Class of 2020: Year of the Dunk

22 April 2021

A sneaker franchise 35 years in the making – with a cultural legacy to rival the best of them - END. looks back on the Dunk’s stratospheric resurgence and pays homage to the silhouette’s 80’s varsity origins in this superlative look at the Class of 2020.

Class of 2020: Year of the Dunk
Launched the same year as the inimitable Air Jordan 1, it would have been easy for the Nike Dunk to become the forgotten second son of Nike pioneer and sneaker design legend, Peter Moore. Nigh-on four decades later, the nostalgia-laden Dunk has emerged as the undisputed revival story of 2020. Let's dig in...

Originally developed to target the younger athlete and capitalise on the ‘Be True to Your School’ tribalism which formed the foundation of collegiate basketball across the US, the Dunk’s initial audience came ready-made and hungry for representation. Releasing in a series of iconic collegiate colourways up until 1988 – from Syracuse to Kentucky, Georgetown to Michigan - the Nike silhouette held fast as an athletic staple on campuses until it lost steam and went into the archives. Unable to keep pace with Michael Jordan’s international draw at a time when athletic endorsements and collaborations were the rare exceptions, not the weekly norm, the Dunk looked set to be relegated to the annals of sneaker history; an ‘of its time’ flash in the proverbial sneaker pan.

Enter: skate.

The polar opposite of the early adopters coveted by brands for their ability to instigate new trends and drive demand for innovative silhouettes, the anti-mainstream 90s skate scene was the unlikely saviour responsible for the Dunk’s first (and arguably its most pivotal) resurgence. Accessible and affordable, the Dunk had fallen from on-campus status symbol to inline outlet-fillers across suburban America. And yet Moore's design still held water. Durable, built with ankle support for athletes in mind, and reminiscent of the DC and Etnies product which set the standard for skate throughout the 90s; the Dunk’s second wind on the skate scene quickly led to culturally authentic collaborations with names including Futura and Supreme. Following a carefully crafted re-up on the materials and construction to better suit skate requirements, Nike SB released its first official Nike Dunk SB Model in 2002.

Iterated and re-iterated by collaborators throughout the 00s, two distinct factions formed around the OG Dunk and it's SB counterpart until fatigue slowly set in and the Dunk faded from the forefront of sneaker consciousness once more.

Enter: Virgil Abloh.

Hot on the heels of his 'The Ten' project with The Swoosh - a collection which raised the bar for top-tier collaborations and heralded a new cut-and-paste era in design and construction - Virgil Abloh's global influence on sneaker culture reached quasi-divine heights, and fast. A retro purist to the core, Abloh's penchant for both early skate and hip-hop culture and the halcyon days of collegiate Americana meant the Dunk was a silhouette which held double meaning in his heart. Photographed frequently in the silhouette at industry events, it wasn't long before Nike tapped the designer to put his esoteric "Off-White" spin on the silhouette and this - coupled with another invaluable co-sign from Travis Scott - catapulted the Dunk back into the limelight just at the turn of the decade.

Paying homage to the phoenix-like resurgence of the OG Dunk throughout 2020 by casting each of the year's key releases as its 'Senior Superlative' counterpart, END. revels in the varsity nostalgia of sneaker culture's eternal Comeback Kid.

Varsity Maize
Veneer // Michigan
Spartan Green
University Red // Pure Platinum
Varsity Purple
Syracuse // Kentucky
Class of 2020: Year of the Dunk

Nike at END.

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writerEuan Smart
|photographerSophie Lobban
|stylistJack Errington