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Nike On Air Winner Gabrielle Serrano Discusses “La Mezcla”

By Ben Felderstein

When it comes to sneakers, New Yorkers know how to bring it. From graffiti legend Stash to culture expert Bobbito Garcia, natives of the five boroughs have succinctly told their individual stories through the rare opportunity of a shoe collab. Gabrielle Serrano, a Queens native and the winner of NYC’s On Air competition from 2018, brought the heat thanks to a concept inspired by her unique perspective of the city – one that was formed by her experience as a street photographer as well as a first-generation American from a family of immigrants.

Appropriately called “La Mezcla” (or “the mix), Serrano’s Air Max 98 was selected by the people as the top choice among a sea of submissions from the city’s On Air event. The crackled mudguard represents the concrete that lines the city blocks, while the earth-toned gradient mirrors the ethnic diversity that make up the people of the giant melting pot. For the Big Apple’s inhabitants, it’s as “NYC” as you can get. For Gabrielle, it’s a dream come true for a life-time sneaker collector with over 800 pairs to her name. We spoke with her to learn more about the inspiration and the process behind her design – one that will hit retail in April along with the five other On Air winners.
Edited by John Kim

  • Gabriel’s original design board

  • The Air Max 98 “La Mezcla

My grandma tells the truth, so knowing she likes it tells me that I made my family proud.

  Gabrielle Serrano on how On Air has positively affected her family

Sneaker News: How has street photography impacted your design?
Gabrielle Serrano: It’s a big inspiration. Walking around New York and being able to capture the people of the city – it’s the biggest part of my shoe and shows the diversity through different skin complexions. Photography comes through a lot in my design.
SN: Why the Air Max 98?
GS: Last year was the year of the 98, but more importantly it worked with the different skin complexions that I wanted to put in the design. Air Max 97s are one of my favorites, but going up and down didn’t make sense for this design.
SN: Your family coming to New York is one of the most important things in your life. How did they influence this design of this shoe?
GS: My family played a big part in the process. Coming to the United States and me being a first generation, I wanted to highlight that and showcase it. My family’s history in New York is also very diverse – we have lived in all different parts of it. I was born in Forest Hills, we lived in Jamaica, and then Brooklyn and I have family in Long Island as well.

  • Original sketches and designs

  • Original sketches and designs

One of my ideas was to put zippers on it, but they were like – does that have anything to do with your story?

  Gabriel on how the Nike mentors helped shape her concept

SN: For someone who is not from here, what are the ways in which this Air Max 98 represents New York?
GS: The mudguard represents the concrete jungle so I think that’s probably the most New York part. But I feel like all of it represents the city, the swooshes, the laces, a lot of the hits are the color of the Statue Of Liberty.
SN: How have other New Yorkers responded to your design?
GS: I’ve gotten all positive feedback so far. Everyone seems to really enjoy it and they say it showcases the city. Also being a Latina female, people have responded well to that aspect as well.
SN: New York is really important when it comes to shoes. Do you think you made the city proud?
GS: Yes, the shoe was my design, but I wanted it to be about everyone in NYC. I have a ton of friends in sneaker culture, so I wanted it to represent and be about all of us. Everyone seems to be really liking it, and I’m excited to see people wearing it.
SN: Can you describe what it was like to see a Nike sneaker that you personally designed in hand?
GS: It is amazing. I don’t think it hit me when I had it in my hand, that it was like what I drew on paper onto a real shoe. Even now, I am wearing the sneaker and I still cant believe that it’s real.
SN: When you did the On Air competition last year and you were sketching everything out, did you think it would get to this point?
GS: No. The first application was through the SNKRS app and you were supposed to explain your different ideas. Friends were telling me their ideas of subways and graffiti, and I thought I was never going to get it because those were such good ideas. We had an elevator pitch we had to do and I was so nervous. I was telling them to just read off the board because I didn’t know what to do! I definitely didn’t think I was going to be where I am now.

  • Air Max 98 “La Mezcla” Releasing in April

  • Air Max 98 “La Mezcla” Releasing in April

SN: What was it like getting suggestions from Nike’s professional designers and having them help you with your own design?
GS: Being at the workshop, it was such a great experience to have the mentors to help with my design. I asked them to help me finish my idea and bring it to a final product. They were really into it as well and it was nice to have that insight. One of my ideas was to put zippers on it because I love zippers just like the Acronyms, but they were like – does that have anything to do with your story? It was helpful to have someone there to lead me in the right direction. Anything I wanted to put on the shoe appeared and it made sense to stick to my story.
SN: Other than getting to see and hold your final product, what has been your favorite part of this process?
GS: We’ve been with Nike shooting stuff for the voting, and having my family involved and having my grandma involved has been great. She tells the truth, so knowing she likes it and that she appreciates it tells me that I made the family proud. Getting all the love on social media from men and women has been incredible.