Collecting, curating, and the origins of sneaker culture.
The Nike Dunk was born in 1985, led by footwear pioneer Peter Moore. If the Jordan 1 signified a singular genius and the Terminator defined the era’s rough-and-tumble power players, the Dunk was democratic. In origin, the Dunk served the team – this idea was amplified by the dynamic “Be True to Your School” campaign, which brought a degree of shine to top collegiate basketball programs.
Approaching the Dunk with a team viewpoint also, perhaps unintentionally, set a unique path for the shoe. Nike offered up a base that was defined by partners. First, there were the respective universities and in the following decades, scores of artists, brands and other creative forces. The Nike Dunk also found immediate favour with skaters who valued the durability.
From Tokyo, Hiroshi Fujiwara was formulating new ways to intertwine eclectic taste in clothing and music to define youth lifestyle. Dunks entered Fujiwara’s consciousness with an undeniable force. In The Face, Fujiwara recalls buying his first Dunks at the Seoul Nike store in roughly 1988. He used them for skating and was drawn to the strange colourways, he amassed a collection of 20 pairs. When he began work with Nike Japan in the 1990s, he urged the return of the Dunk and the opportunity of the deep Nike archives.
Nike’s co.jp (Concept Japan) envisioned alternate colour schemes — either flipping the originals or concocting entirely new combinations. Dunks were part of the culture’s universal language and hunting for unusual versions became a right of passage. Tokyo’s distinction in this culture was its unique blend of all the values inherent to street culture and most importantly an ingrained collecting culture in Japan.
The co.jp Dunks from 1999 into the early 2000s helped confirm icon status on the shoe’s low-cut versions. These models spurred a global hunt for the most unique colourways, inspired new collectors to gather completist assemblages and, in time, rooted a codified language for Dunk Otaku world-wide.
This year, Dunk celebrates its 35th birthday. Basketball remains in its DNA, but the shoe has persevered because of how it has been treated by Nike obsessives. It is a true emblem of sample culture. Beginning with taking university colours, the shoe has always been defined by the Nike partners that engage with it. No other shoe communicates with the culture around it like the Dunk — it’s as comfortable baring a metal band’s logo as it is hailing the Wu-Tang Clan, extending well and truly beyond the hardwood.
The Dunk broadcasts that one is tuned in — connected to the past and integral to progress. Over 35 years, the Dunk has gone from one shoe within a family of basketball shoes to become one of the single most storied silhouettes in sneaker history. The shared street culture of London, New York and Tokyo is embodied by the Nike Dunk. It exists where all the notes and threads of the global underground meet. The Dunk is, undoubtedly, the signature shoe of the streetwear generation. It has served as a medium for all its interrelated touchpoints.