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RE-Fresh: Nike Vandal (1984)

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Produced by: Dan Hwang
Written by: Jesse Carr

For our second installment of RE-Fresh, a bi-weekly segment that aims to give well-deserved attention to sneakers of yesteryear, we look at a special edition of the Nike Vandal. Many other famous Nike sneakers that were born within a few years of the Vandal’s release, the Dunk (1986) and the Air Force 1(1983) for instance, have enjoyed what must be hundreds of colorways and re-interpretations since they were released. The Vandal, however, hasn’t received the same number of retros, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t enjoyed some special editions. In 2003, Geoff Mcfetridge, who had a stint as the art director of the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal magazine, crafted what became one of the most famous interpretations of the Nike Vandal which offered the user some unique customizing options which were inherent in the design.

Before looking the McFetridge model, however, let’s take a look at the historical context of the first sneaker to feature a nylon upper. After the seminal release of the Blazer in 1972, Nike began to make waves in the Basketball sneaker market. And while the 70s drew to a close, Nike slowly started to introduce new models, including the Bruin, the All Court, and the Franchise, each of which featured the new branding phenomenon–the Swoosh. As the 80s rolled in, the Dynasty the Legend were born, both of which were high-top models that began to appear on the feet of prominent N.B.A. and college ballers. The Georgetown Hoyas rocked the Legend, and even had grey undershirts with the sneaker printed on the sleeve–which gave the league notice of on-court marketing. The 80s were a time of expression on the hardwood, and the subsequent Nike models that released, including the Vandal, were a part of a trend towards self-expression that extended to the stoops and corners of cities everywhere.


In 1983, one year before the birth of the Vandal, Nike’s most well-known technical advancement–air–hit the midsoles of what may be Nike’s most famous basketball shoe, the Air Force 1. The strap that secured the top of the sneaker quickly made the sneaker an urban staple, and the push towards sneakers designed with the streets in mind was in full force. The Vandal Supreme came along one year later, and it also featured the heel strap, but this shoe had a little more aesthetic gusto than the Air Force 1. Instead of rocking the standard leather on the upper, the Vandal Supreme turned heads with a full nylon upper. With quilted panels of nylon that had an unmistakable sheen, the sneaker quickly became a favorite of breakdancing crews, who matched the shoes with parachute pants. It didn’t take long for these street dance crew favorites to pop up in the Rock Steady Crew’s “Uprock” music video in the grey and navy colorway, and after it did, amateur B-Boys snapped up their own pairs of Vandals.

With the growing popularity of the Bronx-born phenomenon called hip-hop, people across the world were exposed to the multi-faceted art form through the releases of Beat Street and Breakin in 1984, the same year the Vandal was released, all of which quickly vamped up the interest in the art form. The design of the Vandal had every intention of being worn on the asphalt with the same ease as its proclaimed function of being a basketball shoe. Skateboarders also quickly gravitated towards the sneaker as its street popularity increased. Nike was beginning to broaden their domination of the athletic shoe market, and one major component of that growth was the company’s ability to reach an urban audience. So two years before Run DMC released “My adidas,” Nike was already gaining a strong hip-hop presence, which it still enjoys today.

Our featured model of the Vandal Supreme is one designed by LA-based artist Geoff McFetridge. His model featured a special tear-away material that allowed the wearer to customize his own sneaker. Two colorways were released, one a royal blue and the other an olive green, both of which were pinstriped to add some intrigue when the artistic pattern below the material was revealed. In our 2003 video with Fresh Meat, we visually chronicled the breakdown of the sneakers, showing the layers and the intricate patterns beneath the surface, but in a way most average wearers wouldn’t attempt. The video shows industrial machinery aiding and accelerating the breakdown of the sneakers. Eventually a band saw makes its way through the sneakers, after which the viewer gets a look at the sneaker in pieces. In another more meticulous experiment, an exact-o knife reveals the details of the hidden artwork beneath the tear-away material before meeting it’s eventual end by way of the band saw. The McFetridge is still a highly-respected model, not just because of the technical innovation of the hidden layers, but also because it showed a growing trend toward customization that consumers were clamoring for. Nike ID had debuted in 1999, and the concept was gaining steam with each year that passed, and by 2003, sneaker fans had their own custom colorways and initials on their kicks. As we continue to highlight models that had a stong presence when they released, we will continue to surround the sneakers with details that help paint a picture of the life and times that surrounded them.