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Virgil Abloh’s new book ‘ICONS’ goes deep on his game-changing Nike collab

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The TASCHEN tome traces the partnership from its very beginnings, offering unique insight into the defining moment in sneaker culture

It’s no hyperbole to say that Virgil Abloh had a defining role in shaping the course of fashion across the course of the last decade. Alongside the likes of Demna Gvasalia and Kim Jones, the Off-White designer ushered in a new era for the industry, as streetwear infiltrated runways and redefined the meaning of luxury. 

Away from fashion week, and Abloh’s work with Nike also contributed to the transformation of the sneaker landscape. Originally teaming up with the sportswear giant in 2017 for a remixed, red-plastic-tagged reimagining of Nike’s most recognisable styles, “The Ten” collection became one of the biggest collaborative collections in sneaker history. Made up of reworked Air Jordans, VaporMaxes, and Blazers, the capsule was certainly one of the most hyped, and helped cement the sneaker as a legitimate resident of the realms of high fashion and art. 

It’s this collaboration, alongside Abloh’s continuing work with Nike in the ensuing three years, that is being celebrated in a new book released this month. Titled ICONS, the hefty coffee table tome gives us a behind-the-scenes look into all things Off-White x Nike, and charts the creation of “The Ten” collection. Published by TASCHEN, other releases like the “Track & Field” series are also on the agenda.

Clocking in at over 352 pages, the book traces the creative history of these designs, taking the reader through the process for each model from concept to prototype to finished product. Aiming to give a holistic overview of the collaboration, ICONS also includes original text messages between Abloh and Nike designers as well as raw material from the Nike archives, all contextualised within the history of sneaker culture.

“Virgil Abloh elevates sneakers into the realm of visual culture where they become cultural objects,” says Zak Kyes, founder of London-based studio Zak Group which partnered with Abloh for the design of the book. Kyes, who shares a background in architecture with Abloh, was introduced to the designer through mutual friends and the two first started talking about the book at the end of 2018. 

“Books, like sneakers, are meticulously crafted objects. People often don’t realise the amount of teamwork and dedication that goes into making a book,” he says. “When books are published they seem to come out of nowhere, fully-formed. ICONS was two years in the making and involved countless WhatsApp conversations, meetings, mock-ups, and layouts. Culture moves fast, but making a book takes time.” 

Taking cues from the DIY industrial aesthetic of “The Ten” collection, the book’s design also draws inspiration from references including the 1972 art exhibition catalogue Documenta 5 which Kyes calls a dictionary of the 20th century. “It was always clear to us that ICONS should aspire to be the Documenta of sneakers,” he says. This influence reveals itself in the second half of the book. With the opening chapter centring the visual history of Abloh’s collections, ICONS shifts its focus to creating a lexicon that defines the key people, places, objects, and ideas that shaped the project. 

In its archiving of the Off-White x Nike collections, ICONS ultimately encapsulates the wider impact of Abloh’s work within fashion, his way of taking classic forms, deconstructing them, and turning them on their heads. There is one image in the book which symbolises this and which Kyes says crystallised the entire project for him. It’s a prototype of a Jordan 1, a shoe that sits at the very pinnacle of Nike’s signature designs, that has been deconstructed by Abloh with an X-Acto knife. “When we found that prototype I instantly got it,” says Kyes. “You could see it was a breakthrough.”

ICONS retails for £60 and is available here.