Co.Design

Are These Eames-Inspired Nikes The Worst Thing In The World? Point-Counterpoint

In which Co.Design senior writers Mark Wilson and John Brownlee debate the merits of an Eames-Nike mashup. Shit gets personal.

MARK: John. John. John. My colleague. My co-conspirator. My friend. I was planning to publish a story about this shoe on my own, calling it a design crime. A concept by Ora-Ïto, it’s a mashup between a pair of Nikes--like a Flyknit or something--and the iconic Eames 670 Lounge chair. Ïto calls his work an “homage” to the work of Ray and Charles Eames--a point I well understand, if velcroing a day-old dress sock onto the veneer of a 1970s suburban basement can be called an “homage” to anything.

And that’s when you intervened--with no lack of keyboard valor--“I would wear them,” you typed. I ignored you, of course, like one might ignore a small child--a small child who would grow up to buy, not one, but two knockoffs of the Eames 670 off of Craigslist, and then one day insist that those chairs would also make excellent athletic footwear. I can see the wheels spinning in your mind, but let me cut you off at the pass: No, Don Draper would never, ever wear them. And if by some fluke of AMC sponsorship he did, he’d certainly never let you wear them.

JOHN: Just for perspective: the man who wrote the above paragraphs is one who I've seen wear long pants with a pair of flip-flops. But I digress.

Nike Flyknits

It's funny, Mark, that you mention Flyknits, because that's a big part of why I like these. Nike is already on the forefront of making adventurous shoes out of seemingly crazy materials. Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the company turning a tuxedo suit label into a pair of basketball shoes, for god's sakes. The point is, these are in Nike's wheelhouse.

So what’s the problem? Why is it that when Tinker Hatfield pays Spider-Man to chug a gallon of Mountain Dew Code Red and then spooge his webbing all over the human foot that we all start passing out design awards, but the second a designer suggests that Nike might make a shoe out of, you know, one of the most trusted cobbling materials on Planet Earth, it's a step too far?

And if it's not the fact that it's made out of wood that you're objecting to, what is? Why is a design fit for the human ass not also fit for the foot?

MARK: Let me get a few things straight:

1. I love Flyknits. I love wood. And I love Mountain Dew Code Red (though I have some issues with high-fructose corn syrup subsidies). But yes, there really is a good reason that wood works better on your butt than your feet.

To backtrack, Flyknit is woven in variable levels of elasticity--that means, even though Flyknit is one continuous weave, it's made to conform to different parts of your foot with different levels of support. That’s ingenious. Wood is a bit flexible, and it’s definitely moldable, so it’s great for a chair. But it’s not rubber-level flexible, and it’s relatively hard to boot (yeah, I’m beating you in this debate while using puns). Ïto has placed a wood cuff right over your instep and a 2”x4” straight across the bottom of your foot. Can you imagine how painful it would be to walk around in that? You know, until it cracked?


But why am I even engaging with the materials debate? These things are uglier than Vibram FiveFingers worn by a person with three toes.

2. If you had my feet, you’d wear flip flops with a tuxedo to your own wedding.

Oh, and by “your wedding,” I don’t mean that casually beautiful affair in Cape Cod a few months back. I mean to your “next wedding.” Because when Brittany hears you’re planning on wearing these . . . god . . . I mean, maybe it’s for the best though. While she’s still young-ish.

JOHN: Like a man who has accidentally lit his own pants on fire after being told not to smoke in a bakery, you've made my own point for me, thanks. My biggest issue with these shoes isn't their design, it's the Nike logo on the side.

First of all, we know wood shoes work. How do we know they work? Because the Dutch have been kicking down windmills with wooden shoes for hundreds of years. As a material for making shoes, wood is cheap and resilient; it dries easily, it's easy to clean, and you won't get tetanus if you step on a nail while wearing it.

We know wood shoes work, but we rarely see them. And that's a shame, because just like leather, wood as a material for making shoes has integrity. It is true to itself, from the veneer to the grain. It has texture. It is clean. And it has history. It isn’t just a facade: It is true to itself, right on down through. Which is why I love these. There are so few materials with the same integrity as leather that you can actually make shoes from.

But it's that Nike symbol that is the problem. Nike would never make these. Nike is adventurous enough to try weird materials, but Nike makes athletic footwear. Wood just isn't resilient enough to fit their brand message: they make athletic shoes first, not fashion shoes. If Lebron hit the court wearing them, you're right, they'd turn into frag grenades, you'd have opposing players clawing at the maple shrapnel in their eyes, and it would be anarchy.

But for kickin' it in Malibu, being all pimp with Eames Demetrios? This design works. And if you call when we're chilling together, Mark, Demetrios is all going to be like: "If that's Mr. Flip-Flop, totally don't answer it. Let’s polish our veneers together.”

MARK: Okay. Your point is well taken. For “kicking down windmills” in a primitive era when the Dutch were pooping boerenkool stamppot in the streets, praying not to be smote by the gods with the plague, yes, their shoes were tops. I can’t argue with you there. And you’re right about another thing, too: The Nike logo doesn’t belong on these. Ïto is a notorious brand shyster who gets attention by mocking up designs an established company would never, ever, ever make. And unfortunately, just in writing this rebuttal, I’m giving Ïto exactly what he wants. “Look at me! I crossed a chair I’d never have the vision to design with a shoe line I’d never have the competence to invent!”

So I’m not sure you’ve won this little debate, but alongside all of humanity, we have both more than certainly lost it. By all means, you can have your Nike-Eames shoes when they’re never produced. Wear ‘em while sitting in one of your fake Eames chairs, Lebron Draper.

[h/t Dezeen]

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17 Comments

  • Coco Pazzo

    Form follows function? Maybe not so much, anymore. Guess these shoes may be popular with the Dutch, but I really don't think we will see Michael Jordan wearing them on the court.

  • Stephan Breuer

    These are cool u don't even want to let them sleep in your closet but expose them. Everyone seems to analyse those at a first degree level with a technical point of view it's quite sad. In my opinion they ennoble Nike a lot as they mix iconic design with legendary sport, what Nike would never have done better probably. It's a great route for the brand and I hope they will understand the message. People are so square these days...

  • crbswiss

    Everyone seems to be ignoring one aspect here; Nike makes sports shoes. Wood soles are stiff. Cycling shoes require stiff soles. Nike makes cycling shoes. I (and many others) would buy these in a second if they were viable cycling shoes.

  • Nike has come and gone from the cycling shoe market a couple of times, most recently with the termination of the Live Strong partnership. I suspect it'll be a while before we see them back as a result.

    A shame, because they had some interesting products that had some non-traditional industry thinking.

  • Michael Smythe

    The homage appears to be to the Eames plywood splints rather than the 670 Lounge chair. Good arguments can be a great design tool but the above seems too intent on smart-arse point-scoring to be of any creative value. I like the concept enough to want to try them for comfort.

  • I imagine wearing them would be about as comfortable as actually sitting in an Eames molded (plywood) chair for an extended period of time (hint, it's ok at first, but eventually sucks).

    Disclaimer: I miss my Eames Lounge and Ottoman that I lost in an ugly breakup (these shoes look more like that, actually).

  • jskunkcabbage

    Eech, that's what I get for clicking links. What a disgusting, pandering pile of words, like humanity is just one big arse for Ito to blow smoke up.

  • Marc Posch

    "My dream is to have people working on useless projects. These have the germ of new concepts." --Charles Eames

  • BTW, there is nothing odd about long trousers and flip-flops. Trousers and footwear serve distinctly different functions. Only someone who is blinkered by tradition or current fashion and stylistic conventions would not be able to see this functional distinction clearly. One can either attempt to creatively express the function of an object or intelligently deconstruct and comment on the creative process.

    It's ironic that John seems to be advocating an 'anything goes' attitude towards design, because in a sense he is right. Anything does go - however, there is a world of difference between the scribbles of a child and the considered, purposeful doodles of someone who has mastery of their medium.

  • I'm with you Mark, the other guy is lost in the sea of mediocrity. Yes it's OK to move beyond the boundary of functionality and ergonomics in design in order to comment on or expand the design vocabulary. However, this is not what is being attempted here. What we have here is nothing more than a hollow, banal, simplistic pastiche - a novelty to satisfy the boredom of the impatient consumer. This kind of design is so much more common nowadays where design has become unhinged from any 'real-world' concerns, and instead is simply something that provides the hooked, alienated consumer with their next 'fix'.