Kaws's Collaborative History with Nike by Anthony Irving


Who doesn’t love a little Kaws in their life? From his unique mind, tons of amazing products have sprung forth for the consumer to enjoy. Everything from magazine covers, skate decks, toys, statues large and small, multi-million dollar canvases, and let’s not forget the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float. His influence is ever present and continues to permeate pop culture in full. He has grown exponentially from his humble beginnings as a graffiti artist in Jersey City named Brian Donnelly. His use of thick exaggerated lines, that evoke Disney-like imagery and his signature “Skull and Crossbones” motif, leads to a calling card that is unmistakably his alone. His unique background and ambitious creative choices have resulted in him working with other brands that also inspire childlike wonder: including Peanuts, Sesame Street, and even “The House of Mouse,” Disney themselves. Kaws’s prolific nature most recent Nike collaboration, the Sacai Blazer Low and its accompanying clothing capsule, inspired this post about the previous Kaws X Nike footwear collaborations. So, let’s take a look back at the prior 5 releases that are coveted by both Kaws and Nike fans alike!

Kaws Air Force 1

First up, is this gem right here, the Kaws X Nike Air Force 1 Low, dubbed the 1World KAWS. These were part of the 1World pack which included a total of 18 artists, athletes, and innovators that used the Air Force 1 as their muse. For his 1World shoe, Kaws used rich suede on the uppers as well as a nice leather midsole, all colored with a deep black. Then for extra pop, he adds shock yellow on the back labeling, stitching, sole, tongue tab, laces, and dubraes (shoestring charms). The sockliner features his name and date, and “XX” on the left shoe to represent his Crossbones theme. These weren’t sold to the public but had to be won in a contest through his Original Fake store, the now defunct Kaws brand. The rest of the run was given to friends and family. This rendition of the AF1 is a stunning shoe to this day. The aftermarket price certainly reflects that; the last pair on StockX sold for $4,200 and the only one for sale on StockX now is listed at over $10,000. The Kaws association, as well as the beautiful design makes it one of the top Air Force 1’s on any collectors’ list

Kaws x Nike Sportswear Air Max 90 Pack

 

With the success of his Air Force 1 and the hype that surrounds Kaws, another collaboration soon followed. Kaws, being a person of the people, made his next collaboration with Nike much more attainable. In fall 2008, he released a pair of Air Max 90’s in a white and black version, featuring the same yellow accents as the AF1. First, the classic style pair AKA the white colorway. The shoe is swathed in a soft quilted leather around the toe box, as well as on the back and mid collar, with traditional leather on the rest of the upper. Once again, shock yellow accents the sole, laces, air bubble, sockliner (with his name and date), and “XX” on the left shoe to represent his Crossbones theme.

 

The second Air Max 90, which is the 3rd shoe in the lineup, is the Air Max 90 Current, a bit of an uncommon silhouette. This shoe is one of the many revisions of the Air Max 90 during its time in the sportswear line. The upper consists of a four way stretch textile on top a free sole air unit. There is a lot that can be said about this air unit, but the short story is that this kind of air unit makes the shoe have a more natural cushion, while simulating the innate bend and flex of the human foot. The modified air unit allows for maximum comfort. The same shock yellow accents are in the exact same places on this shoe, with the only addition being on its set of dubraes. While not as steep as the Air Force 1, they are still fairly expensive on the aftermarket, the last pairs sold on StockX went for $1,500 in white and $1,000 in black. However, if you can find a used pair in good condition, it would make a great restoration project!

Both pairs of the Kaws X Air Max 90’s are on display at Sneakertopia for the true connoisseur who wants to get the full experience of the collaboration!

Kaws X Air Jordan 4 Retro Pairs

After nearly 10 years of fans waiting, Kaws’s next Nike collaboration was announced. He would be putting his spin on the Jordan 4 retro. Needless to say, the sneaker community was set ablaze with excitement for this news, as the Jordan 4 is one of the most beloved Jordan models. This caused his fans to pore over every tease and hint that would drop on the various sneaker news websites, as well as Kaws’s personal Instagram.

 

The first colorway is the Cool Grey. The shoe does away with any plastic pieces on the upper in favor of a complete cover, from upper to midsole, in premium grey suede. Then, the breathable mesh typical to the Jordan 4 is replaced with a nappy suede. The use of the nappy suede is indicative of his grey wooly Kaws Buddy, a plushie he had previously released. Throughout the entire shoe, Kaws Buddy Hands, one of his signature images, is sewn throughout with just a touch of 3M Paint added. The translucent sole also features those hands, plus the sole glows in the dark. Lastly, the final touches are the cross branding between the two brands on the hangtag, back tab, sockliner, and under the tongues. After six months of teasing the collaboration, the community was more than ready for the very limited Tier 0 shoes. So ready that the Patta store in London had to have the riot act read to patrons waiting in line by police officers . Even a couple of Tier 0 accounts, like Donnelly’s aka Kaws, were hacked into, so people could guarantee their pairs. I personally went to a raffle at Blends Beverly Hills where there were easily 600 people for only 3 full size runs or about 45 pairs of shoes. Needless to say, I didn’t win, but I would end up paying aftermarket value while the shoes were fairly new in early 2018.

 

Finally, let’s take a look at the fifth pair aka the Black colorway. It has all the elements of the Cool Grey Pair, but in black with the only difference being the Kaws Buddy hands are sewn deeper on the upper so they stand out without the use of 3M Paint. The story behind the black pair is very similar to how the Air Max 90’s came to be. The black pair was originally Friend and Family only, but with the constant outpouring of love for the black colorway,  Kaws surprised everyone and announced that they would get a public release in the Holidays of 2017. To add some extra Holiday cheer, the shoe was dropped from tier 0 to hyperstrike, making the shoe much more accessible. In addition to being sold in more sneaker boutiques, they were also raffled on Nike’s Snkrs App and Kaws’s Online Web shop. I scored these for a very reasonable price later the year following its initial release. As far as attainability, the Cool Grey Pair goes for almost as much as The Kaws Air Force 1, whether they are new or used. They go for $3-4k on average now, but if you want something a bit more budget friendly, go for the black pair. There are many more floating around and discounts are to be had on the used pairs too.

Concluding Remarks

Thank you for reading and celebrating an amazing artist and his use of Nike sneakers as his canvas to express himself. If you would like to learn more about Kaws in greater detail, I have some suggested reading. The First book I would recommend is Kaws 1993-2010 by Skira/Rizzoli New York. This book covers his early career in great detail. The Second book is Kaws: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness by National Gallery of Victoria, or NGV. This book covers his earliest work from 1991, all the way up to 2019. Also, he released a third book which dropped over the summer titled, Kaws: What Party by Phaidon.