Credit: Nike

Sportswear is no longer exclusive to the track and introducing a new era of performance attire to the fashion sphere is Virgil Abloh. His early beginnings saw the architect-cum-designer work with style pioneers such as Kanye West, and in recent years, the American creative has gone out to etch his own position into the industry. From fronting his own label, Off-White and most recently, the male conglomerate of Louis Vuitton, Abloh now adds performance-wear to his extensive resumé.

Just as Abloh had begun to mould his own future in fashion, Nike was leading the charge for women and in the latest collaboration to make its way from the global powerhouse, the design-duo have ushered in a new women’s-only collection. Inspired by “running, the culture of running and athletes that have inspired this”, the Portland-based company has introduced ‘Nike c/o Virgil Abloh “Athlete in Progress”‘.

Following its debut in Paris last September as part of the Off-White SS/19 runway show, the forthcoming collection has come to fruition as it readies the release on June 27. Embodying the power of self-belief and unbreakable confidence, the pieces are a considered balance between running technology and modern street style.

Joining the Parisian-based designer, Jarret Reynolds, Senior Design Director of Apparel Special Products at Nike has tapped his own 17 years of experience to bring the historic and advanced DNA of the swoosh brand to the collection. GRAZIA caught up with the Nike native for insight into working with Virgil Abloh, the collaborative line and what we can expect in this new wave of activewear.

GRAZIA: Particularly in the last five years we’ve seen a spike in brand-to-brand collaborations. How has the Off-White name added to the sporting powerhouse?

“…we seek out people, partners, brands that offer up new insights. Always; always. It’s not just about making something cool or making something limited.”

Jarret Reynolds: “Whether it’s Virgil or … J. Balvin, we seek out people, partners, brands that offer up new insights. Always; always. It’s not just about making something cool or making something limited. It’s always about learning and it has to be reciprocal and that’s no different with Virgil. Virgil has a very specific working style and he stretches our design vernacular … Virgil takes a new look at that and then is more about additive, adding an extra drop cord, added the extra word “KEEP BACK” on the back and a bunch of graphics all over the place. So it’s a really good melding of the two brands and maybe something we wouldn’t do on our own.”

GRAZIA: What inspired the collaborative capsule?

JR: “Runners. In every which way honestly. If you saw Virgil’s Spring/Summer 2019 runway show, you had Dinas [Asher Smith] and English Gardener and a bunch of awesome athletes walking the show. So he was inspired by some amazing athletes – we’re both inspired by running, performance gear and he’s kind of a nerd for this kind of stuff as we are. In a 360-degree view, running, the culture of running and athletes that have inspired this.”

GRAZIA: Can you describe the design process when creating the collection, particularly when working with Virgil?

JR: “We’ve found a really good, almost formula when working with Virgil, where there’s very formulaic parts and others its free-form. We’ll throw around the ideas like, ‘What about this or what about that’, and somehow the idea of women’s running came about … Internally myself and my team meet with the real running team and hear about new technologies, new silhouettes, athlete insights and then we gather a bunch of [information] and we meet with Virgil. The first time we got together to take off this project, there was an impromptu photoshoot which included running gear, weird mock-ups that somebody made and also including a jacket that one of our graphic designers was wearing, which Virgil was like, ‘Hey, can I borrow that jacket?’. [He] put it onto a model, took a photo, cropped it and that was the inspiration for one of the jackets actually. It’s always fun and it’s always interesting working with Virgil.”

GRAZIA: How would you describe the collaboration in three words?

“…without performance we lose our authenticity…”

JR: “Performance for one. I think, without performance we lose our authenticity, so it was really important … a big portion of the collection is real performance running gear. Graphic; there are some really beautiful graphics that are coming along with this that Virgil is known for at OFF-WHITE. And third, celebration. If you think of this as a celebration of a running company… Without running we’re kind of nothing and equally so, it’s a celebration of women as this is a women’s-only collection.”

GRAZIA: Why a women’s-only collection?

JR: “There’s a couple of reasons why. One, is it’s unexpected. When you think, what are Nike and Virgil going to do next, I don’t think the first thing people would think would be a women’s performance running collection … We want to keep people excited, I think [for] Virgil, to show that he’s not just doing one thing. So that was one reason. Why not a women’s-only collection? We celebrate women every day…”

GRAZIA: Virgil and Nike a continuously blurring the lines between culture and sport. How can customers incorporate these new styles into their everyday look?

JR: “What Nike is best at is making real performance gear and we make real performance, new technologies; new innovations always lead to new aesthetics and that aesthetic drives new fashion even. So on one hand you can wear this to go running in and it will work – it’s real. On the other hand and we’re really conscious of this, that people are going to wear this in a way that it was not intended for – so on the street, in a club, cooking dinner, whatever it is – and that equally excites me to see somebody that takes something that we created for one use and have it appropriated for something else, that’s really exciting. I would say, do whatever you want, wear it however you want.”

GRAZIA: What sort of apparel technology are we seeing in this new wave of activewear?

JR: “In this collection there’s dri-fit, there’s moisture wicking, there’s compression, there’s all the elements and details that you would expect from a running collection and inherent to help you perform. On the horizon, a lot of the stuff that we’re looking at right now is sustainable and innovative technologies.”

GRAZIA: There is often lots of secrecy surrounding these sorts of partnerships? Why is this an integral part of the process?

JR: “A couple of reasons. I’d say one, we work really hard on making really great product. And it really is the entire package, context is key. To see something out of context can sometimes ruin it so we stress over the dumbest little minutia on the product in the same way we do that for the photoshoot. For the photoshoot of Caster [Semenya] wearing the collection, it’s really powerful, it’s way more powerful seeing it that way than seeing a leaked shot that’s crumpled up, so that’s one reason; to show it off in the way it deserves to be shown. The other reason for the secrecy is to allow an open dialogue on collaborative design process. So if something is not quite finished, allowing it to be finished so you wouldn’t see a work-in-progress. So people wouldn’t talk about it, that’s important, it makes everyone feel a bit more comfortable.”

GRAZIA: Are there other special projects with Virgil we can look forward to?

“Stay tuned…”

The Nike c/o Virgil Abloh “Athlete in Progress” collection releases globally on June 27. Selected styles are available at SNEAKERBOY from May 30, and SNEAKERBOY and Supply from June 24.