Air Yeezy: The Second Colorway

With the upcoming release of the second colorway of the Air Yeezy, I figured I'd hit you with a conversation between Yeezy and the creative director of Nike special projects.
Kanye West: MC, Producer, Hypebeast: I’ve always stressed my passion for design—and not just, “Oh, let me throw my name on this,” but to use my celebrity as an opportunity to jump into the design world—and in this case, to design my own shoe.

Mark Smith: Creative Dir. of Special Projects, Nike: I don’t really put my life in dates in a normal way. [Laughs.] So I couldn’t even say when everything went down, but one day I got a call asking me if I would work with Kanye on the project.

Kanye West: It was after the Air Force 1 “1 Night Only” event [in December 2006]. I sat there and drew countless forms of shoes, and a lot of them were inspired by Back to the Future, by the McFlys or whatever people call them—I just call them the Mags. All kinds of different ideas that stemmed from that and Robotech and all my other anime influences.

Mark Smith: What we wanted to do was really create something that was specific and unique to the two of us working together, so it wasn’t an entourage full of people on either side.

Kanye West: Nike is the No. 1 sneaker lifestyle brand, right? And I’m the No. 1 most influential cutural pop art brand: scarves, beards, plastic glasses, whatever. So you take those two things and you mesh that—it’s very exciting. I’m the Nike of culture.

Mark Smith: He showed me what he was into. I asked him about sneakers that he liked, what he was wearing and why he was wearing them; he’s very up to the minute on what he likes.

Kanye West: I grabbed all these Jordans from their archives, and I’m sitting in the office next to Tinker [Hatfield, Jordan designer] and Mark, just pulling out shit and putting it in front of him like, “I like this element.” We just vibed it out.

Mark Smith: He started just dumping stuff out, and I did the same thing. We did it in the Innovation Kitchen—Nike’s underground innovation center where tomorrow’s technologies are kind of getting bubbled up, so he actually was seeing a bunch of stuff that nobody else would see.

Kanye West: The types of shit Nike can do? I say, “Hey, use this sole,” and they have it? The possibilities are just endless.

Mark Smith: I always try to look at things through an athlete’s eyes—if you look at a basketball player, his or her performance is on-court in the middle of a game. The equivalent for Kanye would be to get onstage and rock it for a couple of hours. And he goes through a pretty athletic show, so we wanted to make sure these were super-comfortable performance shoes.

Kanye West: Every guy drew Nikes in fourth grade, so to really do it is a dream come true.

Kanye West: I’m aesthetics-first on anything. Even when I make music, I think about the aesthetics: Where will you be when you’re listening to this? Visuals first. I wanted to take the concept of the future pop colors and all this ’80s influence and make it wearable.

Mark Smith: I remember him saying originally that he wanted to create something that looked and felt like it had come from the past. I thought, That’s actually really cool, because back then it was very, very simple. There weren’t a lot of extras on the older stuff. So that kind of pushed that edge a little bit; instead of adding a whole bunch of today’s stuff onto it and super-technology or anything like that, it was more about keeping things simple. And if you look at it at a glance, it might look like it was a little retro.

Kanye West: We developed our own soles for the shoe also, which is the hardest thing and takes the longest—so long that there was a point in the design [process] where I just had to pick a sole that they already had. That was one of the days my heart got broken. [Laughs.]

Mark Smith: We never looked at one shoe and said, “You gotta take the toe from this and the heel from that and the bottom from this and slam it all together.” Kanye West: The original shoes were battery-operated, and they lit up. I have a version of the first shoe that has a push-button on the side, and it lights up and stays lit.

Mark Smith: We had a very futuristic-looking product for a long time. Then Kanye said, “Can we use something that’s recognizable?” So I think the elephant tooling, which was directly pulled from the Jordan 3, really rooted the shoe in that time period.

Kanye West: A lot of that patent stuff Mark came up with, like the strap—that’s when I was happy to be able to work with an O.G. designer like that.

Mark Smith: You have to make sure the lines, the materials, the direction are all intact—and then once you get those broad strokes in, then you really start applying the storytelling, the textures and the unique aspects that make it something for Kanye specifically.

Mark Smith: If we did our job right, we could take this shoe and put it in the line or a catalog from back in the day, and it would just feel like it was part of the lineup. But when you bring that shoe forward into today, it should also feel a little timeless; it’s yesterday and today slammed together.

For part two of the conversation, click here.

Be on the lookout for more on this release as the week progresses. There was a lot of hype for the first colorway. This one seems to be generating even more.

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