For those that actually look at this blog, I hope this material brings a little sunshine as your weekend concludes. I love Nike’s All Conditions Gear division and I know a fair few who are equally, if not more, psychotic about the product they’ve pumped out over the years. Even those speckled, beige boxes have us babbling incoherently. I’m constantly haunted by turning down an ACG trip in Utah back in late 2008 (I had my reasons) where I could have nerded out by campfire. ACG is bigger than sneakers to me — the colours and resolutely uncommercial nature of the range always struck me as a labour of love rather than some cash-in, with several key Nike personnel enjoying steep gradients in the name of fun. That ACG aesthetic still resonates in contemporary product and 1989-1995 was one of the best times to be a little peculiar about offroad product. The colours on the apparel at the time of ACG’s 1989 launch are particularly interesting.
From 1981’s launch of Magma, Approach (complete with GORE-TEX) and Lava Dome to the Escape runner and the rugged pieces in each subsequent catalogue (Son of Lava Dome, anyone? Bring that back) and the Nike Hiking line pre-ACG, the mix of muted and some brave blasts of pop colour, trail styling was a significant influence on my perception of good design. It’s a good thing that I found myself working alongside folk who appreciated it too. It’s no surprise that Japanese collectors appreciated ACG’s odder pieces (like the Moc) a little more on their debut, but the work of Tinker Hatfield, Sergio Lozano, Tory Orzeck, Peter Fogg, Carl Blakeslee and Robert Mervar on the silhouettes is appreciated round these parts. Salutes to Nate VanHook for his work on ACG via Nike Sportswear too — seeing the Lunar Macleay on an inspiration board at Stone Island HQ in the new ‘INVENTORY’ proves that shoe made its mark in terms of innovation as well as nods to old Nike favourites.
Of course, there’s the “what if?” factor too. Geoff Hollister was set to launch Nike Aqua Gear (with an emphasis on boat activity) around the time ACG was launched — a watery Nike sub-range to work alongside the Aqua Sock. It could have generated some brilliantly lurid garments and further footwear, but sadly wasn’t to be. Later ACG releases made to work in and out of rivers and streams carry some Aqua Gear spirit, while the Sock stays classic.
Over the last few years an emphasis on retro has distracted us from some of Nike’s brilliantly polarizing ACG releases. The Tallac, debuted in 2003 was a classic piece of strange and 2009’s Zoom Ashiko was excellent too. This seasons fine Zoom Meriwether feels like the intelligent offspring of the former footwear. My buddy Frank the Butcher (not to be mistaken with Mike Reid’s wheeler-dealer) recently tweeted a picture of some black-on-black ACG boots that piqued my interest. I enjoy the Nike boot’s status as an inner city orientated release masquerading as an offroad design.
Nobody’s going up a mountain in Goadomes, but they stay classic — the mystery shoe carried a faint aura of the DC and Baltimore favourite, but minus the Frankenstein’s Monster factor. I love this Laced interview with Mr. Blakeslee about the genesis of that shoe, how it was a Timberland response and how Udi from Training Camp was involved. Frank’s boot had me losing my mind — GORE-TEX, a slightly Bakin shape (presumably built on the same last as the ACG Foamposite Bakin boot) and even an air of old personal favourites like the Max Uptempo were all in the mix. Except this looked to be built like a brick shithouse, The model is the Air Max Prime and it’s an expensive one at $200 (only $25 cheaper than the insane Superdome model was in 1992) and it’s available in spots like Eastbay now. It looks built to last, with that centre eyelet, carbon-style heel counter, swoosh and ‘ACG’ on the Max Air being particularly effective. I’m sure the majority will loathe it, but that just makes them more appealing.
This article in the April/May 1981 issue of ‘Backpacker’ was published shortly after the original Nike hiker ads with John Roskelley and crew ran, and discusses the rise of GORE-TEX, sneaker hybrids and a lighter breed of hiking shoe. It’s fun to see GORE-TEX treated as a flash-in-the-pan by some, but there’s some good material in there on how it was placed in performance product.
Then there’s the ACG and Nike Hiking marketing. Merging a rustic breed of beard-friendly gear with state-of-the-art technologies and a fair amount of whimsy that probably wouldn’t make it to publication in other divisions, some really smart W+K copywriting and design shines through in each of these ads. The Air Azona one (what’s Nike Outdoors though?) is particularly excellent in breaking down the ACG formula.