TOM SACHS: THE ODDBALL CONTEMPORARY ARTIST BEHIND NIKECraft
Designers throughout the ages have often referred to clothing as a form of wearable art. In the same way that a conventional artist might create a painting or sculpture, a designer might create his or her clothes. To some extent, both mediums require a certain amount of hand-craftsmanship and attention to detail. Art and fashion are both creative outlets and have more in common than one might think. The concept of wearable art has been commonplace in the high fashion industry, with designers like Alexander McQueen and Rei Kawakubo leading the charge.
As for streetwear, the two sectors never seemed to cross paths until recent years. For me, one of the most interesting collaborations in recent years was Nike’s work with Tom Sachs. Tom Sachs is a contemporary American artist who lives and works in New York City. His work touches on both the disposable nature of consumer culture and the fetishizing of it in the modern world. Sachs describes his work as “bricolage,” the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that are available to an artist. Essentially, it’s a fancy French word for DIY. Employing a variety of materials, including bronze, plywood, automotive paint and glue, Sachs reconstructs or repurposes luxurious or iconic brands and objects from history and pop culture, for example, in his first major solo show, he combined fashion and violence, creating objects such as the Hermès Hand Grenade and Tiffany Glock, both of which were made with Hermès and Tiffany packaging.
An ongoing theme in Sachs’ work in outer space. His obsession with space culminated with his Space Program in 2007 wherein the artist created a life-size replica of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module from plywood and steel.
Tom Sachs also collaborated with probably my favourite artist of all time, Frank Ocean. When Frank released Endless in 2016, one of the artist’s signature boom boxes made its way into Ocean’s visual album. In an interview with Pitchfork, Sachs also explained that he collaborated with Frank on his Boys Don’t Cry zine and was even acknowledged with a “special thanks.”
In 2012, Nike announced that they would be collaborating with Sachs to create an artisanal capsule collection, NIKECraft. The collection, which was inspired by Sachs’ work with experts at NASA, consisted of various items of clothing; the most famous of all the Mars Yard shoe. This project served as further experimentation for Sachs who made use of materials that had never been used in sportswear, taken from automotive airbags, mainsails for boats and the spacesuit itself.
In 2018, yet another model of the Mars Yard Shoe was created, but this time with a completely different design and purpose. The Mars Yard Overshoe, or March Yard, as it was nicknamed was meant to serve as footwear for unfavourable weather —he basically just wanted to ensure that his feet would remain dry in the winter, hence the shoe’s unorthodox knit collar and the nylon membrane that surrounds it. It acts as an upgrade from the previous silhouette with a host of industrial details. Most notably, the shoe is enclosed in a waterproof covering, complete with adjustable pull tabs at the top for an adjustable fit.
What's most interesting about Sachs’ work for Nike is the fact that, just like in his sculptures, the process is the most important aspect. He is known for his transparent approach to his work—every element of his process is on display in the product, which is never quite finished. He creates a shoe that is almost deconstructed, removing all elements that are meant to beautify it and keeping only the functional aspects. Sachs’s works are emphatically process-oriented, an expression of the artist’s DIY spirit, divulging even the flaws of his complex and labour-intensive projects. He carries this same spirit into his work with Nike and it will be interesting to see what else NIKECraft will come up with in the future.