Nike Innovation Summit NYC: Mark Parker & Hiroshi Fujiwara HTM Q&A


Five years ago, we found ourselves getting desperate in the quest to find new shoes with the scope to be future classics. We're talking classics, not the close but no cigar status of a few mid '00's sleepers and just as we resigned ourselves to lives spent trapped in a constant limbo of reissue after reissue (then back to the start again) Flywire and Lunarlon arrived to form the basis and backbone of some of the best shoes we'd seen in a long time. In fact, it might be the strongest slew of shoes since the arrival of Zoom just over a decade prior. So when Nike invited us out to NYC for one of their fancy Innovation Summits to inspect what comes next, we were excited. Few hints were given, indicating that just as Nike have really developed their digital mojo, just as they kept their Mag reissue and Fuelband under wraps, they can keep their developments hidden from prying Instagrams when they want to. In a Lower East Side basketball space, complete with cops cramming a taped up scene across the road outside, Nike went all out with a series of presentations to usher in the next wave of performance shoes. Carl Lewis acted as host, with an astonishing pair of jeans that were both wide and fitted, chatting up female athletes live on stage for our entertainment, and bringing Mr. Mark Parker out for an introduction to Nike's new innovations. What was seen has been covered all day on various sources, but it was highly significant.

With an emphasis on brand new rather than any focus on Nike Sportswear, trend level merged with performance level more closely than we've seen the two entwined in recent years, but it was the Flyknit's day. Embodying much of what Crooked stood for back in the day, with love for the Woven, Seismic and more, it brings some D.N.A. from those cult classics and engineers them for pure performance with deceptive levels of detail. We never thought the day would come where HTM was name checked in front of the global media either - what was once a limited edition project for those in the know has become the vessel to premiere this project, and HTM Knit shoes have actually been worn for marathons. GYAKUSOU was a warning shot as to what Nike were set to deliver and the latest iteration of Hiroshi, Tinker and Mark's (sans Mark Smith who was involved in the HTM2 Run Boot) work pushes the boundaries of the collaboration model and before we continue, the HTM Lunar Flyknit Trainer+, with its mix of contrast medial detailing, neon, white and a unique and satisfying top down view (if, like us, you find yourself absent-mindedly gawping at your feet when you're supposed to be listening) that's set to drop in London this weekend in very limited numbers. Having grabbed a pair from Mercer Street, they fit like slippers but are laden with performance potential. What these seamless shoes lack in weight, they make up for in the detail that the technology unlocks on those uppers, and the aforementioned shoe, the FlyKnit Racer and Flyknit Trainer+ are amazing silhouettes that feel remarkably Crooked-friendly. We do like a good yarn and these stitched uppers are a serious evolution from late '70's runners that unleashed plenty of mesh. The stitch loop Dynamic Flywire lacing present on these and other releases today looked progressive too - it could've come off rustic, but Flyknit looks like 2012 shoes should look.

New Lunarlon releases like the Lunarglide+ 4, which dispenses with the old formula with the Dynamic Flywire present hone the Lunar sole concept and the Hyperdunk is a significant reboot of that series. With the Hyperdunk debuting Flywire prior to the Beijing Olympics, after the initial shock of the new, we never paid too much time to the sequels, distracted as we were by the latest LeBrons. The new Hyperdunk pushes things forward significantly - samples of the LeBron 9 that made a brief appearance during the shoe's campaign trail showed a curious variation with loose, thick, standalone Flywire cables and they're present here - slack off the foot, but completely rigid on it. Lunarlon had never made for a hardcourt application up to this point either, but the boffins at Nike Basketball have developed a basketball-centric Lunar composite that's aided by a reinforced shank to take the force. That Lunardunk in Team USA colours is a tremendous looking shoe that didn't look out of place alongside some past glories from the Dream Team era being reissued to commemorate their 20th anniversary, including our beloved Force 180. While the day was about new uniforms and new shoes, there was some further retrospect on the sidelines, with the Air Current resplendent in a couple of colourways and the Air Safari (for panicking purists, it's coming back in its original colours and form this Summer) in standard shape and the Lunar Safari silhouette that's splitting opinions - jury's out here, but it's a noble effort that gets points for the Scotchlite patterning.

Culminating in the Flyknit launch, with the likes of Stash and James Jebbia in attendance, it was good to see Nike happily letting the boundaries blur. Round two on Wednesday sounds like it might have an emphasis on digital, but in the meantime, we caught up with Mark Parker and Hiroshi for a quick chat about the latest iteration of the HTM initiative.

Mark: Tinker sends his best, but he can't be here today.

How long has this project been in development? The Run Boot was a couple of years ago, and it seems to have returned as pure performance...

Mark: Yeah. The band disbanded for a while - it went of tour for while but now we're back, doing a new album, so to speak. We've been working on - Hiroshi and I in particular - have been working on this for the last two plus years, on the knit. But we've been working together for at least ten and we've known each other longer than that. But this whole knit project started about four years ago - the idea and concept behind it is maybe twenty plus years old, but we've been really working on this form - this way of making it for four years and Ben Schaffer is a big part of making that happen. We've been kind of working together with Tinker these last couple of years on the Racer and the Trainer. We've been playing around with different heights and forms. There's a lot of prototypes that are not on this table- probably ten times as many as what you see here, so there's a lot of what we'd say was riffing and exploring ideas, sketching...it's what we love - being creative, getting together, experimenting, playing around.

Hiroshi: When I first heard about this knit concept I thought that it was amazing. There's a lot you can do with Knit from my side of it, like the fashion...snowprint patterns. It wasn't as easy as I thought, so I asked Ben to do so many things!

Mark: The fun thing about this is that it's a whole new way to design shoes and to perform. Obviously there's sustainability but it's really hitting on all those points in a dramatic way. It's well beyond what anybody could imagine, looking at these early samples and prototypes. The impact that this is going to have on footwear manufacturing is going to be huge, in the way shoes are made and the way that they're designed. Some of the prototypes that we aren't showing today that are coming further down the road are incredible. There's so much potential and so much possibility with this. It's crazy. It brought us back together again, We were so impressed with Knit technology that we just had to get creative again as a group.

When you talk about the conversation twenty years ago, what were those conversations about?

Mark: Back then it was called Sock. The first prototype I remember was actually 1980, so it was thirty plus years ago and it was a brown dress sock with some foam glued to the bottom. It was a basic idea and it ultimately led to the Sock Racer that was a shoe that Ingrid Kristiansen wore in the Boston Marathon.

Hiroshi: How about the Presto?

Mark: The Presto was part of that series too. It was really simple, clean and dynamic with the stretch upper and contour bottom and support in the midfoot. Knit in this technology has been four or five years in the making. When Ben and the team showed me some early prototypes, I was like "Wow." I mean, they weren't the most beautiful things, but you could see the potential and the work we've done, with the machines to do these things and the software to make the most of what the machine can do is just incredible. There's a lot of possibility here - we've got running but it can go into training, it can go into basketball and it can go into football or soccer. I think you'll see more and more Knit just in general.

Are they comfortable?

Mark: Oh yeah, Incredible!

Hiroshi: Very.

Mark: Abdi Abdirahman said today that when he was running in his he had to keep looking down at his feet to make sure that his shoes were still on. That's the greatest compliment that we could get - to actually create a performance shoe you can't feel.

Hiroshi: They feel like socks but you have protection.

If you apply the Knit technology, could it be applied to apparel?

Hiroshi: But apparel is already knitted.

Mark: But we're talking about performance Knit. In fact, we're experimenting...that's all I can say. There's a lot of knit apparel, obviously, but this is a whole different kind of knit. It could change both performance and lifestyle.

Is there any specific for the colours in the collection?

Hiroshi: We wanted one that was simple, one for an easy understanding of what Knit is and a professional feel. I wanted to do one that was like the nylon Cortez or Bruin with the swoosh.

Mark: That's a good point Hiroshi (Holding a simple example up) - these have a simple swoosh and midsole like the original Waffle Trainer. And I think that's beautiful. When you get close to the shoe you can see that detail and the performance comes through. You can really express something dramatically but there's a beauty in the simplicity of cleanness.

How did HTM come together?

Mark: The band? Our band of brothers? Well, Hiroshi and I met many years ago. We started HTM about ten years ago. Actually Hiroshi, you tell this better.

Hiroshi: When I first met Mark in Japan he asked me what I would do if I could do anything with Nike and I said I wanted to do something with Tinker and do some customisation to the shoes - not just in colour but performance-wise...maybe lighter or faster. That was the beginning.

Mark: Hiroshi uses the example of AMG and Mercedes and the way they take something and make it even more high performance and more special, With HTM we take an existing shoe and make it more special with more features, more detail...things that may be more premium and more expensive. But we also take new concepts like things that don't even exists, so there's something that exists that's modified or something completely new like the first Woven shoe. And we also do mashups, with something coming together with another to create something new like the Footscape Woven. We play in those three spaces and we don't worry about price - we just want the very best. Woven was one of the first things we did and still one of our favourites.

We're so used to getting a shoe as a retro - we live in a retro culture, but we saw these hours ago and they're already on the shelves. It seems very anti-retro. HTM is very freeform - I can see Woven and Humara in these as well as other shoes I've loved over the years - are there any direct inspirations here?

Mark: It's inspired by a lot of things but there's not a purposeful thought-out lineage so to speak because we've gone from doing the Air Force 1 to something that's completely new and different. I would say that it's more freeform, it's more organic. There's no schedule. If we're busy in our own respective worlds we don't. Or Hiroshi might have a great idea and he'll give me a call or send me a note or vice-versa. So it's freeform.

Hiroshi: It's about better, so it's about the newest technology.

You mentioned cars - are these the concept cars of the Nike range, so the ideas can trickle down inline?

Mark: Yeah. It'll trickle down or left and right and sideways but it's definitely concept cars. We don't want to worry about how many we make. There's no rules...well there's some. But very few!

The Nike HTM Flyknit pieces start arriving at London's 1948 on Saturday. They're worth investigating in the flesh...

Posted by, gwar on 22 February 2012