Nike Air Force 1 Bespoke by Larry Luk

August 2nd, 2010 by Larry


On a recent trip to New York City, I stopped by Nike Sportswear’s (NSW) 21 Mercer store for a 2-hour appointment to customize my very own Air Force 1 sneakers. The process is officially called NikeiD Bespoke that is an innovative design experience offering customers the opportunity to work one-on-one with Nike design consultants to customize over 31 aspects of the Air Force 1.

I had previously created other pairs of sneakers via the NikeiD program on the web and have always felt rather unimpressed with the finished products because I lacked a design inspiration from the get-go. I knew that this Bespoke experience was going to be more in depth and rewarding, so I needed a rock-solid concept.

I walked into the appointment knowing that I wanted to stick to the “Love & War” concept that fellow graphic designer Georgios Saliaris and I had previously created for our clothing line, We Are The Process (we call it “Process” for short). If you’ve seen the Love & War graphic tee that was part of the collection, perhaps you will see resemblance between that graphic and this pair of kicks. For those who haven’t seen the graphic, it involved criss-crossing graphics of a rose and dagger, which played on the idea of opposites. It is iconic and it utilized a Black/Red/Grey color palette.

With the concept understood, I knew I’d be able to make the design decisions that would result in a great looking pair of kicks that I would want to wear often.

See the rest of NikeiD Bespoke experience and my final sneaker photos after the jump.

The first step was to decide what colors I wanted to use. Since I already knew I wanted to go with a Black/Red/Grey colorway, we started by removing all other colored materials from the table.

Design consultant Israel “iZ” Mateo explained to me all the benefits of each material left on the table.

I quickly gravitated to Black Waterproof Denim, Black Patent Leather, and a Black Stamped Leather. Deciding where they would go was a conversation in itself.

I held onto this sample AF1 for quite some time as a guide for making design decisions. Every material choice affected how I approached other parts of the sneaker.

iZ begins sketching a detailed blueprint that helped the sneaker transition from a notion to something visible.

Double-checking the progress so far.

The next step was to decide what the sole and midsole of the sneaker would look like.

I also had the options to decide on lace and stitching colors. For me, these decisions make or break a sneaker.

Using contrast stitching is a great option to have, but a sneaker doesn’t always benefit from that design decision.

At the end of the appointment, I left with iZ’s sketches and a keyring with 4 of the main materials I had chosen. An email with a Photoshop rendering of my design was already on it’s way to my inbox at this point.

After approximately 8 weeks, my sneakers arrived from NY via Taiwan. Every pair is sent to the Nike Sportswear store at 21 Mercer and checked for accuracy before it’s sent to the customer.

The contents of the Bespoke AF1 experience:

Top Row [Left to Right] – A pair of Air Force 1 sneakers, NSW Wooden Shoe Trees, 2 Bags (one for each sneaker)
Middle Row – Alternate Laces
Bottom Row [Left to Right] – Air Force 1 Certificate of Authenticity, Materials Keyring, Metal Air Force 1 shoe tag, NSW branded sketchbook

An up-close look at the Metal Air Force 1 shoe tag containing the stamped leather I had chosen.

An up-close look at the Wooden Shoe Trees containing NSW branding.

The “Love & War” concept materialized:
-Black Waterproof Denim on the Toe Cap and Eyestay.
-Black Rubberized Leather on the Toe Box and Upper
-Black Pattern-stamped Leather on the Heel Counter and Tongue Tab
-Black Waterproof Denim Swoosh with Black Patent Leather underlay and Red Contrast Stitching
-Red criss-crossing pattern stitched on the edge of the Toe Cap
-Black Eyelets
-Black Midsole with visible Air Bag
-Clear Outsole with Red accents on the heel and ball of the foot.

Playing off the idea of opposites, I used a material that appeared soft and muted (Black Waterproof Denim) and backed it with a material that is usually displayed prominently (Black Patent Leather). I forced the Patent Leather to be a detail instead of a focal point. Also, a bulletproof Kevlar tongue guarded by the laces placed a material known for it’s strength behind a weaker material.

3/4 Front View

3/4 Back View

-Black & Red Kevlar on Back Taping
-Black Patent Leather Heel Tab with Red embroidered Nike Air logo

-Black & Red Kevlar on Tongue
-Black Pattern-stamped Leather with Red embroidered Nike Air logo
-Black Waxed Laces

-The words “LOVE” & “WAR” etched on the metal dubre’s on each forfoot.

Firstly, thanks to Will, iZ, and VS for the opportunity. Next, thanks to Joe Martinez for documenting everything. I highly recommend this for any sneakerhead or designer. It was truly an experience to remember.

Category: Design, New York, Sneakers Comment: 5 Comments »

5 Responses

  1. ev Says:

    larry..those are incredible. some of the best ones i have seen come out…congrats.

  2. KJ Says:


  3. Roy Says:

    Good documentation and explanation of the process, good stuff. pretty confident you were already a Nike enthusiast but they earned a few more notches with your loyalty by offering such a good experience.

  4. Papa Luk Says:

    Looks really cool. Can people buy shoes based on this design?

  5. Epidemik Coalition » Blog Archive » Air Force 1: Anatomy of an Urban Legend Premiere Says:

    [...] I ran into Izzy from the Nike Sportswear’s 21 Mercer flagship store. He’s the man that helped me design my Bespoke AF1’s that I wore to this premiere. [...]

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