The Supreme x Nike Effect

The Supreme x Nike Effect

May 07, 2021

Nearly two decades has passed since the first collaboration between Nike and Supreme. Founded in 1994 by James Jebbia, Supreme’s origin story begins in an old office space on Lafayette Street, located in New York’s Lower Manhattan neighbourhood. And despite the brand’s current status as a cultural icon, Supreme began with smaller offerings, starting with t-shirts before moving on to hoodies, hats and collaborations with names like Vans, BAPE, and Keith Haring. 

The first collaboration between Nike and Supreme would come in 2002. Supreme had steadily grown in popularity, opening several stores in Japan. At that time, the Nike Dunk had built a devoted fan base in Japan -- not to mention, with three locations, Supreme was building its own following. The Dunk was also a hit in New York and according to HIGHSNOBIETY, a small number of Japanese Co.Jp Dunks were snuck into the SoHo location, effectively serving as a litmus test for the collaboration to come. 

The Nike Supreme SB Dunk Low would release that September. It was the first Nike sneaker to borrow the iconic cement print seen on Tinker Hatfield’s Air Jordan 3 -- a tribute to New York’s love of skateboarding in Jordans. The release, which was limited to 500 pairs in each size, would draw hour-long lineups at each Supreme store. The silhouette was met with incredible demand and popularity, paving the way for the two brands to tap into dozens of other Nike and Jordan silhouettes. 

Unsurprisingly, the 2002 SB Dunk Low is now considered one of the most coveted grails in the world of sneakers. And most recently, the two brands came full circle, releasing a Dunk Low that drew some obvious design cues from one of their first ever joint ventures. Here’s a look at some of the biggest collaborations between the two fashion giants since 2002. 

Supreme's Skate Roots

In today’s landscape, the Nike Dunk is almost synonymous with skate culture. What many don’t know, however, is that Nike’s first attempt at skate shoes was far from successful -- mainly because large brands like Nike weren’t easily accepted in the skateboarding community. In addition to successful collaborations like the 2002 Supreme Nike SB Dunk Low, much of Nike SB’s success can be attributed to the late Sandy Bodecker, who began as a footwear tester at Nike in the 1980s and would later lead the Nike SB team, helping to reintroduce the Dunk into skate culture. 

“He helped shape everything that Nike SB has become,” the brand says. “From the team of riders to the way we think about the shoes themselves.” 

As for Supreme, well, many of the individuals employed at the original Supreme store were skateboarders themselves. According to Vogue, the very first employees were extras in Larry Clark’s film Kids -- a coming-of-age film that portrays a group of teenagers in New York City. Jebbia was also a fan of skate culture. Not to mention, during the brand’s early years, it started a magazine that highlighted young models, artists, and skaters in downtown New York.

Notable Releases:

2002 SB Dunk Low

Released in September 2002 during the Orange Box era, the Supreme x Nike Dunk Low Pro SB is the first collaboration between the two companies. The American skateboarding giant asked to “borrow” the cement print that details the Air Jordan 3, making for an instant classic. Not to mention, it was the first time that the Air Jordan 3’s cement print had ever been used on another shoe. 

Fun Fact: When the sneakers were released, only 500 pairs were made and they were only available in New York and Japan -- where the only existing Supreme locations at the time. 

 2003 SB Dunk High 

Leaving no room for a sophomore slump, the 2003 Supreme x Nike SB Dunk High was another hit. This time, three colourways, red, orange, and light blue, were released with features such as crocodile-patterned leather, golden stars on the quarter panel, and a gold Supreme nameplate dubrae. 

Fun fact: Unreleased samples had the sneaker originally covered in an all-cover Nike/Swoosh print. Keep your eyes peeled, as there are a number of samples with the original print design floating around. 

2006: SB Blazer Mid Supreme Black 

Vastly different from its Dunk counterparts, the Supreme Nike SB Blazer Mid blended high-fashion cues with a popular silhouette. The sneaker featured quilted black leather, ornate heel detailing, and a snakeskin swoosh, resulting in an upscale feel. 

2012: SB Dunk Low 

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right? The 2012 Supreme Nike SB Dunk Low was every bit as popular as its predecessor. Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the original silhouette, Supreme this time flipped the black and red colourway that was seen on one of the original models.

Uptown

While hindsight is 20/20, it’s remarkable to think that the Air Force 1, which was first released in 1982, was nearly discontinued by Nike. Nearly 30 years later, the silhouette is a cornerstone of sneaker culture and the choice for dozens of collaborations with noteworthy brands. But the Air Force 1 holds a truly special place in New York. For one, New York is one of the three states (alongside Maryland and Philadelphia) that helped save the silhouette from extinction. 

In Harlem, specifically, the Air Force 1 was everything. The sneaker was an essential component of both hip-hop and basketball culture, worn by athletes and artists alike. The sneaker was affectionately known as “Uptowns,” with American DJ and streetballer Bobbito Garcia helping propel the sneaker in popularity.  

“Basketball and hip hop, they so intertwined it’s not even funny,” Garcia said during an interview with Nike on the Air Force 1. “Like when we were playing ball we were listening to rap music. The guys that were involved in hip-hop you know, they loved basketball a lot and played ball.” 

“There’s always been that connection of like hip-hop, basketball, New York, and the styles mesh.” 

Considering the importance of the Air Force 1 in New York, paired with Lafayette Street being the birth of Supreme, it seems only fitting that James Jebbia’s brand created several collaborations with the silhouette. 

Notable Releases:

2012: Air Force 1 Low

After 10 years of collaborations between the two companies, it was only a matter of time before Supreme tackled an Air Force 1. Released in three colourways at Supreme stores in New York, Los Angeles, London, and online, the sneaker was made of authentic NYCO fabric, which is durable, waterproof, and traditionally used to produce military outerwear. 

2014: Air Force 1 High

For this iteration of the Nike Air Force 1 High, Supreme kept it simple, yet bold with three single-tone colourways. What set the sneakers apart, however, was a premium leather upper with the Supreme logo embossed on the heel, as well as an ankle strap that said “World Famous.”

2017: CDG Air Force 1 Low

With screen-printed graphics on the side and heel panels, and a debossed logo, the Nike Air Force 1 Low collaboration with Supreme and Comme Des Garcons SHIRT may be the most jarring approach on the silhouette. In addition to releasing during the same year as the Air Force 1’s 35th anniversary, the sneaker is also one of the most popular collaborations on the resale market to date. 

2018: NBA Air Force 1 Mid

In tribute to some of the greatest teams in basketball, this collaboration included joint efforts by Supreme, Nike, and the NBA. The silhouette released in black and white colourways covered with the team logos of the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, and Cleveland Cavaliers.  

2018: CDG Air Force 1 Low

In 2018, Supreme, Nike, and Comme Des Garcons Shirt joined for another successful collaboration. This time, the brands opted for another Air Force 1 but with a black and white colourway. The highlight of the silhouette was a split swoosh cut in half by a vertical seam, as well as embroidered logos on the heel. This sneaker was also accompanied by a collection of apparel that also borrowed this split logo theme.

On The Court

 

In today’s sneaker space, models like the Nike Dunk and Air Force 1 are most commonly recognized as lifestyle silhouettes. But it can’t be ignored that both sneakers carry a rich history and origin story in basketball. After all, the Dunk was first designed for college basketball players and the Air Force 1 was the first basketball shoes an air unit. 

But it goes far beyond that. Supreme has touched on some of the most iconic basketball silhouettes of all time, such as the Foamposite and the Air More Uptempo. And who can forget in 2018 when NBA guard J.R. Smith showed off a Supreme tattoo on his right leg.

Notable Releases:

 2014: Foamposite

First released in 1997 as a signature model for Penny Hardaway, the Nike Air Foamposite 1 pushed the envelope forward for high-performance athletic footwear. This made it the perfect silhouette for Supreme to utilize an eye-catching, luxurious design. A black and red version of the Foamposite was dressed in gold accents and a custom basketball jersey and shorts was also made available during the release. 

This collaboration is also infamous for causing what was nearly a riot at the SoHo Supreme location. Hundreds of sneakerheads lined up on Lafayette Street as early as 7 pm the night before the release. Police in New York were forced to set up barricades to control the chaotic crowd and Supreme would later cancel the in-store release.

2015: Air Jordan 5

Released in 2015, the Supreme Air Jordan 5 was the brand’s first attempt at a Jordan silhouette. The sneaker came in three colourways, the most unique being one with a camouflage upper -- a fitting design, considering that the Air Jordan 5 inspired in part by a World War II fighter plane. The sneakers also had Supreme branding hidden underneath the netting of the sneaker.

Fun Fact: While Air Jordan 5s typically feature the number 23 on the outer heel, these collaborations replaced that number with 94 -- the year that Supreme was founded.

2017: Air More Uptempo

The Nike Air More Uptempo is another emphatic silhouette that Supreme has put its own spin on over the years. The sneaker features a nubuck upper with customer leather and reflective Supreme branding that wraps around the shoe. It was released in three colourways. 

Fun Fact: The Nike Air More Uptempo was most notably worn by Bulls legend Scottie Pippen.

2019: Air Jordan 14

The second collaboration between Jordan Brand and Supreme put a spin on a lesser-known, albeit still popular silhouette that draws inspiration from sports cars. The Supreme Air Jordan 14 utilized a white, balck, and university red colourway with studs and Supreme branding throughout the sneaker.

Written by: Vincent Plana
Graphics by: Mathew Chan

 

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