Sneaker Icons: The Story (So Far) Of Sacai X Nike

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Sneaker Icons: The Story (So Far) Of Sacai X Nike

Words by Mr Joseph Furness

11 March 2022

There’s no two ways about it, we love to witness brands hook up. And, as of late, this has been more apparent than ever. We’ve applauded – then consumed – Gucci x Balenciaga (or whatever Mr Demna Gvasalia wishes to call it), Supreme x Tiffany, Jil Sander+ x Arc’teryx and, of course, “Fendace”. But the power couple of all power couples? Sacai x Nike. This high-profile pairing lives in our minds, rent-free. They’re #collabgoals, if you will.

Although many believe the story of Nike and Sacai – a brand GetDressed Podcast co-host Mr Avery McCollum articulately describes as “a luxury Japanese label that successfully mixes the formal with the casual” – began just four years ago, their relationship dates back to the mid-2010s; 2015 to be specific, when NikeLab enlisted the help of the cult label to zhuzh up its springtime women’s line. “The initial goal was to transform classic performance apparel and footwear icons into functional, fresh and modern sports hybrids,” says Ms Chitose Abe, Sacai’s founder and creative director.

At the centre of the capsule collection was the Sacai x Nike Air Max 90, a sporty kick with a streamlined, laceless design. A laceless Dunk High shortly followed. The inauspicious moment garnered some reaction from the sneaker scene’s inner circle, but the union was regarded as nothing but a faddish fling. That is until, three years later, the dyad made an unexpected Bennifer-level comeback.

Sacai x Nike, Blazer Mid advert, 2019. Photograph courtesy of Nike

In 2018, Sacai and Nike rekindled their romance and, this time around, things were a little different. There was a new-found “commitment to reinvent, reinterpret and innovate pieces from the Nike archive in unique and fresh ways,” says Abe. Essentially, Sacai was now wearing the trousers.

The relaunch centred on two new-fangled Sacai x Nike sneakers – the Sacai x Nike LDWaffle and Blazer Mid – which made their debut on the SS19 Sacai runway at Paris Fashion Week. Both models yoked two seminal Nike silhouettes together in ways that embraced Sacai’s avant-garde spirit. “The designs were more intense than the laceless Dunk Highs and Air Max 90s that preceded them,” says Mr Michael Le, senior editor at Sneaker News. “It looked as though two sneakers were fighting for the spotlight within one shoe,” says Nike collaborator and sneaker content specialist Ms Titi Finlay.

Seemingly, the futuristic footwear designs were informed by the 500-year-old Japanese tradition of kintsugi, the wabi-sabi art of careful repair that emphasises imperfections. Every exquisitely crafted pair was a wearable piece of art. “There was certainly more attention to detail than that of regular Nike shoes,” says McCollum. “It gave the sneakers a luxurious look.”

The year following the SS19 show, Sacai x Nike’s hybrid kicks began to drop on Nike’s SNKRS app and in boutiques worldwide. “When the original Sacai x Nike LDWaffles released, it shook up the sneaker world,” says Finlay. It’s true. All four colourways – two LDWaffles, two Blazers – sold out instantly and swiftly appeared on the resell market, along with a marked-up price tag.

Other Sacai x Nike silhouettes soon started to pop up (namely the Sacai x Nike Blazer Low and Vaporwaffle) and, over time, colourways became increasingly accessible. Consequently, style-savvy individuals from all walks of life added pairs to their rotation. The collab was slowly but surely shifting into the international mainstream.

Commercially speaking, Sacai x Nike’s mass appeal was glad tidings, but it spelled trouble for the collab’s reputation. Tastemakers – a pop-intolerant bunch – habitually eschew played-out silhouettes to protect their credibility. Losing their attention would mark the beginning of a downward spiral.

By the turn of 2021, Sacai x Nike was omnipresent. It was plain that Sacai x Nike needed an ace, something to spice things up for the sake of publicity. A Lemonade-style stunt. They landed on the concept of an open relationship. It was to be an exercise in interpretation.

“Sacai is rooted in collaboration and Nike fosters a culture of innovation”

“Sacai is rooted in collaboration and Nike fosters a culture of innovation,” says Abe. “For the Sacai x Nike LDWaffle reimagination, we initially worked with Fragment, CLOT and Undercover, three long-term friends of Sacai’s who believe in the philosophy of collaboration. Each one was made special by the alignment of the three partners involved.”

Three-way collabs kept things fresh for a spell. Notably, art icon KAWS (aka Mr Brian Donnelly) got in on the fun in late 2021, lending his coveted iconography and idiosyncratic art style to the Sacai x Nike Blazer Low. But both brands knew the novelty of triple-branded kicks would soon wear out. So, while KAWS x Sacai x Nike and CLOT x Sacai x Nike distracted consumers, the twosome found the time to conceive a fifth model: the Sacai x Nike Cortez.

In January 2022, the collaboratively created Cortez was formally introduced via Sacai's AW22 lookbook. With this one silhouette, the duo re-established their place at the forefront of fashion. They were #collabgoals, once more.

“This shoe refines the best-loved elements of its predecessors,” says Le. “I might be getting a bit ahead of myself here, but I think the Cortez is the best silhouette from the collaboration yet.”

As we anticipate the release of the already sought-after Sacai x Nike Cortez, let’s take a look at what makes the collaboration’s three most significant lovechildren – the LDWaffle, Blazer Mid and Vaporwaffle – so remarkable.


Sacai x Nike LDWaffle

The Sacai x Nike LDWaffle marries two 1970s silhouettes, the Nike LDV and Nike Waffle Racer, to form the future. Characterised by its playful, extroverted, doubled-up design, this June-born Gemini is a symbol of originality – just like its namesake.

“When the Sacai Waffle was first previewed, I did some research around the original Waffle silhouette,” says McCollum. “I discovered that Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman dreamt up the design while watching his wife make waffles one morning. He used that same waffle iron to create Nike’s first running shoe prototype. Now, that’s what I call innovation.”

It’s rather incredible that, 50 years later, the Waffle still symbolises the forward-thinking nature of Nike.


Sacai x Nike Blazer Mid

Like its non-identical twin, the Sacai x Nike Blazer Mid is the result of two sneaker silhouettes frankensteined together: the Nike Dunk High and the Nike Blazer Mid. As the name suggests, it’s the latter the shoe most resembles.

“Sacai certainly did a lot with the Nike Blazer, the once-technologically advanced basketball silhouette that’s far from easy to tweak,” says Le. “Chitose Abe approached the shoe as she would a garment, taking apart and piecing it together in a disordered yet deliberate way.”

Is it too flashy for wallflowers? Not necessarily. When adorned with hushed hues, the Sacai x Nike Blazer is subtler than the collab’s other offerings. “The shoe is surprisingly easy to style,” says Le. “Whenever I spot the shoe here in New York City – SoHo, mostly – it always looks good, especially when paired with slacks, jeans or shorts.”


Sacai x Nike Vaporwaffle

In January 2020, Sacai and Nike cashed in on their success by dropping a third silhouette that built on the collaboration’s then-established distinguishable aesthetic. Christened the Vaporwaffle, the shoe melded the Nike Pegasus with the Vaporfly.

“The Pegasus and Vaporfly are two of Nike’s most revolutionary running sneakers, known for winning marathons and pushing boundaries,” says Finlay. “Together, they create the Vaporwaffle, a fascinating beast of a fashion sneaker that’s functional yet frivolous.”

How did Sacai and Nike (almost) match the hype around the OG silhouettes with the release of the Vaporwaffle? “It’s to do with the combination of the materials, how the rich suede on the toe box offsets the printed mesh or nylon,” says Finlay. “That, plus the ribbon-style laces. They’re an acquired taste, but that’s the beauty of them.”

Worth a second look