A perfect clash of styles: The history of the Nike x Sacai collaboration and our favourite sneaker drops from the duo.
Nike has boasted some of the most significant collaborations within the sports and streetwear industries in recent years. Between joining forces with legendary streetwear brands like Stussy and Supreme to luxury fashion label Off-White, Nike really has done it all. But somehow, despite the impressive back catalogue, their most daring designs have come from the collaborative efforts between Japanese luxury fashion brand Sacai and the sportswear giants.
In this weeks article, I take a look at Sacai’s humble beginnings and the excellent relationship between Nike and the Japanese brand. I also jump headfirst into every sneaker collaboration between the two labels, ranking my favourites along the way.
Where it all began
Japanese designer Chitose Abe founded Sacai way back in 1999. But this wasn’t just somebody taking a chance by creating a fashion label. Obviously, you are not guaranteed success with anything, but Abe had extensive experience within the industry working at some of our favourite brands today before Sacai was born.
Abe began her journey through fashion as a pattern cutter at Comme des Garçons, working directly under founder Rei Kawakubo. Abe would move on to be a part of the design team at Junya Watanbe before eventually going it alone and setting up Sacai. After ten years of honing her craft with Sacai, the brand would begin showing at Paris Fashion Week. Sacai and Abe would start to break into the European market by the time of their second season, being stocked in iconic stores such as Colette in Paris.
Abe owns 100 percent of her business. This means she has absolute control and freedom over the creative process at Sacai. This power, in turn, gives her the ability to refuse and accept collaborations such as the Nike partnership we see flourishing before us. But how did the collaboration come about?
The Nike x Sacai collaboration started long before the release of their sneakers; Abe joined forces with NikeLab to create an apparel capsule back in 2015.
The partnership saw Sacai breath new life into Nike’s performance pieces. A collection focussed of women’s apparel, Abe dived into the Nike archives and retrieved some of her favourite items. These were then re-imagined with Sacai’s signature futuristic look. The innovation used was clear for all to see. The 8-piece collection was swimming in Abe’s intriguing aesthetics. We did get a taste of what to expect from a sneaker collab between the two, with a two-toned laceless Air Max 90 dropping.
We wouldn’t see much else from this interesting collision of styles between Nike and Sacai for a few years. That was up until 2019 when images began to leak of some crazy iterations of Nike classic silhouettes. We would first see a Nike Blazer teased. However, the sneaker looked anything but regular: double tongues, double swooshes, double laces—outrageous colour combos. Little did we know that these extreme design aspects were to become the norm when talking about a Nike x Sacai collab.
Images began to surface of a hybrid Nike sneaker, a combination of a Nike LDV and Nike Waffle Daybreak. This sneaker really caught the attention of sneakerheads around the world and would go on to be declared sneaker of the year in 2019. Not bad for a luxury Japanese fashion label and its first official sneaker collab. After twenty years in the luxury fashion game, Sacai was now making as much noise as any competitor within the sneaker industry.
I take a look at every Nike x Sacai sneaker to release, ranking them along the way.
Nike Blazer Mid x Sacai (Maize Navy & Black Blue, 2019)
An OG release between the two, but unfortunately comes in last place for me. This rank is, of course, partly due to how much I like the other silhouettes the duo have produced.
This sneaker gave all of us a taste at what it is Sacai will look to produce with their collaboration. Layers upon layers, technically rebuilding the silhouette in a way that has never been done before.
This shoe would also be the first time we saw the double tongue and double swoosh detailing which has since become a mainstay for the Nike x Sacai collaborations.
The sneaker would initially release in two vibrant colourways, making the shoes one of the more eye-catching pairs around.
Nike Air Max 90 x Sacai (Volt & Obsidian, 2015)
Nike Dunk x Sacai (Volt & White, 2015)
The pairs first-ever collaboration, taking over two of my all-time favourite Nike silhouettes. The Air Max 90 has always had a special place in collectors hearts, but the Dunk did not have the popularity we see today.
The design aspects we come to expect from Abe and Sacai and their sneaker creations was not evident here, opting for a far more stripped back approach towards the design. They kept branding to an absolute minimum, whilst Abe completely removed the laces and lacing systems from the silhouettes.
The duo covered all bases with this collab due to a bright volt colourway releasing alongside a minimal black and white versions of the shoes.
Perhaps a forgotten sneaker release between the two due to the popularity of their more recent releases, but most definitely worthy of making this list.
Nike Blazer Mid x Sacai (White Grey & Black Grey, 2019)
A re-release of their original Blazer but this time, coming in a minimalist colourway. The White Grey and Black Grey was a far more wearable silhouette whilst also keeping the insane details that made the OG release so popular.
The White Grey was the favourite of the two for me, as it was reminiscent of some vintage Air Jordan 1 and Nike Dunk silhouettes that came in the same colourway. The double tongue/double swoosh combo featured, whilst the co-branding on the heel confirmed this was a Nike x Sacai masterpiece.
Nike LDV Waffle x Sacai (Black White & White, 2020)
The LDV Waffle efforts between Nike and Sacai will remain as one of the all-time great collaborations. The combination of Nike silhouettes paired with the design aspects Abe imposes makes the shoe extremely desirable.
The 2020 release was a great shoe, coming in extremely wearable Black and White colourways. The sneaker was a re-issue of the partnerships most successful release to date but was easier to cop and slightly less outrageous than we have come to expect from Sacai. A solid everyday sneaker for fans of the brand not looking to stand-out too much in a crowd.
Nike LDV Waffle x Sacai (White Grey & Black, 2019)
Two more colourways of their infamous mash-up Nike silhouette, the White Grey and Black saw a mix of neutral hues and materials complement the shoe perfectly.
Both colourways had contrasting swooshes to make the iconic logo pop. The panelling came in slightly different colours to elevate the entire look of the sneaker. Much like the White Grey Blazer, Sacai and Nike had released this pack to contrast the OG colourful releases. The monochromatic colourways were a massive hit amongst sneakerheads and simply hit the mark with the colour palette used.
Sacai x Nike Vaporwaffle (Multiple colourways. 2020/2021)
This year’s release has been teased for quite some time, initially unveiled at Paris Fashion Week. The shoe borrows design aspects from both the from the Pegasus Vaporfly and the Pegasus Vaporwaffle. Once again, we see the incredible layering and distinctive design aspects that make Sacai collabs so hyped within the sneaker industry.
The sneaker comes dressed in several colourways. The first releases we see are the Black White and Sail Sport Waffle. The double swooshes return across the medial and lateral sides of the shoe, with one stitched and one spray painted on top.
If you did not think the heel was extreme enough on the LDWaffle, then the Sacai x Nike Vaporwaffle will most definitely be for you, technically featuring a shelf on the back of the shoe. Somehow this shoe is entirely insane and unimaginable, but also the norm and to be expected from Sacai.
Nike LDV Waffle x Sacai Daybreak (Blue & Green, 2019)
The shoe that started it all and that put the entire sneaker industry on notice. Up until the release of these two LDV Waffle colourways, Sacai collaborations were eye-catching but never thought of when discussing the greatest sneakers. A mix of new school meets old school; retro runner meets futuristic design.
The intriguing design aspects highlighted by the unique fusion of colours and materials. An abstract looking sneaker that shouldn’t work, but most definitely does. The bold colour palette used highlights the best details of the sneaker. Merely calling the shoe eye-catching does not do it justice. In an industry where it is difficult not to repeat existing colourways and silhouettes, the LDV Waffle completely broke the mould.
Hats off the both Nike and Chitose Abe’s Sacai as this sneaker got everything right. It is no surprise that sneaker culture experts Complex had this shoe as number 1 on their sneaker of the year list. It would have been criminal not to rank the shoe in the same place on this list.
So there you have it, a breakdown of one of the most significant collaborations between streetwear and luxury fashion. Fortunately for us all, it looks as if Nike and Sacai are going to continue cooking up a bizarre mix of sportswear and Japanese fashion. I cannot wait to see what comes next.