Nike x ESPO Air Force II Low

2004

It took a lot of persuading for Nike to let Stephen “ESPO” Powers make the company’s first-ever transparent shoe. “Nike is all about performance,” the street artist says, and his concept of an all-plastic invisible sneaker didn’t quite fit that. “I took it back to their comfort zone saying it would be a performance shoe, but it would also perform art.” Even then, Powers recalls, Nike’s first draft was only partially plastic. “I said, ‘Come on. If Jellies can do it, why not Nike?’ Eventually, Powers and Nike landed on a design that balanced large transparent panels with original ESPO artwork, and came with a special pair of socks to boot. As proud of the finished product as he is, Powers admits Nike might have gotten the better of the performance. “Within two blocks, the plastic was cutting my feet,” he says. “These shoes went back in the box and I never wore them again.”

Nike x Union Air Force 180

2005

Union’s take on the Air Force 180, designed by Chris Gibbs, then director (and current owner) of the influential Los Angeles boutique, reads like a time capsule from the golden age of streetwear. “I had just arrived from New York and loved ’90s basketball silhouettes, so I turned to the 180 because it was a great representative of that era that I loved so much,” Gibbs says. “Streetwear was a rebellion against the fashion industry as a whole, which usually only played in blacks and navys, so I wanted the colors to contrast with that. I took the camo from my jacket favorite and I changed the colors to be more playful. It was probably inspired by Bape, who was doing a lot of it at the time.

Nike SB x Staple NYC Dunk Low Pro “Pigeon”

2005

When Nike SB tapped Jeff Staple to design a New York-inspired Dunk, he skimmed through all the obvious references. “We thought of a Statue of Liberty Dunk,” Staple says. “A Subway Dunk. A dunk cab. In the end, we decided that the pigeon was New York’s unofficial mascot. Not everyone would get it, but the people who lived and breathed here would. Not only did they get it, they ravenously wanted it. The release of Staple’s Dunks, covered in feathery gray suede with an embroidered dove along the heel, sparked a riot outside its Reed Space boutique on the Lower East Side. For much of mainstream America, the shoe served as an introduction to the growing hysteria of sneaker culture. “SNEAKER FRENZY,” the front page of the New York Post read the next morning. “A HOT SHOE MAKES RUCKUS.”

Nike SB Zoom Air Paul Rodriguez 1

2005

Paul Rodriguez Jr. grew up obsessed with Nike, but when the Swoosh first approached the up-and-coming skateboarder about a potential sponsorship, he balked. “At first, Nike didn’t plan on making iconic skate shoes, and that was a dealbreaker for me,” Rodriguez says. Eventually, the brand changed its tune and granted P-Rod the first SB pro model, a retro-inflected low-top shoe with a padded leather heel and full Zoom Air cushioning. “I’m just glad my teenager held on and stayed true to his dream.”

Nike x Stash Air Max 95

2006

Graffiti legend Stash was one of Nike’s first and most important non-sporting collaborators, paving the way for colleagues like Futura to get involved with the Swoosh soon after. He introduced his trademark tonal blue palette on an Air Classic BW in 2003, but the colorway hit its peak three years later when Stash applied it as a cascading stripe gradient on the Air Max 95. 95 is one of his favorites, Stash says, “because look how the fucking crack came out. One of the best shoes ever made to date. You don’t have to touch it. It’s one of those “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” patterns.

Nike x CLOT Air Max 1 Kiss of Death

2006

The mission of CLOT, a mainstay of Hong Kong streetwear, is to connect East and West through carefully crafted products. And his Kiss of Death Air Max 1, the first in a long line of Nike collaborations, does just that. Inspired by traditional Chinese medicine, the transparent toe box (like where you can see the tops of your toes when wearing them) reveals an acupuncture chart on the insole, while the outsole is printed with a diagram describing the pressure points of the foot.

Nike x Bobbito Garcia Air Force 1 Low Premium ’07

2007

Few Nike collaborators have earned their own shoe more than Bobbito Garcia, the New York street-ball folk hero, DJ, documentarian, author and OG steward of sneakerhead culture. His Air Force 1 features a gorgeous mix of suede, leather and mesh alongside nods to Garcia’s passions for vinyl records and basketball.

Nike SB x Dinosaur Jr. Dunk High Pro

2007

Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis’ Dunk High Pro is the epitome of a simple idea executed to perfection. “I wanted it to look like Ace Frehley’s silver platform space boots from Kiss,” he says. Mission accomplished. Drizzled in shiny metallic silver with bright purple accents and the band’s logo and mascot stamped on the sides, the shoe was an instant holy grail that won Mascis fans far beyond his regular listeners. “People come to me talking about sneakers and have no idea I’m in a band,” he says.

Nike Air Max LeBron VII

2009

“You never really know when it’s ready until you do the lab test yourself,” LeBron James says of his signature sneakers. Which makes sense when you consider all that is expected of them to follow the greatest player of his generation. “The hard thing about LeBron is that he’s superhuman,” says Nike’s Tony Bignell. “It’s so powerful that everything feels stiffer, tighter, harder, firmer. How do you make something work well for him – and also work for the kids playing in the shoes? »