Nike Cortez: building an icon

  nike_cortez_bwBorn with an athletic heart, the Cortez is known as the only sneaker to become a best-seller for two different shoe companies. It was originally built as a prototype from the best bits of two existing models from the Japanese company Onitsuka Tiger by Bill Bowerman, legendary Oregon track coach and jogging guru who was trying to build a light and durable running shoe. After years of designing and experimenting, Bowerman finalized the image of the Cortez in 1968 and Onitsuka Tiger found the hybrid creation an splendid idea so they commercially released the shoe for the 1968 Mexico Olympics becoming an instant hit.

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On board as a technical advisor for an Oregon-based sports gear company named Blue Ribbon Sports, an official distributer of Onitsuka’s innovative shoes run by one of Bowerman’s former pupil, Phil Knight, Bowerman himself was aware of the commercial possibilities his design had. Eventually the marriage between Onitsuka and Blue Ribbon Sports soured and, whilst distributing Tiger, Knight and Bowerman started to develop their own line of sneakers called Nike, being the Cortez their first design and their most successful product. Officially released as Nike Cortez for the 1972 Munich Olympics, the demand for the shoe grew exponentially nearly immediately after the public noticed the shoe was being used by the 1972 Olympic Athletes. The sales went through the roof reaching $800,000 during its first year of commercial life and the rest is sneakers, sports and streetwear history.

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Over the past 20 years the Nike Cortez has continuously been redesigned. From a running shoe it turns to be an element of urban culture with a strong visual identity and its own codes. The black and white Cortez, for example, is commonly worn by latino gangs favouring the shoe’s comfort and simple design. It also had a deep impact on contemporary hip hop and graffiti streetwear, amongst many other popular fashion trends it had been adapted to. It keeps, though, the main feature that made Bowerman’s original design a big success: thick and long-lasting herringbone rubber outer sole with a full-length midsole manufactured from dual-density foam (the first ever shoe to be released with this characteristic). The combination of these two soles reduces leg fatigue, raises the heel of the shoe to reduce Achilles tendon strains and provides maximum comfort. It’s appearance has not changed a lot though, from the original leather material turning to nylon and suede to reduce shoe’s weight leading to its final transformations so far. Despite the use of new tech fabrics the shoe has kept its iconic simple and minimalistic outer design with the Nike Swoosh across the sides of the shoe. Continuously improving to keep the shoe’s strong identity and character, the Nike Cortez is in the middle of a streetwear comeback becoming one of the on-trend vintage designs you are likely to see this summer in every festival, club or beach party.

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by Marcos F Gallego