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Monday, November 24, 2008

Get Your Sneak On

By Lee Carter...

"The closest thing I have to a dress shoe is a pair of black ostrich lace-up sneakers," said Alexander Wang at the Nike Sportswear store at 21 Mercer Street just days before winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in womenswear. "I don't really follow the usual dress codes for formal events. I think the most important thing is to feel comfortable. We're not in the Titanic days anymore."

Clearly Nike Sportswear knew what it was doing when it invited Alex to custom-design his own Air Force 1 kicks (other styles to roll out soon) in a new service called NikeiD Bespoke, exclusive to the Mercer outlet. My own appointment came later, so I tagged along to observe and advise Alex as he worked one-on-one with Nike's Design Director, Jesse Leyva, who gave us quite the education. Did you know Nike invented the word deubré for those little shoelace tags?

Alex moved quickly and intuitively, flicking through all 80-something swatches in a blur of denim, suede, leather and reflective materials—like an ambulance speeding down Santa Monica Boulevard. He settled on a mostly monochromatic mix of black croc skin for the upper, black patent leather for the Swoosh and in back a spotted gray/white pattern called Safari, which was introduced way back in 1987 by legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield.

"I had no idea what I was going to do coming in," Alex said, "but I always seem to gravitate toward the same aesthetics, whether it's my own collection, an interior or whatever. I go for tone-on-tone combos and I love graphic and textural qualities."

Every detail took on monumental importance. We gasped in horror when mock-ups came back showing red threading we thought might look interesting, but so obviously wasn't. The correction was made pronto and conversation returned to an amaaaaazing zipper on a windbreaker (which he bought) and how Michael Phelps is kind of dorky in real life, when he's not winning multiple gold medals.

At one point Alex asked Jesse if a large metal brush he saw on the wall behind us could be used to distress the shoes after they arrived in four weeks. Hmmm, does this mean we can expect distressed Wang sneakers in the future? "Maybe. It takes the wait away from breaking in your sneakers. Nothing looks worse than brand-spanking new sneakers." This must be true because I looked down at his feet and saw scruffy old Nikes probably from the year he was born.

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