Fashion & Beauty / Behind the Pages

Riccardo Tisci on Nike

Riccardo Tisci speaks to Susanah Frankel about childhood sports, Nike Air Force 1s and obsessions

Alba wears Nike x RT AF1 Hi Boot with leopard from Rokit, br
Alba wears Nike x RT AF1 Hi Boot with leopard from Rokit, br Photography by Charles Fréger, Styling by Karen Langley

To celebrate the launch of Riccardo Tisci's Nike white collection today, we share Susanah Frankel's inteview with the designer from the current issue of AnOther Magazine.

“When you’re European and you think of America you think, okay, Obama, the American flag, Coca-Cola. You think McDonald’s and Marlboro. And then you think Nike,” says Riccardo Tisci of probably the most coveted sportswear name in the world. “It’s pure somehow, very clean. It’s about health, dynamism, sport…”

None of the above are necessarily associated with designer fashion and, as Creative Director of Givenchy for almost a decade now, Tisci is very much part of that world. While he has, he says, been approached by many potential collaborators over that period he has rarely taken them up on it. With the exception of designing costumes for the Opéra de Paris last year – his friend Marina Abramović was responsible for the set design – and editing Visionaire No. 60: Religion, in 2011, his mind is very much on his day job. “I think you have to give yourself up to that 100 per cent,” he says. “Otherwise it feels like cheating somehow.”

Even Tisci ultimately failed to resist the lure of Nike, however. He has been attached to the name – often literally – since he was a mere slip of a boy, growing up with his mother and eight sisters in southern Italy. “I started playing basketball when I was nine,” he explains. “I was quite good at it. I didn’t come from a wealthy family. It was free. I could do it when I liked.” So accomplished was Tisci that he was singled out and became a member of his local youth team until, aged 15, he injured his knee. “Then, you know the story, I was studying art and by the time I was 17 I’d decided that I didn’t want to be poor any more so I left and came to England.”

"I’m the kind of person who, when I become obsessed with something... It feels like the shoes have become part of me, part of my body. You can wear them in a street way, or with a proper shirt. That’s very much my style." — Riccardo Tisci

At that time it was all about Air Jordans, he says, but today, as any photograph of Riccardo Tisci will confirm, he is inseparable from possibly the most iconic sneaker of them all, also originally a basketball shoe, designed by Bruce Kilgore and released in 1982: the Nike Air Force 1. It is well known that the name refers to the plane that carries the US President.

For Tisci’s part, the designer wears a pristine white pair of these very shoes with everything from black T-shirt and jeans to a (Givenchy) Le Smoking jacket. “I’m the kind of person who, when I become obsessed with something... It feels like the shoes have become part of me, part of my body. You can wear them in a street way, or with a proper shirt. That’s very much my style. They give me confidence, make me strong.”

Happy to oblige this fêted fashion talent, a personal relationship began with Nike when the company began sending him his favourite footwear for Christmas. Two years ago, in a giant step if not quite for mankind then certainly any self-respecting sneakerhead, Nike approached Tisci more formally and asked him if he would like to design some of his own. A trip to Nike Town, Oregon, followed (“it’s actually a town – there’s a laundry, a school, a church, everything”, Tisci says, “for me that sense of community was so beautiful”) before much international to-ing and fro-ing ensued and Nike x RT AF1 was born.

Tisci was thinking of tribes when he came up with these designs. “But not in the sense of anything ethnic, more like punk, hip-hop, Goth…” he says. “And everything today is about following – Instagram, Facebook, everything.” There are four shoes in the collection: the requisite low and high top as well as – and new to the stable – a mid- and knee-high boot with a zip back. “I thought to myself what can I bring to this project? I’m not technical, I’m not going to invent new materials or help people run better, although working with the teams at Nike was incredible. Instead, I decided to respect the roots of the house, the coolness of Nike. I didn’t change the shape of the shoe – the skeleton is the same, it’s just re-touched, refreshed. Of course, I could have done a million things but, I mean, if someone asked me to work on the Sistine Chapel, what am I going to do? I’m not going to paint it black.”

Tisci has brought colour to the still principally classic white shoe, however: stripes of primary red, blue and yellow, utility orange and green. “The primary colours were very important to me,” he says. “I want people to still be wearing the shoes in ten years. If you look at things that stand the test of time they are often in primary colours – or black and white.” All designs have black laces, a nod to Tisci’s preferred non-colour, and six months from now the same shoes in black will launch. The edition is not limited and, Tisci says, he and the team at Nike worked hard to ensure that a realistic price point was maintained. “When I saw Nike RT written inside the finished design I was so proud,” he says. “I want the shoes to have a wide reach. For me they are a celebration of life – of colour, happiness and fun.”

The Nike x RT white collection is available now at Dover Street Market (London and New York) and 1948 Shoreditch.