THE ORIGINAL NIKELAB

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The Air Trainer 1 is the shoe that really got me obsessed with sports footwear — i saw the in store displays at the Co-op department store in my hometown and was smitten from first touch. From Mac to Bo and beyond, it led to a fixation with the cross training category. It’s a style that even entered the high-end in recent years, with the Velcro strap and supportive sole concept present in shoes like this Dior creation. Recently, after years of false alarms, my eBay search for the elusive FT AT1 in my size was a success and it had me pondering why that release is still such an obscurity. While the ‘Air Max Zero’ partial remake of Tinker Hatfield’s early AM1 sketches from the mid 1980s sold well, Nike actually released one of its greatest retro projects ever 11 years earlier to a more hushed response.

The Air Trainer ‘Restoration Pack’ was led by a fresh update of the AT1 called the Zoom Trainer 1, a Tom Luedecke (now senior innovation manager and designer at Under Armour) creation that respectfully united the Zoom Haven and Air Trainer 1 design languages (it was reissued as the Zoom Tennis Trainer a couple of years later, minus the carbon fibre elements). The collection also included Zoom Haven (one of the most underrated Alpha Project designs ever) cross trainer in the AT1’s gym equipment themed colourway, the first ever reissue of the Air Trainer Low, plus one of the all-time greatest shoes that never was: the concept car shoe that was the Air Trainer FT.

The Air Trainer ‘First Take’ was a low-cut Air Trainer that was rejected early during the design process — hard to manufacture at the time, it’s a chunkier, more futuristic design than the eventual AT1 silhouette. For this project, somebody put the work in to make the FT a reality — more work than just altering the upper a little. The materials were excellent and it dropped in two makeups — the classic AT1 colours and a black and gum variation. Shortly afterwards, it vanished from the shelves.

I always felt that a line of projects finally realised from archive sketches across categories would have been amazing, but given the lack of hype around the FT, it’s understandable that it never ignited an entire imaginary retro line. Nike’s Zoom Air Jaq from 2005 came close, reinstating the scrapped name for the Raid from the early 1990s (in the era of shoe-related crime, the notion of being jacked was a little too near the knuckle), but that was more of a performance proposition than some dip into the vault. All we need is a shoe based on some of the strange 1986-era Safari sketches I’ve seen to complete a trilogy of Nike Air originals in a What If style.

Marketing-wise, the Restoration Pack was well handled — there were displays, brochures and a pretty fancy website. Between 2003 and 2005, Nike seemed to launch its original nikelab concept with a set of fancy Flash sites to showcase the Mayfly, Nike Free, Considered, plus a more literal concept car — the Nike One 2022 from 2004’s Gran Turismo 4. The sites are still alive, thanks to the krysanthemum wing of their creative agency keeping it in their web portfolio — the Restoration Pack experience’s computerised Tinker Hatfield and Jesse Leyva, plus laboured interaction, embody the era, but in that site there’s a great pre-YouTube set of videos of Leyva, Hatfield and Luedecke talking all things Air Trainer during a 2004 get together in Los Angeles. A lot of the cooler Nike digital outings have been culled to make for a more cohesive platform, so, like the shoes, this kind of content doesn’t crop up too often.

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