Phil Knight's last words before retiring were: 'never forget to hear the voice of the athlete'. The relationship between the shoe and the athlete is one of the most important aspects of sneaker design, especially in the designing of a signature shoe. I have discussed previously the marketing and design importance of the Air Force One (in 'where is my complimentary poster') and furthermore touched upon some aspects of the sneaker's relationship with the athlete. Much has been said about the 'Original Six' and what they represented for Nike. The word silhouette, however, has become a synonym for the Air Force One. In its literal context, the white on white of the sneaker's composition leaves the the main body of the shoe devoid of interest and detail, so by focussing all attention upon the outline. Little further study as such has been made on this silhouette beyond its aesthetic qualities, undisputed performance and role as a cultural symbol. The genius of the design of this silhouette lies in its referencing of something singularly more efficient than the performance of an athlete. It is the incorporating and reinterpreting of the evolutionary traits of nature's own perfect athletes. I am specifically referring to nature's best predators.
To avoid confusion over this subject matter, it is useful to unearth the extent to which selected examples of sneaker design have incorporated this ruse. In the case of Kobe Bryant's signature Nike Air Huarache 2K4 shoe, the initial preconception was first realised by the athlete. Kobe, when interviewed as to how he conceives himself on court, described himself as something of a predator. His further elaborations expressed an interest in the behavioral characteristics of predators, especially sharks. It is from this brief interview that designers from Nike took Kobe's ideas and incorporated some physical characteristics of a shark in the designing of the shoe. This may be initially illustrated in the images below:
|Nike Air Huarache 2K4|
|Close up detail of the shark tooth pattern|
|Close up detail of the herringbone pattern|
The Nike Air Huarache 2K4 seemingly looks nothing like any aspect of a shark in its final design. It has to be flipped on its reverse to reveal the sole patterning to fully appreciate the design modifications inspired by Kobe's vision. The toothy pattern (highlighted by the red arrow) is duel referential. The more obvious quotation is of the shared shape similarity with that of a sharks tooth. The manner in which each individual rubber tooth is positioned upon the sole is there to mimic the multiple rows of teeth that sharks posses. The variation in size of rubber tooth also reflects this same variation found in an actual set of jaws. Seen in a different light the texture of the sole is reminiscent of the sharks skin too. Smooth in the direction of left to right as illustrated by the green arrow and hugely abrasive in the other direction. The technological innovations of this addition allow for the shoe to grip the floor better but it accommodates for a greater responsiveness to a vast array of foot movements and pressures.
The inclusion of the herringbone design maybe considered to be a bit of an anomaly. It may be a digression of sorts but the herring is a predator in its own right yet within this example it is also in the position of being the prey too. The benefit of the herringbone design is that unlike the shark tooth pattern, the herringbone offers continual grip in all directions especially forwards and backwards as illustrated on the image above. For the overall performance and stability of the sole the herringbone is more than capable. It is only in response to Kobe's slashing and cutting playing style - needing to chop and change direction left or right - that the shark tooth motif is able to provide a unique performance. Perfectly situated strategically on the upper instep, it offers increased responsiveness to the athletes boosting movements, enabling a freedom of movement unique to its design. For the perfectionists that Nike are, it is a clear illustration within the language of design, of the fine balance between a predator-prey relationship.
When analysing the Nike Air Fore One silhouette through such a specific lense our observations become much less of a concrete science. The shoe's initial design dates back to 1982 requiring a healthy dose of speculation as to the design mentality that Nike were incorporating in that year. But keeping in mind the observations made over the designing of the 2K4, I find it extremely difficult to dismiss this coming observation as something totally wild and out of left field.
The silhouette of the Nike Air Force One is what is of initial importance here. It has been described as a timeless and perfect piece of design, a feat of evolutionary perfection. Yet this is a silhouette that pre-dates Bruce Kilgore's masterpiece by millennia. Its appeal works on a subconscious and conscious level. By stimulating both, the joy is in our conscious reasoning as to why it stimulates our subconscious. The answer is rather simple. The silhouette of the Nike Air Force One is a classic silhouette of a land predators head. Personally, it resembles the skeletal structure of a T-Rex skull most of all. This is best explained by the image below:
Without much imagination the fit is almost perfect. It is clear to see that the similarity in silhouette is uncanny. Discernibly little artistic license is accommodated for in the final construct. What is truly uncanny though is the degree that the similarities shared between a T-Rex skull and the design of the Nike Air Force One don't stop only at the silhouette. The basic architecture of the skull and the shoe are the same. The diagrams below should explain this:
It is important to realise at this stage, that these diagrams are not to illustrate the exact match between the architectural components of both the skull and the shoe, but more as to how one has definitely influenced the other. An extra detail of this visual comparison is that the teeth in the jaw may have been translated into the shoe in the form of the toothlike protrusions and indentations seen on the very bottom of the sole unit.
Finally, the inclusion of one more image best explains how this argument is not alien to some creative sneaker designers/artists out there. Though this image may not be a true representation of an actual once living predator, the fictitious predator below is non the less another illustration to the arguments and observations made throughout this post.