From a contemporary perspective, it’s difficult to think of a time when Nike was an upstart brand: its iconic Swoosh logo, sporting partnerships and Just Do It slogan are indelibly inked into the fabric of pop culture, earning it a status and cachet that befit its sheer size and scope. But back in the early 1970s, Nike was barely finding its feet, having grown from Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman’s Blue Ribbon Sports import company into a burgeoning sportswear entity in its own right. Beginning, naturally, with models for running, Nike soon looked to the hardwood, crafting a straightforward basketball shoe in 1972, featuring a large, brash rendition of its new Swoosh logo designed to steal the spotlight. Naming the shoe after their local Portland Trail Blazers team, the Nike Blazer was born.
Simple — almost blunt — in its design, the Blazer was typical of an early-70s basketball shoe: tough leather uppers, a cushioned ankle collar and a vulcanised, textured sole unit gave players of the time all they needed and nothing more; a far cry from today, where the pinnacle of sporting technology is applied to each new silhouette. Yet, for all its simplicity, the Blazer was a success for Nike because of that huge Swoosh on the side. When worn on-court by the stars of the day, like George “The Iceman” Gervin, the shoe became a moving billboard; every photograph in every magazine became an advertisement.
While technology quickly overtook the Blazer’s minimal approach for court use, the silhouette gained a new lease of life from the nascent skateboarding scene. Where the heavy leather uppers and vulcanised sole unit were proving outdated for basketball players, riders found the Blazer provided excellent grip and could take a beating out on the streets, and so adopted the mid-top silhouette as their own.
This skateboarding association is one that has followed the Blazer into the present day, no small thanks to collaborations with streetwear titans like Stussy, Supreme and street art legend Futura 2000. In 2005, the Nike Blazer was finally recognised by the brand as a viable board option, after spokesperson Lance Mountain reworked the Blazer for the Swoosh’s SB line, adding extra padding and, for the first time, Zoom Air technology.
The Blazer’s simple, robust design has proven the ideal canvas for collaborative reworkings to this day: in addition to the aforementioned skate-centric collabs, the Blazer has recently seen attention as part of OFF-WHITE designer Virgil Abloh’s “The Ten” series for Nike, while upcoming Japanese label sacai have produced a grail-worthy version with doubled soles, tongues and Swooshes. Yet the Blazer — like other timeless retro court styles such as the Converse Chuck Taylor and Nike Air Force 1 — often shines brightest when rendered fully in plain white. The latest in-house version of the Nike Blazer, the Mid ’77, appears this season in a white canvas construction with off-white suede overlays to the sidewalls and toecap, exposing the economy of design that made the silhouette a hit for Nike all the way back in the 70s.
The Nike Blazer Mid ’77 WE in Sail/ White will release in-store and online at Aphrodite Clothing on 12th April 2019. Stay tuned for more from the Swoosh for 2019.