I’ve been obsessed with basketball shoes since I was a kid, despite being completely incompetent on a court. I spent hours staring at new additions to Champion and Olympus Sports, but I assumed I might grow out of it — I certainly never expected Nike to ever come calling to contribute to a project based around them. Over the last couple of years I’ve had the privilege of doing just that. To coincide with the Basketball World Cup in Spain I got to work with London’s own Magdi Fernandes, Nike and the kind contribution of some serious collectors to create an exhibition that, selfishly, featured some of my favourite shoes ever. Taken down from a collection of 240+ shoes and after making those emails cry, we took it down to 86 shoes to coincide with the whole Search for the Baddest/Come out in Force campaign in Madrid. Nike and Rosie Lees created six custom cabinets (here’s a better shot of one) to deliver an overview of Nike Basketball, Air Force and Air Jordan from 1972 to the present day. Getting the Franchise, Air Force STS, Alpha Force Low and the 1996 Python AF1 alongside the crowdpleasers in there was indulgence on my part, but there just aren’t enough exhibitions with those things in them these days. I don’t think this one is going to go on tour, so I’ll hunt some more professional shots, but in the meantime, here’s some hastily shot iPhone snaps of some of my favourite shoes. Shouts to Nike for getting me involved.
There’s plenty of little corners of footwear cultdom that haven’t been flogged to death yet because nobody actually knows why they ever existed in the first place. The Nike Escape collection is one of those unturned stones. Like Foot Locker’s Limited Edition collection from the early 1990s — a line that paralleled Escape in its executions — these shoes were just there in selected stockists one day. Premium materials and muted colours on some of the best shoes of the time, back when most colourways were just there rather than relying on specific concepts. The real name of this collection was actually a fancier-sounding Escape by Nike when the project debuted in late 1988. Two Air Force IIIs (as seen in the video for Straighten It Out by Pete Rock & CL Smooth), two Air Cross Trainer Lows, the proto ACG Lahar and Son of Lava Dome, an Air Windrunner, plus the Street Shark turf shoe all got a new appearance for the launch and with an RRP of $125 on those IIIs, they were obviously aiming at a moneyed consumer.
I’m not entirely sure what Escape by Nike was all about — it doesn’t seem to connect to 1984’s Escape trail runner. Instead, this felt more like a deliberate attempt to target consumers looking to wear Nike designs for fashion rather than athletic reasons — the materials seem more luxurious and the colours were targeted at everyday wear. With the Air Safari a year prior being an early experiment in hitting the leisure wear audience with that merger of Windrunner and Air Max, Escape looks like a follow-up. With All Conditions Gear just created, maybe there was a connection there of some sort. In many ways it seems to be the grandaddy of today’s relentless rollouts of themed makeups, except back then even Nike seemed nervous about describing what they were trying to do. The White/Chocolate Brown-Black colour combination (note the lack of Escape tongue labels on the samples shown on the page above) would find its way onto several shoes, defining the look of this project and being part of some more recent JD Sports exclusives as well as some excellent reissues from the mid 2000s — the Air Force 1s, Air Force IIs and Air Trainer SCs could have easily made this page if it was a catalogue from either side of 1988.
Escape didn’t end with these eight shoes either. From what I’ve seen, there were at least two more Windrunners (including the lesser-seen one in this image with the colour scheme seen on AM93s, Huaraches and AM90s), a very rare and incredibly simple Air Max Light (see below) with a matching Son of Lava Dome and — unless I dreamt it — a Greco wrestling shoe. All additions to the 1988-1990 Escape output list are welcome in the comments below.