nike air | bridging athletic performance, style, and cultural expression


Nike On Air event in Paris

It’s no mystery that creativity is fuel for the future. Harnessing cultural expression, youth movements and sports, Nike brings to life new possibilities by constant disruptive innovation. Hosting a special event in Paris, Nike dazzled the world with its unprecedented athlete-centric products, set against the backdrop of the esteemed Palais Brongniart during an unforgettable “Nike On Air” presentation. Gigantic statues heralded guests as they arrived, sculpted in signature Nike orange: athletes LeBron James, Alexia Putellas, Bebe Vio, Kylian Mbappe, Sha’Carri Richardson and Victor Wembanyama stood proudly outside the venue. 
The event was more than just a showcase; it was an immersive journey, a sensorial voyage that underscored three irrefutable truths: Nike reigns as the ultimate brand for athletes, its innovations continue to set the pace in the sports industry, and its proprietary Air technology continue to maintain unrivalled levels of performance excellence, catering to athletes of all kinds. The evening event hosted 40 elite athletes from around the world, unveiling team kits that channel all the iconic and visionary feel of Nike, as the brand aligns on their incredible athletic skills. 
Showcasing the new designs that Nike athletes will be sporting this summer, the spectacular event celebrated the 46 years of innovation with Nike Air, with its unparalleled technological prowesses, but most importantly, the possibility to bring together creativity, performance and design. Speaking to Chief Design Officer Martin Lotti at the event – a veteran of the brand who has participated in breaking boundaries for more than 25 years – Schön! uncovers how it is that Nike bridges cultural expression and athletic performance. 

Creativity is fundamental in both sports and apparel – how does Nike nurture creativity?   

For me, creativity is connecting the known to the unknown. When you expose people to the unknown, it means you’ve been creative. For example, when I take my team travelling, I have one rule – we will look at everything, except the project we’re working on. So, if it’s footwear, we will not look at footwear. You’re bound to look at it something you like, and you’ll draw it. It’s human instinct. If, however, we go and look at cars, we go and look at art, architecture, then, like a sponge, you take that energy and bring it back to campus, and then you filter. Then you ask yourself – what makes it distinctly Nike? You combine all that you saw with the inside knowledge of Nike and filter it down to design for the athletes.
We start with the voice of the athlete first. Cultural insight combined with the voice of the athlete brings you to a good spot. I would say that Nike is at the intersection of sport, culture and youth. It’s the combination of the three. Without one of the three, it doesn’t deserve a swoosh. 


Listening to athletes’ needs is at the heart of Nike – how does this process work?   
It literally starts with the athletes. Listening and seeing them in their environment, seeing them train, understanding what they need. A good designer is a good listener first. Then we take our athletes and take them to our Nike Sports Research Lab, which is in an incredible facility – we can measure everything, from their temperature, down to sweat… We can capture them in motion, in 3D, and scan everything – you name it. We take the data from the athlete, and we take business and trend data into consideration too. 
Then, you start designing. Usually very traditionally, as in sketching and drawing first. Most recently, we have been able to translate our sketches into 3D super quickly. We can literally test our shoes virtually now. In the past we had to sketch, send our references to the factory, wait for the model to come back, so it was quite slow. Now, we can do it all in 3D, we can see the flexibility, we can see how heavy the shoe will be, even before creating one. 
I would say I live in the future. It’s incredibly fascinating. I started at Nike 27 years ago, and I’m as excited as day one. With all the methodologies and tools that we have, it’s just endless. 

Nike On Air Statues Outside Palais Brongniart in Paris

What are the intersections between style and culture?  
You can’t separate the two. Like I said before, we’re at the intersection of sport, culture and youth. Even professional athletes will tell you that. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, and countless others, and they will always say – “I perform best when I look best”. Obviously, they want to have the most high performance products, but they want to look good too. If they feel great, they will perform better. 
Why do you think self-expression is so important in 2024?   
It has always been important to youth culture – it’s the definition of youth. I always loved the quote – “trends start at midnight”. That is when you see youth culture dress the way they want to dress – it’s not the just the everyday. Expressing yourself, and this rebel attitude, has come through every generation, more or less pronounced. Nike has always had this DNA, this rebel attitude. It started with our first athlete, Steve Prefontaine, and I think we’ve had this in our blood ever since. 


words. Patrick Clark
Images Courtesy of Nike

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