It was almost inevitable that after the hulking shearlings and the badged-up bikers from seasons before that Stuart Vevers would take on the mighty varsity for Coach’s A/W 16 collection, shown in New York in February.  There could have been a danger of dipping into varsity fatigue.  Re-shaped, recoloured and personalised – it’s been through most incarnations in the last two years.  Thankfully though, Vever’s Americana-filter isn’t limited to the jocks of his cinematic nostalgia (specifically Rob Lowe as national ice hockey hopeful in Youngblood).  Or chipper cheerleaders with dazzling smiles.  In Coach’s gymnasium – a stone throw’s away from their brand spanking new headquarters – there was an overhang from spring summer’s successful prairie-inspired florals, informed by Jodie Foster’s character in Taxi Driver as well as 1970s sepia and tanned tones that could have also matched up with Velma’s chunky poloneck in Scooby Doo (another reference).

These seemingly disparate slices of TV and film were stitched and patched together in what Vevers called an “American quilt of sorts”.   In the case of the panelled blouses with ruffled collars the patchwork was literal.  As were the patches of Coach motifs and secret insignia tacked onto the cropped varsities and visibly stitched-up bags.  It’s always been a giddy fascination for me that Coach has brought out this playful and unapologetically fun side to Vevers’ work and the use of a childish print, replete with Gem-esque stars and clouds, follows in this vein.  The metallic loafers styled up with curved blocky heels and studs were a kookier take on Velma’s crimefighting shoe of choice.  Cutie upticks aside, the collection once again hones in on sturdy outerwear like trusty peacoats and parkas as well as motif knitwear that has meant their ready to wear can sit in places like colette and Opening Ceremony and not feel out of place.  As Coach’s revival under Vevers reaches a two year milestone, it might still be too soon to say it’s hit a touchdown or a home run (to borrow from letterman jacket vernacular), but the journey for me at least, as a willing ambassador, is definitely a fruitful one.  Especially if it includes quilted pink cloud prints and pearl buttoned patchwork dresses.

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As a fashion journalist, when you attend a two-day beast of an event drawn out to the extent of say, Nike’s Innovation Summit, you often wonder why it is that mega maisons can’t immerse you into a similar level of technical nous.  I’ve come close, scratching at factories, ateliers and studios but it’s not really the same as members of Nike’s design team giving you the nitty gritty of every seam, material choice and dazzle.

In a mostly male-dominated room – yeah, Hypebeast, Soccer Journal, Runner’s World I’m looking at ya – the level of reverance and geeky-based fandom bestowed on each Nike product unveiling was visibly palpable.  By the end of the two day summit, held in New York last month, “dope” had unwittingly entered into my vocabulary.  Everything was in their eyes, “dope” and you’re inclined to agree with them.  It’s precisely why I signed up for the two-days of indepth immersion.  It IS a lot of terminology and tech specs, leaving the way a product is created, exposed and that somehow feels like an antithesis to a mainstream fashion world that glosses over those details.

Nike’s overarching theme this year for their Innovation Summit was themed around the idea of personalisation.  Or as president and CEO of Nike, Mark Parker put it in his opening speech, we have entered the “era of personalised performance.”  What this means is that somehow, the sort of language that was perhaps once the domain of luxury brands, such as words like “customise”, “personalised”, “tailor fit” – is now being filtered through Nike’s product and service offering.  Trevor Edwards, Nike brand president sees this as the company’s missive to bring these once-elite values to everyone.  “It’s democratic yet premium.  Those two things don’t have to be at odds.  Technology has enabled us to give what was once reserved for elite athletes, to everyone.”

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The most obvious high-low unveiling of the event is Nike Lab’s more fleshed out and heftier collaboration with Riccardo Tisci.  After a successful series of riffs on the Air Force 1, Tisci, with the encouragement of Nike Lab, wades into training apparel for the first time.  The results are unsurprisingly clothes that will see life outside of the gym or running route with cheeky slogans like “Engineered to the exacting specifications of Riccardo Tisci”, a 2-in-1shorts over leggings combo garment and a multi-genus floral pattern combining flowers from Oregon (Nike’s home), Taranto in Italy where Tisci hails from and Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympics will be hosted.

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0E5A7777The first part of NikeLab x RT Training Redefined collection

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0E5A7804The second drop of Nike Lab x RT Training Redefined collection

The product that perhaps caught the most headlines is Nike’s HyperAdapt 1.0.  Translation = the physical and real incarnation of vice president Tinker Hatfield’s original self-lacing trainer design for Marty McFly in Back to the Future.  “In the future, product will come alive,” remarked Hatfield as he envisioned this as a theoretical concept back in 1989 as a shoe for 2015.  That year has been and gone but the idea has now become a reality. 

In the flesh, we gawped, oohed and aahed as Hatfield and Tiffany Beers, senior innovator at Nike explained to us that after years of testing, a shoe designed primarily for basketball would self-lace once your heels slide in and hit the sensor the push of a button.  One by one, we got to try a pair on, and despite the prototype being three sizes too large, it was still something of a giddy shock to feel the lace guard section of a pair of trainers tightening around the arches of your feet, and loosening, depending on which button you pressed.  There’s of course an immediate danger that a shoe that makes it onto the headlines of Fox News, might be perceived as a gimmick.  Hatfield and Beers were keen to stress that HyperAdapt is a platform to build on so that a real automated and symbiotic relationship between foot and shoe could be developed. 

This initial incarnation will be available exclusively for Nike+ members later this year but the goal is to evolve that technology so that it feels essential and indispensable – the holy grail for almost new tech innovations, and in particular in wearables, where we’ve yet to see that milestone lightbulb moment.  The trick is to make the person not feel like they’re loaded up with sensors,” said Edwards.  “You don’t want to give people another thing to charge.  The product will become more simple and more intuitive and more adaptive for the everyday consumer.”

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0E5A7841Gary Warnett of Gwarizm trying Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 on

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0E5A7856A close-up of Nike HyperAdapt 1.0

Then there are practical problems that Nike Innovation Summit seemed to be dealing with – almost putting the solution in the forefront of the design.  There’s Nike’s Anti-Clog technology for football boots, where a specially formulated sole is able to repel the accumulation of mud that get stuck in the cleats.  There’s the new advanced Air bag placed in the VaporMax Air shoe, where the traditional foam midsole is discarded and makes the idea of an entirely cushioned air-filled sole a physical reality.  For advanced runners who prefer a barefooted feeling “ride”, the Nike Free RN Motion Flyknit sole has been retooled with new fusing techniques.  Am I beginning to lose you?  Is it all starting to sound like gobbledygook? 

0E5A7868Demonstrating Anti-Clog technology on football boots

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0E5A7893Nike Air VaporMax featuring an entirely unobscured Air bag unit 

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0E5A7909New Nike Free RN Motion Flyknit with the newly tooled sole

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0E5A7982Air Force 1 Flyknit making it the lightest Air Force 1 ever

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0E5A8032Multi-coloured yarns visually representing Nike FlyKnit’s currently more precise and targeted way of constructing uppers down to the individual pixel  

That’s par for course in Nike land when such jargon won’t matter to 98% of their customers.  The proof is in the physical pounding of pavement.  It seemed to me that problem solving was also strategically placed centre stage at this Innovation Summit.  Competition is building up from both major players and newcomers and the range of aesthetics in sportswear is now mind boggling.  How do you differentiate in the invisible areas outside of aesthetics?  They’re banking on the benefits of say a pair of leggings that will cool your legs down versus a pair that don’t.  

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0E5A7965Nike’s new line of “tights” for spring 2016

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0E5A8049Nike Vapor kits reduced in weight and increased in elasticity

0E5A8057Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit made with a custom shoe last and spike plate for athlete Alyson Felix

In the athlete specific innovations seen in these Olympics 2016 kits, notable features such as the fabric being made out of recycled polyester and an anti-drag design of Nike AeroBlades stood out.

0E5A8378Athletes from Brasil, USA, Germany and China demonstrating the kits that will be in action in Rio

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The other major push for Nike was in the servicing aspect, specifically integrated into the new Nike+ app that will be relaunching in June.  This is Nike again, going beyond mere aesthetics to try and make the “invisible” more invaluable.   “It’s your all-access pass to your potential,” explained Edwards.  “Everyone can come in as an individual and we can service that individual with product and service customisation.  It’s like having a personal trainer and equipment manager with you all the time.”  This shifts Nike+ from previously being an information dashboard – i.e. something that the FitBit or their separate Nike+ Running app fulfils – to being more like a member’s shopping and training club, where you’re alerted to new product releases and Nike events and can speak to Nike experts one on one.   At one portion of the Innovation event, everyone was given a gold box (mine contained a pair of NikeLab x Riccardo Tisci Dunk Lux High) to physically represent that sneaker head golden-ticket feeling of scoring a pair of limited release shoes.

In my follow-up post, I’ll be delving into Nike’s idea of design personalisation from the development of their ID services to their less publicised “Bespoke” service for that ultra level of product customisation.  From the Innovation event though, the main take away was that in a crowded market, Nike is distinguishing itself further with technical prowess as well as extra added value services.  Beyond Nike, the word “personal” will only become more important in the way we interact with brands.  For Edwards, this is how he sees the future of Nike’s domain – sport.  “Products can become increasingly more personal.  It’s this idea of putting technology in the background and people in the foreground.”

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Away from Zaha Hadid’s globular UFO-shaped Dongdaemun Design Plaza, where Seoul Fashion Week was held a fortnight ago, lies Minju Kim’s studio, hidden in a warren of traditional Korean houses in the tourist-driven but still charming Bukchon Hanok Village.  I somehow managed to escape here during my jam-packed schedule during SFW to catch up with Kim.  The location felt appropriate somehow for a designer that seemed to me has a bit more soul (or ahem… Seoul…) to her work than some of the razzmatazz-filled shows that I had been seeing that week.  You, the international reader might be more familiar with Kim’s work through her eye-catching capsule collection for H&M back in 2013, created as a result of her winning the H&M Design Award.  It remains for me, one of the most daring and creatively-fuelled collections to have emerged from H&M’s roster in recent memory.  In Kim’s native homeland though, she’s toiling away quietly on her textiles-driven, character-inspired collections, making much less noise than the K-pop catering brands that dominate Seoul Fashion Week, which I recently wrote about for Business of Fashion.

More’s the pity really.  Kim’s work is born out of an idiosyncratic individuality, something nurtured through the intensive fashion pathway at the Antwerp Royal Academy under the tutelage of Walter van Beirendonck.  Coincidentally, her latest collection rife with illustrations of clambering bears, would clearly get the seal of approval from her legendary bearded former tutor.  Over a cup of green tea and a lunch of gimbap rolls, Kim was frank about the difficulties that she faces as a Korean designer, having had a modicum of international success.  Her clothes stand out, when pitted against the mass of contemporary pop-driven labels that show at Seoul Fashion Week.  The sort of labels that are often backed up with the endorsement of K-pop stars and celebrities that came with their own hysterical fanfare at Seoul Fashion Week, often eclipsing what went down on the runway.  They wear the clothes and in turn set the agenda of the designers.  A far cry from what Kim is creating in her studio.

She begins her collections through a starting point of an imaginary tale that takes shape in her sketches of mythical creatures.  For A/W 16, it’s a cascade of bears falling from the sky, who happen to be guardians of us Earthlings.  Like a fictional tribe from a Studio Ghibli film, they’re here to protect us during troubled times.  On Kim’s children’s wear nodding silhouettes (admittedly also owing some debt to Miuccia Prada), her bulbous bears are less like cutesy cartoons and more like a graphic pattern and colour blocking device.  They’re showcased on custom made fabrics, sourced from Europe.  That already raises the bar (and prices) of Kim’s collections, differentiating her work from her peers in Seoul.  They feel special, fine-tuned and deserving of a “designer” clothing category bracket.    

I caught Kim at a time when she was pondering decisions to perhaps start a casual second line (something of a necessity for many of Seoul’s designers) or commercialise her offering somewhat, in order to assimilate her brand into the Seoul fashion scene.  I’m probably the wrong sounding board to be airing such thoughts.  I’ve loved Kim’s hand since her graduate collection through to her current work, and “hand” is the operative word when it comes to finding designers in Seoul with a distinct enough signature that you remember them by their personal voice, and not by the K-pop stars that have worn their clothes.  Kim may not be shouting the loudest but for me, her work speaks for itself.  Even when she does dabble in the K-pop game – she styled the band Red Velvet’s latest video and album artwork – it’s with an aesthetic that is her own.  In amongst the giwa-roofed houses, Hanbok wearing-tourists and sites of Korean culture preservation, escaping into Minju Kim’s world was a pleasant respite.  You might even call it Seoulful.   

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0E5A0566Overlooking Bukchon Hanok

0E5A0565Tourists trying on traditional Korean Hanboks on for size

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0E5A0556The exterior of Minju Kim’s studio

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0E5A0491On the shelves of Minju Kim’s studio

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0E5A0529Floral jacquards from Minju Kim’s S/S 16 collection inspired by the tale of Princess Kaguya

0E5A0541K-pop band Red Velvet’s recent artwork, styled by Minju Kim

0E5A0449Kim’s moodboard for A/W 16-7

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0E5A0546Preliminary sketches for the characters that Kim features in her collections

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0E5A0552Sketches for the silhouettes in the A/W 16-7 collection

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