It’s not a leap to suggest that the late Virgil Abloh helped reshape sneaker culture to what we know it as today through his legendary collaborations with Nike on some of their most revered models. As we prepare for perhaps one of his final releases in the Off-White x Nike Blazer Lows on April 8, let’s take a look back at the storied history of his relationship with the Swoosh.
Having grown up outside of Chicago, Abloh — who collaborated with Kanye West and Don C and worked with brands such as Louis Vuitton and Fendi — clearly had reverence for some of Nike’s most famous models, especially from the Air Jordan line. But at the same time, he was also unafraid to put his own spin on things, as seen in his revolutionary “The Ten” collection, which released in 2017.
The “Ten” collection included versions of the:
- Air Jordan I
- Air Max 90
- Blazer Mid
- Air Force 1 Low
- Air Max 97
- Converse Chuck Taylor
- Zoom Fly SP
- React Hyperdunk 2017
To say that “The Ten” was a hit would be wildly understating things, as seen by some of the resale prices in the links above. People ate up Abloh’s design signatures, from things like “Air” on the midsoles to the presence of exposed foam to the text shouting out Nike’s HQ in Beaverton to that distinctive tag that was attached to every pair. Off-White’s collaborations with Nike became THE sneaker for a new generation of sneakerheads, regularly showing up on Sneaker of the Year lists and on the Instagram and Tik Tok feeds of top influencers.
Truthfully, the collection breathed new life into several models, remaking them for the 21st century. There’s perhaps no better example of that than the Presto, which to that point had been an underrated gem from the early 2000s. But after the hype surrounding its place in “The Ten,” all of a sudden even mainline Prestos gained new relevance and saw a resurgence.
“The Ten” would not be the end of Abloh’s work with Nike. No, no. Once you have seen that level of success you go back for more. Abloh and Nike have released several collaborations each year since “The Ten” in 2017, including the “rubber dunk” in a couple of colorways; Michigan, Michigan State and UNLV inspired dunk lows, more Prestos and Jordan 1s; the Jordan 4; and a pair of much-hyped Jordan 5 colorways released in 2020 that many called the sneakers of the year. The Air Force 1 also saw several special colorways released, including the Volts, MCAs and the University Gold colorway timed to his Figures of Speech exhibition opening at the ICA in Boston in 2021. Not to mention the 50 dunk collection Abloh designed and Nike released blind box style in 2021 or the pair of Air Jordan 2 Low colorways that hit around Abloh’s passing in late 2021.
After Alboh was clearly influenced by some of these iconic models, those models in turn have been influenced by Abloh’s touch. The Air Jordan 1, in particular, has seen some elements of Abloh’s work migrate over into the mainline general releases. And that is really how it should be when you think about it. As much as these retros function as a sort of outlet for nostalgia, for them to continue to have relevance to the current generation they need to evolve and grow. Nothing is perfect, lacking the ability to be improved upon. And if the Off-White ethos aren’t your cup of tea? Well, you have plenty of conventional Air Jordan 1s to choose from as well. It’s the best of all worlds.
Even if we are nearing the end of Abloh’s work with Nike due to his passing, his legacy is secure. His collaborations are up there with some the most famous parts of Nike’s catalog he drew inspiration from. His work will live on with sneakerheads for a long time to come.
To see more of this month’s releases, check out our release date calendar.
If you have questions or just want to talk sneakers, hit on me up on Twitter — my username is @a_silva32.