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Nike x TITLE: The future of female sneaker culture

January 31, 2020 17:20

Sneaker culture has been a ‘boys club’ for too long. But change is arise and the old laws were broken when sports-inspired fashion became a part of the everyday look, no matter the gender. The sneaker industry has seen huge changes and it’s more inclusive than ever. Female representation at every level of the sneaker industry still has a long way to go but more brands have started supporting this movement to acknowledge and authenticate female sneaker enthusiasts by dropping female-focused brand campaigns and introducing more sizing options for women. 

Nike has been a pioneer in pushing new female voices, and challenging the sneaker status quo. They’ve been consistently serious about giving their female consumers what they want in order to express who they are. Looking back on Air Max Day 2017, Nike dropped its womens-only Air Max model, the Air Max Jewel, followed by the Air Max Dia last year, and we’ve seen the launch of pilot projects like Nike Unlaced – a curated destination for female sneaker lovers. Not to mention  influential women like Bella Hadid, Serena Williams and Aleali May becoming campaign faces.

Ahead of Air Max Day 2020, we joined the Nike team in London to see how its storied. Air Max franchise is evolving with the future of female sneaker culture. At a 48-hour launch event, Nike unveiled the Air Max Verona (its latest female-only silhouette), alongside the Air Max 90, Air Max 90 Flyease and the futuristic Air Max 2090. 

TITLE sat down with Nike’s global design team to discuss the future of female sneaker culture, and what it means to be involved in the development of Air Max.

“Female” elements should not be a thing

For a long time there was only a small selection of sizes available with designs that were exclusively geared towards a cute girly-style. The sneaker models for women came in pastel colors, pattern prints and delicate cuts. It made it difficult for women to break out of the stereotype of the cute girl - in terms of fashion. Juliana Sagat is a footwear designer at Nike. After landing her first professional roles at Marc Jacobs, Kenzo, Givenchy and Isabel Marant, she joined Nike’s footwear design team, focusing on Nike Sportswear and Nike Air Max. 

Juliana explains what is especially important when it comes to adapting to current and different tastes of women worldwide: “The main thing is to find a balance between attitude and style. Also, the color is super important as it gives the first impression and it's a good way to express yourself.” For the women's sneaker (Air Max Verona), the focus of 2020 is a height element: “When we design an Air Max, the sole is usually more organic and for the first time we have something a little chunkier so that she can feel elevated and lifted by this chunky sole. It's the first time we're using the two Air unit just for her.” 

Air Max - a shoe with a story

The Air Max is a shoe with a long history and a rich heritage. We want to know what it feels like to bring it into the future, documenting how times are changing times yet acknowledging its past. Dylan Raasch is Senior Creative Director at Nike currently responsible for the brands largest and most iconic footwear line: Air Max. With over 20 years of footwear design experience Dylan has designed iconic models such as the Roshe Run, Air Max Thea, Huarache Ultra to name a few. Dylan points out what is special about working on Air Max: “We have to make sure we're still staying true to what Air Max is. It's always been very expressive and fun. Some other brands might get a bit more serious, but I think it’s important trying to maintain that fun by keeping it fresh and innovative.” Besides creative freedom, one of Nike’s biggest strengths is, to stay close to customers and community: “We're not just making shoes in the back of a space. We're making them for people that love them. As the culture evolves, we have to make sure that we're still tied into that, trying to make sure that each generation has its own identity.” 

Streetwear Culture

The Air Max identity is largely shaped by the streetwear community and its constant evolution. Leah Abbott is a London-based stylist and image director. She explains what’s so beautiful about streetwear: “Streetwear culture is all about being innovative and being fresh. If you can upcycle something and you can rework it and make it your own, then that is not only looking after the planet, but it's also bringing a new cool edge to street culture.” Also the influence of Streetwear culture is becoming more and more relevant: “If you look at Fashion Week, you're certainly seeing much more representation on the runway and styles that are celebrated as beautiful and artistic. We're also seeing a shift in smaller designers and up and coming designers being showcased for their innovative talent alongside the big household names.”

The Future is unisex

It seems that the development of female sneaker culture is going in a good direction. And yet in our conversations, we discovered a wish that is equally dear to all creatives. They are all waiting for sneaker culture to become truly genderless or unisex and for sneaker culture to create unification in a world of seperation. Juliana says: “I hope for the design process to become genderless in the next couple of years.” Leah Abbott adds that there is already much progress to be seen: “In London, you'll see guys and girls literally in the same fits. You'll see them in the same tracksuits, the same sneakers. There's a lot of unisex wear going on, which is great.” 

There’s still a long way to go, but Nike’s future-oriented Air Max development is refreshing to see and beside bright colors and new innovations, it also brings a fresh air of change to a male-dominated sneaker culture. 

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The employees in the boutiques, in the design studio and in the backstage area at fashion shows wear white lab coats, as was common in the ateliers of the great couturiers, e.g. Christian Dior, and is still common today. The fashion shows for the high-priced fashion sometimes took place in the context of the Paris Prêt-à-porter shows in unconventional locations, up to shabby surroundings (construction site, metro station, dining room of the Salvation Army etc.). The boutiques are kept in plain white and gray. Margiela originally selected unspectacular locations such as a residential area in Tokyo and did not publish the addresses of the boutiques in order to require the customer to make an effort to find the store at all. The first Margiela store opened in Tokyo in 2000 and the first European boutique was inaugurated in Brussels in 2002. In 2008, a boutique opened in a basement on the edge of Munich's Maximilianstrasse. This was followed by participation in numerous exhibitions, including "Radical Fashion", which was shown in 2001 at the V&A Museum in London. In 2010 there were 36 own stores worldwide.  In 2015 there were over 50 stores worldwide, including boutiques, that only carry the MM6 collection.

The company followed a very restrictive communication policy. The designer can neither be photographed nor interviewed. Only his creations should speak for themselves and the designs should be perceived as the overall performance of the team. That's why the team always shows up in white doctor's coats after the fashion shows - nobody should stand out.

By recycling old fashion, separating, recoloring, reversing seams and zippers, both the origin and the artificial of the art of tailoring are shown. Margiela puts together what doesn't belong together: by hand, jeans turn into skirts, old army socks become pullovers. Baptized by the press as deconstructivism, this current is defined by an abrupt collision of different materials, which at first glance appear inharmonic in the sense of conventional viewing habits. Margiela herself rejects the term "deconstructivism". He resurrected clothes in a new form, he told ELLE in 1991.

Margiela was the unofficial 7th member of "Antwerp 6", a generation of fashion designers who all completed their training at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1980-1981 and shaped the "style of the Belgians". However, it does not belong to the actual group, but it became known in a similar period.

The Japanese "Street Magazine" dedicated two special editions to "Maison Martin Margiela", which were published in book form in 1999. Nicolas Ghesquière (Balenciaga) is a big fan of Maison Martin Margiela.

In July 2014, fashion critic Suzy Menkes exposed Matthieu Blazy via Instagram as Head of Design, after which he deleted his Instagram account and changed his profile in a career network. He left the company on October 1, 2014.

To this day, Margiela pieces, especially in the fashion industry and all fashion lovers, belong to the sanctuaries in every repertoire and archive. Getting vintage pieces from other designers may be possible, but Maison Martin Marginal Archives are a real hunt and that says it all about this art.