab lunar force 1 x acronym collaboration signals the beginning of something special
What would you do if you were tasked with improving a holy icon of street culture? Whilst many would be tempted to politely decline such an invitation others might suggest superficial tweaks, not Acronym’s co-founder and designer Errolson Hugh. The...
"The choice of the shoe came from Nike and our first reaction was to ask, 'why do you want us to do this?' They had very specific reasons and wanted us to use the Lunar Force 1," Errolson begins. "We made it clear that we weren't just going to want to colour it in and Nike were extremely open minded. There were no limitations or restrictions." Since its inception in 2002, Acronym has demonstrated an unrelenting obsession with functionality, working directly with materials until the desired solution is achieved. There is no compromise. It was this shared passion for utility-led design that creating the spark for this creative coming together with NikeLab. "When we work on a collaboration, it's always about getting to a place in which we wouldn't get to on our own," explains Nate Jobe, Senior Design Director for Nike Sportswear Footwear. "It's always a balance of how much creative freedom we give them against staying true to Nike heritage and the original shoe because this is a huge icon of ours, people respect it."
After launching alongside the slogan 'Air in a box' in 1982, the first basketball shoe to feature an air pocket in its heel has long conquered courts, pavements and hearts. So, how do you update an icon that's existed for 30 years? "Straight off, we admitted that the studio didn't have a strong personal attachment to the shoe," Errolson confesses. "Now, that could be perceived as a negative but we flipped it into a positive because it meant we can approach it from a purer standpoint, we had no baggage, no preconceived notions of what the shoe could or couldn't be. For us, it was a blank canvas. At the same time, of course we understood what it means to so many people, historically. You're working with pop culture. It's not just a shoe, it's interwoven with culture, with histories and cities across the world. So straight away, we knew if we were to do something, we had to deliver. It was a huge opportunity and with that comes an even greater responsibility, so we pushed as hard as we could. So we got regular Lunar Force 1s and just thought, 'what can we do that hasn't been done?' We approached it in the same way we do our apparel, which is normally from a functional perspective, exploring what we can be added or removed to create a tangible benefit."
The benefit quickly agreed upon was ease of wear and the answer was a bold zip providing simple on and off access. "The idea for the zipper came quite early and to test, we just took the shoe, cut it open, experimented with a zipper and tested it by walking around the studio," he explains. Cut, paste, repeat as needed. "When we decided it worked, we then went through the process of drawing and aesthetically balancing the design. But initially, it was just us, scissors and the shoe. For us, we knew what we wanted to do functionally but aesthetically we spent a lot of time refining, so hopefully people can understand that it's an intervention, made with the best intentions. When we submitted it, we sent a mock up, complete with masking tape and markers, it was super ugly, super raw but the Nike team could see where we were coming from. Many times with Acronym, the technical drawings come after the prototype. Build it physically first, see if it's possible, test and then refine."
So what was the reaction of Nike Lab's design team when this Frankenstein's monster of a mock up landed on their desks? "We practice with prototypes in a similar way so when it arrived, we got it instantly. Some of our business partners took a little more time but we loved it," Nate notes. "They changed so much but it's still true." Despite the radical processes, the model is still instantly recognisable as an Air Force 1. That's why, despite a seemingly endless conveyor belt of product launches and collaborations, this one will live long in the memory. It feels like it's the beginning of something. "We can't say too much but this is just the warm-up," Errolson smiles. It's a good starting point for a collaboration. By man-handling one of its seemingly untouchable icons, there's little chance of Acronym backing down on anything. "As long as we feel we can take a product to a new place, curiosity will usually get the better of us."
The NikeLab Lunar Force 1 x Acronym is available now at NikeLab and select global retailers.
Text Steve Salter