Nike has created many recognisable footwear icons in its time but can the same be said for its apparel? The Windrunner is perhaps one of the few exceptions that really is the foundation of Nike’s clothing identity, when it was first developed in the late seventies by its then newly formed in-house apparel design team. It was born first out of performance and function, meeting the needs of athletes who needed to train in a jacket that was lightweight and could withstand the elements, but then later was adopted into popular culture in the late eighties, particularly by spinning B-boys. I first came to know it as a style item rather than a performance one as it was the ‘Mufti’ non-uniform uniform of choice for boys at primary school.
“I wish those moments happened more in apparel, as it does in footwear,” said Kurt Parker, VP and Creative Director of Nike Sportswear, who I spoke to over Skype on the occasion of Nike celebrating its ‘Year of the Windrunner’. “Different cultures have been able to appropriate different Nike moments – like the AirMax for instance. We get asked to design things that become iconic but you can’t breed that into the process.” The Windrunner, with its 26 degree angled chevron stripe though did manage to transcend into a garment that has had not just its moment as an item representing performance but also one that has style iconography attached to it. “It came from a naive but authentic place and it was really the beginning of Nike apparel, “ said Parker, when asked about why the Windrunner has endured through the decades. “It was unique at the time and still is. We don’t waver when we re-approach it. Even when we’re working with collaborators hold hard and fast to some iconography of the details. That makes it super familiar to people.”
In all its iterations, the chevron colour blocking device remains one of those constants even if it has undergone many a combination for Olympic athletes as well as being integrated with innovative detailing like Flywire, Nike Flash (a surface that glints under camera flash) and Aeroloft insulation for extra warmth. What is now considered a Nike design classic has also maintained its moments in the athlete’s arena, especially when it took to the podium in the 2008 and 2012 London Olympics.
All of this is pre-amble though is perhaps preparation for what I think is the most extreme iteration of the Windrunner yet, thanks to Chitose Abe’s fourth take on this silhouette, as part of Sacai’s ongoing collaboration with NikeLab and as a contribution to Nike’s ‘Year of the Windrunner’ celebrations. The exaggerated pleats in Abe’s first collection for Nike, already felt like a radical step, but in the two styles that debuted in NikeLab stores and online yesterday, pitting a faux-fur (mimicking shearling) chevron and hood in the brightest of volt yellows against that classic ripstock nylon is almost shockingly subversive. “It was great to have someone from the outside to push us,” said Parker. “It kind of feels right when you see it, especially in imagery. But yeah, it’s something very different for us and of course, Nike doesn’t use a lot of faux fur in its apparel.”
And yet, despite the strangely alluring Muppets-esque appearance of these pieces, the identity of the Windrunner prevails. Its DNA is left intact. It proves that you can intervene with the maddest of design moves and the garment is still recognisable. “The Windrunner’s ability to go as high as we can imagine it and also for it to be accessible, is one of the things that keeps it somewhat understandable for the customer.”
These plush Windrunners is again a deft hybrid move that is equal parts Sacai and Nike. It’s in my mind one of the most progressive design collaborations that Nike have done and rather than a one-off drop, I’m glad it’s continuing to yield great things… like a PLUSH Windrunner. Even the name sounds like an oxymoron. And yet, in-person, faux-fur and nylon somehow seem like compatible material bedfellows. Especially with the aid of the hood, the toggles and of course the Windrunner silhouette itself.
“It’s education and it’s inspiration and we take from that like we would insight from an athlete,” said Parker on the experience of working with Abe and what she brings to the Nike table. With Abe’s input, the Windrunner takes its most extreme style detour yet. Question is, are you brave enough to go with the faux?
NikeLab x Sacai plush Windrunner worn with Jenny Fax pinafore dress, Pleats Please skirt, Matthew Miller t-shirt and Nike Flyknit trainers
NikeLab x Sacai plush Windrunner worn with Junya Watanabe top, Céline trousers and Dior trainers.