SPIRIDON-DADA: A TRIBUTE TO A CULT CLASSIC

zoom spiridon 1997

I meant to up this here yesterday, but the gloom of being too slow and old with the keyboard to buy the Zoom Spiridon when it rereleased the other day dampened my spirit. Going forward, I might post more shoe-nerd bits here in this vein, though the cult of reposting and my own laziness might stop me doing that.

There’s something about the Zoom Spiridon that two solid reissues hasn’t dampened.

Released in 1997, promoted by Michael Johnson, and named after Greek runner Spyridon Louis — winner of the first modern-day Olympic marathon in 1896 — it’s a lightweight training model and a fan favourite from a golden age of design. It wasn’t the first Nike shoe to carry that name either — around 1984, there was a gold swoosh racing shoe called the Spiridon in the line that was followed by the Spiridon Gold a few years later. The Zoom Spiridon had sequels too that followed its mesh and responsive cushioning formula — 2003’s Zoom Spiridon (a great looking shoe) and 2005’s Spiridon Plus, both using a caged Zoom technology. However, while it has its fans, I can’t get behind that mutant Zoom Don basketball remix from 2010.

I’m not denying the shoe’s versatility though — even patent leather worked well on a Courir France-only release. On that topic, can somebody in the comments here tell me why the mid 2000s makeover by Paris’s Opium crew got scrapped?

This was a shoe from the small swoosh era when single branding just wasn’t enough. Looking through 1997’s releases, it’s clear that several shoes are related. Before the blockbuster Mercurial the following year, the Air GX design was a flagship football boot and it bears a lot of stylistic similarities with the Spiridon, down to that glossy swoosh (its sequel from 1998, worn by the likes of Teddy Sheringham added a silver, shiny one that was very Spiridon-esque) — they were even showcased alongside each other. The Air Max 97 felt like it was a sibling of the Spiridon too.

That would be the input of a designer called Christian Tresser who worked on every shoe in the above paragraph. Tresser’s name crops up occasionally in Nike materials, but I feel that his work hasn’t been spotlighted collectively in recent years. While every shoe has a wide cast of characters that bring it to life (hence the many, many names on connected patents) from designers, to directors, to PLMs and engineers, someone needs to take a lead. We can thank him for the form that the Zoom Spiridon took.

Tresser is still creating, residing in the Portland area and working as a freelance designer with various brands. Having played football at a national level, his shoe-design career began at Reebok using that pitch experience, working on football and running designs. Looking back at the Sidewinder boot worn by Ryan Giggs, Tresser’s design language is visible. For over a decade (until 2012) he was with adidas as a senior footwear designer, working on boots like the F50, plus a ton of cycling, basketball and football models, and helping bring Crazylight, Crazyquick and Adizero to market. Having worked on both the Mercurial and the Predator category, his boot experience alone warrants an article of its own.

But this blog entry is about his Nike output. Tresser was with Nike from 1996 to 1997 as lead footwear designer and in that short time, he left his mark with a footprint in some of the best shoes of the 1990s. For all the bold looks, the classics of that era were built on innovations — 360-degrees of reflectivity, full-length air and hidden lacing were some breakthroughs that were integral to the Air Max 97’s look, while the all mesh upper of the Zoom Spiridon was a groundbreaker.

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Original patent drawings for the Zoom Spiridon

Christian Tresser kindly took the time out to answer a couple of my fanboy Zoom Spiridon questions.

Me: What was the original brief for the Air Zoom Spiridon? Was it meant to be an upgrade of the Alpha that came out the following year? I always thought there were similarities between the sole units, but the Alpha’s upper seemed more conventional…

Christian: I honestly don’t recall what the actual brief said. However, the shoe was meant to be a light weight, low to the ground, serious runner’s training shoe that incorporated the new Air Zoom cushioning technology. The Alpha was one of the first shoes that I designed at Nike. The challenge was with that outsole technology, and how to create a visual language on the midsole that would be visible. It’s visual problem was that the technology was only visible from the bottom, unlike an airbag that was always visible from the side wall of the midsole. So it was decided that painting the side walls would be the answer, indicating/highlighting the bottom technology. It wasn’t the perfect solution, but that’s what it was. Eventually that shoe would come across my desk again in the form of what would be known as the Spiridon. It was determined that the tooling would be a carry over, and the upper was to be updated. That’s not always what you want when you start a new design as it tends to shackle the designer, but therein lies the challenge. If I had the go ahead to design a new tooling, I would have made it a lot cleaner, without all of the wavy lines.

Was the Air Zoom Spiridon design inspired by anything beyond footwear?

It’s a well-known thing at Nike that the footwear designer’s ideas have a story or an inspiration tied to them. For me, the new Spiridon inspiration was somewhat unusual in the sense that it wasn’t tied to any particular object, like a car for example or something from nature. I was really into collecting exciting materials and/or using combinations of materials. The reality was, I was inspired by the materials for this Spiridon. I sold them a materials story as opposed to the typical inspirational story — that was a first. I’ve always pushed my design ideas to stand out, stand alone and defy convention from a performance and visual stand point.

How much trial and error went into the mesh upper concept? I’d never seen anything like those tougher mesh panels on the toe before. It almost felt like a mesh denim.

The trial and error actually came before I even presented the concept in drawing form. I’m a true believer of getting your hands dirty, working out concepts in the sample room and learning about the shoe making process knowing it is the heart that’s creating a great shoe design. It’s great to have rendering skills, but the realty is that those great concepts may look great on paper/computer, but at some point it needs to take that giant leap into shoe form and that’s where an understanding of shoe making can really push a design into a whole new innovation.

Did the need for it to be light and resilient make the design process tougher? It felt racer weight but was meant for training purposes. That seemed really new at the time.

Not at all. Making a shoe lighter does involve a deeper look and understanding into how a shoe goes together and also, all of its pieces. It’s like putting it under a microscope and tearing it down. In many ways the Spiridon was a first of its kind. As far as I know it was the first all mesh shoe ever done, in addition to its cushioning technology.

I was happy to hear that you were lead designer on both the AM97 and Spiridon because they always seemed like siblings to me aesthetically — did you design both around the same time, or did one come before the next in terms of sketching and sampling?

The funny thing was that Spiridon would actually be the older brother of the Air Max 97. It really set the stage for that shoe. The Air Max 97 that I designed is a story in its own right.

Did Zoom Air give you more room to play as a designer, with that whole low-profile look that Zoom Air allowed? With say, an Air Max, it always seemed like the shoe was built around the technology.

I wouldn’t say it gave me more room to play as I was held back only because the tooling was a carry over. But with me designing the Spiridon the way I did, the Air Max 97 wouldn’t be the shoe that it is. Those two shoes are so closely tied together in their DNA for sure.

The branding on the Spiridon has always leapt out at me — that shiny swoosh and mini forefoot swoosh seemed so different and reminded me of the GX football boot’s branding in some ways, which was another Zoom classic. Was that intentional?

You don’t miss much! The Air GX soccer boot swoosh was really the reason the Spiridon’s swoosh is similar as it was designed prior to the Spiridon. Those swooshes were something I wanted to change. I love the details on a shoe. Many of the Nike shoes were using simple embroidery. I wanted that swoosh to stand out from everything else, plain and simple! It was just another way of setting my designs apart from everything else. The cool thing was that Nike supported me in doing that — they let me run with my creativity and I loved it. That’s how it should always be for designers.

1984spiridonracing

Nike Spiridon racing shoe from around 1984

1987spiridongold

Spiridon Gold from around 1986

1997spiridon

Zoom Spiridon from 1997

gxbootpromo1997

Air GX football boot from 1997, marketed alongside the Spiridon

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Air Max 97

gxII1998

Air GX II football boot from 1998

zoomspiridon2003

Zoom Spiridon from 2003

spiridonplus2005

Zoom Spiridon Plus from 2005