There’s one name almost as synonymous with Nike and the Jordan Brand as Michael Jordan himself — Virgil Abloh. A Chicago native, Abloh is the American dream personified. The son of Ghanaian immigrants, Abloh earned degrees in civil engineering and architecture and worked his way up through the fashion world ranks. He began with designing T-shirts at a Chicago print shop. He later partnered with Kanye West, became an artistic director at Louis Vuitton, and started his own label, Off-White. His style effortlessly marries high fashion with streetwear.
It’s his work with Nike, though, that has solidified Virgil Abloh as a rock star in the eyes of sneakerheads. From Air Max to Nike Dunks, Abloh put his spin on the most iconic Nike sneaker designs. Abloh has always been a Nike sneaker fan, describing himself as “...a kid who would sleep with a Jordan 5 at the end of the bed just so I could see it in the morning.” He even started designing Nike sneakers back then. He once told media collective Complex, “My friend Chris Eaton and I used to be so obsessed with Jordan that we were drawing Nike shoes and sending them to Nike. And, Nike would be like, ‘Oh, we don’t accept designs.”
Except Nike did accept his designs — eventually. Abloh’s collaboration with the brand began in 2017 with “The Ten” collection, a partnership that produced some of the most coveted sneakers of all time. In that release, Abloh deconstructed 10 Nike sneaker models, quite literally. His hands-on creative process includes using Sharpies, zip ties, and X-Acto knives. He described the end result to Nike News by saying “what we're talking about here is larger than sneakers, it’s larger than design culture. It’s nothing short of state-of-the-art design. These 10 shoes have broken barriers in performance and style. To me, they are on the same level as a sculpture of David or the Mona Lisa. You can debate it all you want, but they mean something. And, that's what's important.”
Abloh’s reimagining of Nike sneakers ranged from some of the most iconic shoes in Nike’s collection to new designs in need of a refresh. His design philosophy follows what he calls the “three-percent rule,” making minimal changes to improve the overall design. Abloh’s Off-White label has drawn a cult following from some of the biggest names in pop culture: Justin Bieber, A$AP Rocky, Bella Hadid, Kylie and Kendall Jenner.
In tribute to Abloh’s impact on the sneaker world, we’ve rounded up five of our favorite Abloh designs.
1 | Nike Off-White Air Max 90 'Desert Ore'
The original Off-White collaboration on the Nike Air Max 90, the Off-White Air Max 90 Desert Ore, was one of the first of “The Ten” releases. The Off-White Desert Ore colorway released in January 2019 is as unique as Abloh’s designs get with a Bright Mango Swoosh, writing overlay on the shoe’s medial side, and blue zip ties. Unlike its stark black and white counterparts, the Off-White Air Max 90 Desert Ore features a mixed-material upper dressed in a sandy tan hue. The Off-White Air Max 90 Desert Ore has a deconstructed look, with unfinished edges inspired by Abloh’s interest in deconstructivism, which he developed an affinity for during his architectural studies.
2 | Nike Air Jordan 5 Off-White Retro SP 'Muslin'
The Nike Off White Jordan 5 Muslin made its way to the sneaker stage as part of the collection for NBA All-Star Weekend 2020. The Off White Jordan 5 Muslin features classic Off-White styling, like Abloh's signature "shoelaces" branding and a pre-yellowed sole that gives it a vintage vibe. The Off White Jordan 5 Muslin drew inspiration from the OG Metallic Air Jordan 5, a nod to the fighter jet-inspired look of the original 1989 Air Jordan 5.
3 | Nike Off-White Air Jordan 4 'Sail'
The Nike Off White Jordan 4 Sail features minimal modifications in Abloh's tried-and-true three percent rule, adding the word "AIR" to the lateral side and a 'Sail' zip tie. The Off White Jordan 4 Sail also features a deconstructed leather build, accented by semi-translucent TPU on the eyelets, wings, and heel panel. This Air Jordan 4 is museum-worthy, having served as a sample during Abloh's "Figures of Speech" exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. Even the shoe box for the Off White Jordan 4 Sail was thoughtfully designed by Abloh and features large holes placed strategically throughout.
4 | Nike Off-White Vapor Street 'Black Laser Fuchsia'
The Nike Off-White Vapor Street Black Laser Fuchsia first appeared on the runway during Paris Fashion Week. The Nike Off-White Vapor Street is a nod to track and field designs dropped in Abloh’s November 2019 “Athlete in Progress” collection. Athletes like Dina Asher-Smith, Vashti Cunningham and Cecilia Yeung were tapped to model the Nike Off-White Vapor Street Black Laser Fuchsia during Abloh’s runway show. Abloh himself said he was inspired by track and field athletes’ aesthetic and style and tapped some of Nike’s champions to showcase the collection.
5 | Nike Off-White Dunk Low 'Pine Green'
Track and field isn’t Abloh’s only inspiration; he pays homage to both basketball and skate culture in the sole low-top on our list: the Nike Off-White Dunk Low ‘Pine Green’. This pair is all Abloh with a nod to the Gorge Green colorway that burst onto the sneaker scene in 2003. Abloh first teased the Nike Off-White Dunk Low ‘Pine Green’ in a customized version created for pro skater Stevie Williams on Instagram.