The acronym version of the Nike Blazer Low, a sneaker ruffled across its upper with angular incisions and augmented at the back with a screw-down heel counter, took a long and winding road to its commercial launch.
“The shoe itself has had a very long journey for a number of reasons,” said Errolson Hugh, designer and co-founder of tech apparel brand Acronym, recounting the history of his Blazers at a launch event in the German sneaker shop Solebox last weekend.
It all started in May 2017 as a prototype made by gluing a paper shroud with X-Acto cuts onto an existing staple sneaker, the Fragment x Undercover x Nike Match Classic. At one point, Acronym’s Blazer collaboration was supposed to take shape on the Nike Killshot, but that model was later dropped from Nike’s schedule. For a time, the samples had a drawstring system, an innovation borrowed from Jordan Brand, but it didn’t work as expected. Then a global pandemic halted Blazers development. One colorway was canceled along the way.
The Blazers are a product of Hugh navigating through Nike to push his limits and maneuver past the obstacles of working alongside such a massive company.
“You have to be ready for this,” he tells Complex, “and it’s your ability to handle these types of setbacks that will determine the outcome of a project, perhaps even more than the design itself.”
Such an intricate backstory is fitting for a sneaker from Acronym, a brand built on details. His jackets read like an Escher arrangement of zippers and pockets, the lines of stitching bouncing past each other to create an impossible structure. His sneakers with Nike reflected this, pushing archive designs in new directions.
The Acronym x Nike Blazer Low’s closest relative, however, isn’t the brand’s past Nike collaborations – its Lunar Force 1s or its patterned VaporMax – but the Undercover adaptation of 2019’s Nike Daybreak. At Solebox , Hugh described how this shoe inspired his latest.
This Daybreaks, like the Blazers reinvented after them, has a large piece of plastic protruding from its rear. Hugh said Nike designers worked on the piece for two years, originally creating a collapsible heel frame that allowed the wearer to step back and put the shoe on or off without having to use laces. . But that wasn’t new enough.
“Right before they were about to hit the market,” Hugh explained, “the legal aspect was like, ‘Hey, there’s patent infringement, so we can’t really get that shoe out.’”
Nike designers reinforced the heel with a plastic shank to prevent it from collapsing, avoiding potential litigation and neutralizing its purpose. (Months after the shoes were released, hands-free sneaker brand Kizik announced an investment from Nike along with an intellectual property license.) Hugh, who has lived in the shoes since their release, found out in Undercover x Nike Daybreak of residual features.
“With the particular way the upper is shaped,” he said, “and with that upper inside giving it the stiffness, you can just adjust the laces once and put your foot in there and get off and the part that keeps the tailgate from collapsing actually works almost like a shoe horn.
With that, his Blazer Lows found their muse. Acronym’s version of the retro basketball shoe has ghillie-patterned cutouts on its upper, a shoehorn-like lip at the collar, and clips on the heel that replace the Daybreak’s tailgate. Unless there is a proper FlyEase system, they allow quick and fast entry.
The end result of half a decade of design and development will arrive this week. The Acronym x Nike Blazer Low releases will feature two shoe colorways, which will be available first on Acronym’s website on Wednesday, February 9, and then via SNKRS and Nike retailers the following day. The shoes are priced at $140. Their deployment includes graphics commissioned from Japanese graffiti artist NESM. The collection also uses the work of typographer David Rudnick.
This Acronym project marks the first official clothing collaboration between the brand and Nike. Though his DNA has seeped into Nike apparel before: Hugh worked on apparel for the ACG line in the late 2010s, and promotional t-shirts and hats were created for the popular Acronym Presto series from 2016.
The sneakers’ commercial debut this week doesn’t quite mean their journey is over. In that vein, the Acronym x Nike Blazer Lows join recent projects like the Off-White x Air Jordan 5 and Union x Air Jordan 4 that give the wearer some agency in the way their shoes look. Acronym’s Blazers heel clips are interchangeable, allowing for a level of modularity.
Before the sneakers were finalized, a member of Nike’s design team suggested the idea of making the clips removable. Beyond that, Acronym is making source files available that will allow anyone with access to a 3D printer to create their own exoskeletal appendages for sneakers. At the Solebox event, examples included a set of shark teeth and a bosozoku divider extending from the rear of the Blazer.
“This type of design – hacking something that exists and modifying it yourself – really reflects the process and methodology that we have in our studio in general,” Hugh said.
In addition to gathering notes on the sneaker’s development since its introduction to the Solebox, Complex reached out to Hugh via email to discuss his ongoing work with Nike.
Its match allows for more levity than its brand – while Acronym clothes and their descriptions may sound so serious as to intimidate, the man behind them does not. Hugh’s posts are punctuated with more textual laughs and chirping exclamation points than you’d expect from a man making blacked out state-of-the-art jackets. In the interview, he reflects on his sneaker production and some of his most high-profile supporters. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Your collaborations with Nike are unique in that they are always more than just a new colorway on an existing model – you can actually change the silhouettes. Is it hard to make that happen on a sneaker like the Air Force 1 or the Blazer?
It’s not conceptually difficult, and Nike reached out to us because that’s what they were hoping to get from us. On a practical level, however, it takes a lot more time and effort. As in, you need to test it and make sure it works physically, especially if it’s a working item. Whereas with color alone there is obviously less of that aspect. I can’t blame the shoe development teams for being both thrilled and terrified every time they hear we’re making another shoe. [Laughs.] Kudos to Gerald [Sullivan] and Nate [Jobe] and the rest of the team!
The exception to this is 2009’s Acronym x Nike Dunk High, which was the first Nike project you ever did and is more conservative in contrast to your later work with the brand. I know Jesse Leyva was involved, but what do you remember when that first shoe was created?
In fact, I did nothing but open the box and write a thank you message to Jesse! Jesse made them as a surprise, and kind of an introduction to the idea of doing something with Nike. I believe it would have been SB back then. [Editor’s note: The Dunk in question was not an SB Dunk.] Took a little longer to come together, but yeah, those were some super cool one-offs to get, obviously.
Is there a limit to how far you can push a sneaker collaboration? Are there things you’ve tried to do with certain shoes that Nike basically says you can’t go that far?
With a company like Nike, or any larger organization, there will be inherent limitations. Nike is a huge company. The limitations of the logistics of doing anything are part of the process. You have to be ready for this, and it’s your ability to handle these types of setbacks that will determine the outcome of a project, perhaps even more than the design itself.
It’s all about the people, really. If you don’t have people on board, nothing will happen, no matter how good your idea is.
The Acronym blazer has this piece around the collar that looks like a built-in shoehorn. You responded to someone on Twitter explaining the purpose of the heel clip as a stabilizer. Is it important to you that people understand the job and what it is supposed to do?
In fact, we like to give people things to discover. Or even just to make them curious. So yeah, I guess it’s not important that they understand the job! [Laughs.] That being said, it is important that there is a payoff when they engage in it. Nothing is worse than a design that doesn’t live up to its apparent promises. When you try to do something new, you can’t expect people to understand it at first, but if they don’t understand it after investing in it, then you’ve lost them forever.
Sounds like the context of people who got the sneakers early – in this case Hideo Kojima and William Gibson– helps explain the world they are part of. Did you get any feedback from these guys and have any idea how they like sneakers?
Yeah, there’s usually immediate feedback, especially with guys like these two, who are just fully aware and engaged with the world on many levels. You’d have to ask them, but I think they feel that we approach this kind of thing from a different or unexpected angle and they appreciate that. The iconoclasts will recognize themselves I believe.
Gibson called it dystopian sneaker design. Is that where you were with this project?
Actually no. We’re more into the idea of ”protopia” right now, like incremental improvements to the world and its systems, rather than grand schemes of “what could possibly go wrong” utopia, or the nihilism of the dystopia. Coming from William Gibson, I think dystopia might imply something else. We discuss the state of the world from time to time and I think dystopia could also mean “contemporary”. As in, it’s a very current take on things. I could be wrong though! Maybe he just sees the end of it all when he looks down at his feet! [Laughs.]