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A Conversation with Riccardo Tisci on the Nike + R.T. Collaboration

When Riccardo Tisci first got his gig as creative director for Givenchy in 2005, the fashion world seemed to collectively furrow its brow. At the time, president and CEO Marco Gobetti defended the brand’s choice with light concession: “A lot of people say: ‘He is very young,’ but I think he’s ready for it.” Needless to say, Tisci exceeded the expectations of the media (and perhaps even Gobetti himself) having prolifically, feverishly, released successful designs with every new season for the French luxury brand.

Interesting that some nine years later – with the whole Rottweiler thing about three years behind him – “youth” is still a term integral to Tisci’s work. I met the designer in a domestically-furnished SoHo hotel last week, with Nike having offered me the opportunity to speak with the 39-year-old creative regarding the Nike + R.T. collection. While his lengthy list of accolades and achievements can be intimidating, Tisci has a boyish excitement, an honesty about him that is refreshing – especially when talking about fashion. The below details our short, but insightful conversation, which covers his inspiration for design, classic kicks in history, and the versatility of his work.

In your recent interview with Complex you mentioned that the shoe is more detail-driven, that you wanted to keep the shoes as true to the classics as possible. So, do the details – the color scheme, Swoosh detailing, tab below the laces – have particular significance to you?

When they asked me to do this project – because I’ve been wearing these shoes for so many years, and I have such respect for Nike – I did a lot of variations. So when they asked me, I could do whatever I wanted, I could completely change the sole, the shape, etc. But I thought: it’s such an iconic thing, and I’ve worn it for so many years, [it’d be] a pity to destroy this. It’s like when someone gives you something beautiful, and you just destroy it. So, [I kept the shoes]. What I brought was new ways: the triangular perforation [on the toe box], the details, the cut. I brought the intensity of my style in collaboration with Nike. Nike is the shoe, and [I’ve put] this mask on top. Originally, they’re empty and they’re clean. [It’s about] the base of the shoes, the roots, and then my part on top of [that]. It was very important to be faithful and respectful of the roots and what was being given to my hands; I think when things are beautiful and good, they should never change. I think for me, I’ve brought what today’s generation wants from me and Nike.

You’ve mentioned before the importance of ubiquity in this project, that you want everyone to have access to the shoes – especially given your “normal” background. In your opinion, does a shoe have the capability to unite various ‘tribes’ of people with different interests?

Absolutely, I think it does. There are a lot of shoes in history that have made their own tribes. Nike, Doc Martens, Kickers in the ’90s, Clippers… All these made people believe in them. Of course, it’s part of a look, but shoes are something very important. Especially for me, it was very important. I come from a very amazing family, a very amazing background, but not [so much] financially. I remember when I was young [and living] in Italy, I wanted to find my tribes. In my naïve way of thinking as a young person, it was [by saving money] to buy a pair of shoes.

Shoes [made] the look. Shoes, you can wear every day; a bag and shoes are what make the look. You can wear a simple, black look with amazing shoes. The day after, you can wear jeans and a white tee with [great] shoes; they make the look very strong. For me, I’ve been there – where you don’t have so much money to buy something that you dream about. You want to be a part of an identity – I call them “tribes,” others might call it “identity,” but I know what it’s like. This is why it was very important for me, Nike agreed with me to design shoes that would be reachable for anybody that wants to be part of the journey of Nike. For me, this makes the success of the shoes.

This shoe looks inherently different from the aesthetic you’ve established with Givenchy. Does the design at all relate back to any lines done with the brand, or was this a more independent, personal project?

It’s more independent. What I do for Nike is special for Nike, and what I do for Givenchy is special for Givenchy. I think both of them have something strong in common: the strength, the confidence. I’m always big on things that can be detailed, very strong, [yet at the same time] it’s important they be big on creativity. Some designs just think of the craziness; I like the craziness, I like the creativity, but I like when people [actually] wear the clothes and shoes. I think there are strengths in both of [the colorways]. If you look at the black one, it’s different. Out of respect for Nike and Givenchy, I wouldn’t do the same thing, so it’s good thing that you [bring that up]. They belong to my world. The white one, the first one, we decided to launch with Nike because it was something of a celebration of tribe. It was a celebration of life, a celebration of love. It was something for the young generation…which is beautiful. In each one, the good thing of it, they’re all tribes and they’re all gangs, but still the mask is the same color. [We changed] only the base color of the shoes, but each one [represents] a different tribe.

Do you see these shoes, from the low-tops up to the boot, as more high fashion or everyday street?

Both. I think if you’re wearing – [let’s say] for a girl – if you wear them with a lace dress and match more dressed up, it can make the look much cooler; it can be much more… “high fashion.” If you wear it with just black men’s trousers and a tight T-shirt, the same trainers can make [the look] much more urban and street. I think it’s a quite versatile object; in itself, it’s quite a cool pair of shoes. If it’s difficult to make it updated today, but it was not difficult because the base of the shoes was amazing. It’s like if you buying a house with an amazing structure.

Did you consider any other silhouettes – basketball, perhaps, given your background – when deciding what to do for this project?

No, it’s what Nike asked me to do. They gave me the shoes and I [could] choose [my] company to work on it. I think it [belongs more] to me – because I love trainers in general – but these are the shoes I’ve been wearing for the past 14 years.

InterviewerJosh Davis/HYPEBEAST
PhotographerJohn Ong/HYPEBEAST

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