Director X curated five artists to create imaginative art installations inspired by the iconic, 30-year-old Nike Air Max.
It’s the night before Air Max Day 2017. Inside the Sneakeasy pop-up event, tucked away in Toronto’s Chinatown, it’s an Air Max wonderland. A checkerboard of flashing screens with the slogan “Kiss My Airs” interchanges with colourful images of Air Max palettes from the past. To the far right, past the crowd of mingling guests, a concrete wall towers over the room with the phrase “30 Years of Air” spray painted in black. Running right through the wall, frozen in time, is the first Air Max 1 shoe in University Red enclosed in a transparent wrecking ball. A chain holds it in mid-air while blocks of cement are scattered across the floor. The striking image is one of five Air Max installations on display.
Over the last three decades Nike has rolled out hundreds of silhouettes and technology advancements that have made the Air Max shoe a legend in sneaker culture. Music video tycoon Director X curated the five models featured at Sneakeasy Toronto, each chosen because of their individual impact and the longevity they’ve upheld years after their release. X worked with Nike to gather five local creators to bring each era to life as a part of imaginative individual installations. For these five visionaries, the Air Max sneaker isn’t just a fashion statement. It serves as a beacon for inspiration, a breaker of boundaries and a life changing experience that helped shape them in some way. Through their interactive displays, each creator shared a bit of themselves and their remarkable relationship with Air.
Bryan Espiritu – Air Max 1 OG
The first-time Bryan Espiritu copped a pair of Air Max 1s he was shopping in California with his cousin. He remembers looking at the price tag and knowing instantly that he couldn’t afford them. Still, Espiritu strutted out that shop with a brand new pair of Air Max kicks in hand and a hole in his bank account that took months to pay off.
Years later, the self-proclaimed defy-er of convention and founder of Legends League clothing is representing the OG grail of the Air Max 1, a sneaker that challenged conventional thinking back in 1987. That same year U.S. President Ronald Reagan made a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin calling for Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall that separated West and East Berlin. Today, the current U.S. president is demanding that a wall be built segregating two North American countries. This concept prompted Espiritu to ask one question: Are we going backwards?
“There’s a stronger piece of it that it’s like we’re talking politics.”
He aimed to present a display that promotes progressive thinking and tearing down obstacles instead of doing the opposite. The concrete wall wreckage acted as a dope centerpiece for the Sneakeasy pop-up symbolizing how the original Air Max 1 broke boundaries and revolutionized sneaker culture. On the other side of the structure a mosaic of posters read sayings like “we’re built to break barriers” and “the only way out is through” on revolution style three-colour posters. Espiritu invited guests to scribble their own sayings on the posters throughout the entire night. To the left of the exhibit an OG sneaker chiseled in cider block designed by Espiritu represented the idea that through the test of time, things that resonate the most with people will survive.
“There’s a piece of it that feels like we’re talking Nike, but there’s a stronger piece of it that it’s like we’re talking politics,” he says.
“I just want people to feel like what it would feel like if you were able to be part of those sorts of movements given the platform to actually say something of value. I think it was dope that I had the opportunity to represent the Air Max 1 because that’s essentially what it was doing creatively in terms of pushing things forward and constantly tearing down these walls from the Air Max, to this year, them dropping the VaporMax that has no mid-sole at all. It’s like showing that progression that every year they’re able to continue to tear down these barriers. That’s exactly where my inspiration for this came from.”
Anna Bediones – Air Max 90
Anna Bediones is a little playful and a little upside down, or at least her way of thinking is and it’s what connected her so well with the Air Max 90. The third generation masterpiece transcended from its signature “Infrared” grail and went on to push the boundaries of traditional colour schemes by dressing in bold, out-of-the-box patterns and prints in the years after its conception.
“I’m a little bit all over the place, a little miss-matched, but it all comes together.”
“It turned running upside down,” says Bediones standing inside her installation featuring an Air Max 90 race-track inspired mural decorating the ceiling complete with two sets of overturned bleachers above her. The imaginative illustration mashed swatches from noteworthy grails like the cracked concrete design of the “Hufquake”, the “Moon Landing’s” out of this world upper, the historic tiger shark mouth of the “Warhawk” and several other unforgettable motifs. To Bediones the sneaker’s dexterity meshes almost seamlessly with elements of her own personality.
“I’ll be honest I was just a little baby when it came out, but I wore Air Max all through my childhood. My parents used to dress me and that’s all I would wear and when I went to high school I started buying my own Air Max. The 90 is one of the first that I bought on my own. I feel that it’s reflective of how I see myself. I’m playful, I’m a little bit all over the place, a little miss-matched, but it all comes together into something that is true to itself.”
Avi Gold – Air Max 95
Avi Gold stopped counting how many Air Max sneakers he owns a long time ago.
“Once you’re a sneaker head, you’re always a sneaker head. It’s something that sticks with you forever until maybe when you have a mortgage or something.”
“Once you’re a sneaker head, you’re always a sneaker head.”
Gold’s installation emulated an old-school version of a sneaker lover’s watering hole where enthusiasts from far and wide would come to replenish their supply with a brand-new pair of kicks. He opened up shop at the Sneakeasy affair with a ’90s style mom and pop store that of course only sold the Air Max 95s. The space has an air of nostalgia especially for Gold who bought his first pair of Air Max in a similar shop years before.
“The most important thing when getting your first pair of shoes that you actually really like is the idea of doing everything to take care of the shoe. If you were in high school you would walk around the mud puddle or you wouldn’t walk across the grass, and [you] make sure you treasure that pair of shoes.”
Tanisha Scott – Air Max 97 “Silver Bullet”
Coming from an acclaimed dance background Tanisha Scott is a specialist when it comes to flow and movement. Both of which are not typically what you think of when you hear the word instillation.
Given her expertise Scott could transform the word in the traditional sense by having dancers dressed in silver sweat suits perform amongst an abstract display of mirrors. The visuals are reminiscent of a time in hip-hop when music videos were becoming increasingly more creative and it was an era that really connected with Scott and her history with dance.
“It feels good to be able to do something that has to do solely with my inspiration.”
She says her installation was inspired by the culture behind the “Silver Bullet” and the role it played as a major fashion statement in hip-hop culture at the time.
“This is the first time I’ve done an art installation. I fused performance with it so now it’s a performance art piece and it feels good,” she says. “It feels good to be able to do something that has to do solely with my inspiration and what I feel from a shoe as opposed to working in the world where I have to blend in and give people what they want. I do what I want artistically and you don’t get to do that all the time.”
Dani Reynolds – VaporMax
If you’re not already following Dani Reynolds on Instagram, then you should be. The marriage between her love of colour and passion for art and photography makes for a mesmerizing artistic archive available across her social media platforms. It’s her creative skill that made her an obvious leader for the Sneakeasy experience. However, she didn’t expect to also be acknowledged for her love of running, which made her pairing with the newly released VaporMax kicks so harmonious. She says the shoe’s design meshed so well with her wardrobe that she could easily go from the studio to the track achieving an optimal performance experience and looking good at the same time.
“That feeling of opening the box and putting them on and feeling so confident and fresh in a brand new pair and walking down the street, nothing beats that.”
Reynolds’ VaporMax installation was kept hidden for most of the event. Only at midnight a curtain dropped and guests could waltz in the room to the tune of a live band. The display was inspired by the forever oscillating Canadian weather, so elements from clouds, light and rain were incorporated into the design. An ominous fog crept across the room floor while white balloons clouded the ceiling. An unforgettable way to commemorate Air Max Day 2017 and the new VaporMax running shoe.
“It was so exciting. At first I was like what? Me? Everyone here is just so talented so I really felt honoured to be among them, but especially because I am a runner and a lot of people don’t know that about me,” says Reynolds.
“I think that every pair [of Air Max] that you get, that feeling of opening the box and putting them on and feeling so confident and fresh in a brand new pair and walking down the street, nothing beats that.”
Photos © Isa Ransome + Urbanology Magazine