Sneakers, Sports Memorabilia & Modern Collectibles

Off-White x Nike: The History Behind Virgil Abloh's Sneaker Collaborations

By Beth Hendricks
Shop a curated selection of sneakers, including Off-White by Virgil Abloh . All available for immediate purchase.
Virgil Abloh
Virgil Abloh

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 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 Air Jordan 1 x OFF-WHITE Retro High OG

Nike Air Jordan 1 x OFF-WHITE Retro High OG

After the success of “The Ten” collection from Virgil Abloh’s ‘Off White’ and Nike, The Air Jordan 1 Off White ‘White’ was released exclusively in 2018 through select European retailers. More limited than the previous Jordan Off White “Chicago” release, the pair instantly became one of the most sought after sneakers of the year.

2 | Nike Air Jordan 5 Off-White Retro SP 'Muslin'

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'

Nike Off-White Air Jordan IV '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 x OFF-WHITE, The Ten Air Presto F&F

Nike x OFF-WHITE, The Ten Air Presto F&F

Originally released in 2000, the Nike Air Presto earned the tagline “ The t-shirt for your feet” due to its sizing in Small - Extra Large rather than traditional sneaker sizing. In 2017, as part of the “Ten Collection” by Virgil Abloh’s ‘Off White’ and Nike, Abloh presented a deconstructed version of the Presto that shook up the sneaker world.

5 | Nike Off-White Dunk Low 'Pine Green'

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.

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