Sneaker News Top 30 of 2012
3 | NIKE FLYKNIT
While Nike is recognized as the leading source of athletic gear for nearly every sport across the board, the genesis of this global juggernaut of a brand lies within the running category. It makes plenty of sense that the pulse of Nike’s success is measured by what it does with that particular sport, and there’s no denying that developments like the original Waffle Racer, Air Max, Free, Lunar and others have served as vital points of innovation and creativity in Nike’s timeline. Each of the definitive features of those models has permeated the walls into other categories of sport, enabling its most talented designers to work their magic and create an exponentially broader collection of performance footwear.
In February, Nike Running changed the game once again with the introduction of Flyknit – an incredibly fascinating development that summed up forty years of runner feedback into one single thread. Using precisely engineered yarns and fabrics, Nike developed a featherweight, sock-like construction that targeted only vital areas of the upper to provide a true running shoe advantage without any unnecessary added weight. With one single thread in use, material waste was drastically reduced as Flyknit did not have to employ multiple materials. In addition, Flyknit introduced an impressive contrast with its minimalist structure and the thoroughly crafted knitted shell. It was an inspiring merger of groundbreaking design and exceptional function that required four years of trial and error experimentation to perfect.
Immediately following the introductory launch event in New York City, which brought in major sports media outlets from around the globe, Nike satiated consumer appetites by presenting the first wave of limited-edition releases at the Nike Sportswear retail store at 21 Mercer. This first capsule featured the Lunar-based Flyknit Trainer (limited to 100 individually numbered pairs) and a much rarer Flyknit Racer, all entirely designed by the revered HTM collective of Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield, and Mark Parker. Three other HTM Flyknit collections followed later in the year, and a wide release of the everyday-runner Trainer model and the slimmer, form-fitting Racer became available in late July in an outstanding variety of colorway options.
Upon the initial release in February, Nike buffs likened Flyknit to the 2000 debut of the Air Woven, and while the similarities are certainly obvious, the comparison reveals one major difference; while both the Air Woven and Flyknit featured an exclusive set of limited HTM
releases at the start and adopted the concept car-like weave of fibers, the Woven was barely promoted by Nike and rather crept up on curious minds, eventually became a cult smash. Flyknit, on the other hand, was showcased on grandest sports stage of the year – the 2012 Olympic Games in London. With bright Volt-colored Flyknit Trainers proudly displayed on the Olympic medal stand by top US athletes like Michael Phelps and LeBron James, it was made certain that Flyknit was not intended to be a sleeper hit. In fact, Nike did all that it could to ensure that its latest design achievement would be a mainstream success, and considering the voluminous response to all the releases throughout the year, it was abundantly clear that Flyknit filled a void that hardcore runners and Nike loyalists alike were desperately looking to fill.
Along with the blockbuster success came some controversy involving Nike’s biggest competitor in the field. Months after the February debut of Flyknit, adidas unveiled PrimeKnit – a new running shoe design with a shockingly similar construction that also honed in on the idea of “less is more.” Much like Nike’s planned schedule of a limited release followed by broader availability, adidas launched 2,012 pairs of the PrimeKnit in London right before the start of the Olympic Games. In September, Nike and adidas took their battle of ‘Knit’ to their respective legal departments, with the most recent publicized update coming in late October (adidas would be allowed to continue production after an initial halt was ordered). While it has always been understood that Nike and adidas have been direct competitors, this ‘Knit’ conflict placed a rather harsh spotlight on this rivalry, giving sneaker enthusiasts a bit of an enticing sub-plot to the already captivating Flyknit story.
By year’s end, it was clear that Flyknit was certainly the undisputed highlight of footwear innovation in 2012 and perhaps over the last several years. With Nike ready to broaden the running core of Flyknit with the Lunar Flyknit One and the Chukka in 2013, we can only imagine what the team of architects and engineers in Beaverton are cooking up at this very moment. If history tells us anything, we can certainly expect this raw and fresh technology to extend beyond the running category and likely eventually see heavy usage in Nike Sportswear, much like how Hyperfuse and Engineered Mesh have been introduced to the classic Air Max silhouettes. But what we do know for sure is that what we’ve seen with Flyknit thus far is just one single thread of a massive intertwining story that will further weave its way throughout the brand in the coming years.