A brief history of Nikes favourite skate shoe
This week we were treated to yet another Nike Dunk release, the ‘Chicago’. A colourway that not only represents the Windy City but everything that Michael Jordan did for basketball too. To truly understand the importance of a release like this, we first need to understand the link between the Dunk and Basketball. As the name suggests, the sneaker’s initial use was for the court. However, the sneaker slowly transitioned into a skateboarding staple. We take a look at the where the Dunk began, how it became a skateboarding mainstay and why the Chi-Town colourway makes perfect sense.
Where did it all begin?
Peter Moore designed and released the first-ever Nike Dunk way back in 1985. The same year his other creation the Air Jordan 1 released. The shoe was originally named the College Colour High, dressing in the top 12 American basketball school colourways. These silhouettes were the inspiration behind the iconic ‘Be True To Your School’ campaign.
With both the Dunk and Jordan releasing in 1985, it is no surprise to see a Chicago colourway finally release. It is a surprise, however, that it took this long to see the Dunk don the Chicago colours. With Moore creating both, the tremendous success of any Chicago coloured sneaker and the undeniable link the silhouettes have, I would have thought a Chicago Dunk would have released a long time ago. Perhaps once the sneaker began to penetrate the skate industry, Nike believed that an NBA superstars signature colours are not what skateboarders wanted on their sneakers.
Breaking into skateboarding
In 1987 skateboarder Beasley from Shut Skates shot a video wearing the Iowa Dunks. Although yet to make a real impact on the sneaker scene, skaters favoured the silhouette for its hard-wearing, thin sole.
The Dunk has since become a legendary sneaker within the skate community. Boasting collaborations with skateboard stores like Supreme and Civilist further solidifies the importance of the silhouette to skateboarders worldwide.
A New Lease of Life
Despite its success within certain groups, the Dunk struggled to reach the dizzying heights of its big brother the Jordan 1. That was until 1998 when Nike retro’d some of its original colourways to colossal success.
Despite the success that the majority of the retro Dunks had Nike were worried that the Iowa ‘Goldenrod’ colourway would not sell. That was until Nike employee Drew Greer had the brainwave to play on Wu-Tang Clan’s links to black and gold. This idea saw the introduction of the Wu-Tang Dunk which saw just 36 pairs release. A sneaker now impossible to track down, the hype began to build around the ‘Goldenrod’ colourway and the others.
The collabs that put Nike Dunks amongst streetwear royalty
The Wu-Tang collab wasn’t a one of for Nike; they have since used collaborations consistently to push the Dunk into the discussion of the most significant sneaker in the industry. We take a look at five collaborations over the last twenty years that secured the Dunks place in the sneaker hall of fame.
Supreme x Nike Dunk, 2002
In 2002 we saw the Dunks first leap towards superstardom when Nike collaborated with Supreme on their take of the Dunk. The shoe came in two colourways, a black cement and white cement. Both featured the ever-popular elephant print that we saw feature across Jordan 3 silhouettes over the years.
Supreme saw queues around the block for the release, something that was generally the norm for Jordan releases not Dunks. The two colourways now fetch anywhere between £3,000 and £4,000 on the resale marketplace.
Make no mistake; this Supreme collab elevated everybody’s opinion on the Dunk.
Jeff Staple x Nike Pigeon Dunk, 2005
In 2005 we saw something we had never seen before in the sneaker industry, a full-on riot over a release. What was the sneaker that caused it? Of course, the Nike Dunk.
We saw Nike join forces with streetwear legend Jeff Staple to create an exclusive NYC themed Dunk. Only 150 were made and by the time the release came around the queue outside of Staple’s Reed Space store was enormous. Police were called in to diffuse the situation and to ensure customers were able to leave safely. The following day the riot for the Pigeon Dunks made it into the New York Daily newspaper, does it get any bigger than that?
If you were hoping to pick up a pair of the Pigeon Dunks, you would be looking to part ways with anywhere between £10,000 and £20,000, that’s how exclusive this sneaker is.
Comme Des Garcons x Nike Dunk High, 2016
After conquering the Streetwear industry with the Supreme and Pigeon Dunk releases, Nike set their sights elsewhere. We saw Nike join forces with luxury label Comme Des Garcons for the Dunk High Clear.
The CDG x Nike Dunk was the first time we would see the silhouette feature on the runway. A real fashion moment which put the sneaker in the eyeshot of luxury brands as well as streetwear ones.
A classic black Dunk High with a Comme Des Garcons twist, switching out the white panelling for transparent versions. A luxurious touch to a skate shoe that we hadn’t seen before.
Off White x Nike Dunk, 2019
Before Virgil’s release, the Dunk was already world-famous. Conquering the skate scene for years, the streetwear scene with numerous collabs and even making it into runway shows. But with the hype that surrounded Virgil Abloh’s Nike and Jordan collabs, this Dunk was destined to blow up.
Three colourways were released, all based around classic colour combos from the original ‘Be True To Your School’ campaign. The usual Virgil twists were added to the shoes with zip ties included and an additional lace crisscrossed across the entire upper.
Although instantly recognisable to Dunk heads, the use of these old school colourways opened the doors for newer sneakerheads to look back at the original Dunk releases. This release allowed all of us to brush up on the history of the Dunk and its origin.
Ben & Jerrys x Nike ‘Chunky Dunky’ Dunk, 2020
Depending who you ask, the Ben & Jerrys ‘Chunky Dunky’ Dunk is either sneaker of the year or the ugliest shoe of all time. There is no doubting though that a collab with world-renowned ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s is perhaps the most significant commercial collaboration of all time.
The sneaker comes dressed as you’d expect a Ben & Jerry’s shoe to look, mirroring their ice cream tubs exactly. Special edition versions of the sneaker even came packed in a giant ice cream tub with free ice cream included.
Hate it or love it, you cannot deny the mainstream appeal of the Chunky Dunky. People who have no real desire to collect sneakers were even chasing this shoe. The Chunky Dunky was the final piece of the puzzle to secure the Dunks status as sneaker powerhouse.
So, Why did the ‘Chicago’ colourway make sense?
For me, there are many reasons why the Chicago Dunk was the perfect colourway for the silhouette. With Peter Moore having a hand in designing both way back in 1985, it made sense to put one of his designs in his most successful creations colourway.
The Dunk Chicago doesn’t feel like a cash grab colourway to get people interested. If you look back at the beginnings of both the Dunk and Jordan 1, you see how their roots are intertwined continuously. This Chi-Town version is a colourway many would have been screaming for over the years. This sneaker serves as an instant reminder of the importance that MJ had to the Windy City, and what the Jordan 1 had to the sneaker industry.
Hopefully much as the Virgil Dunks did, I hope this Dunk inspires new collectors to take a trip down memory lane and see why the iconic Chicago colours are so crucial to sneaker history.