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The Dunk Legacy: the legend of the Nike Dunk

The skate shoe that has changed forever the sneaker culture

The Dunk Legacy: the legend of the Nike Dunk The skate shoe that has changed forever the sneaker culture

As one of the most legendary sneaker, the Nike Dunk holds within a fascinating story, full of twists, memorable collaborations, dark moments and success. For many is the skateboard shoe par excellence, and as well the one that erased boundaries between subculture and mainstream, that changed the sneaker game forever.

To the Nike Dunk, and to its history and precious and rare silhouettes, Special Sneaker Club and LacedUp Community dedicate a 3 days exhibition, opening with a talk about the evolution of the sneaker. Marco Rizzi, collector, and expert on sneaker culture guided us through the history of this iconic creation. 

The Nike SB Dunk came on the market in 1985, the same year as the legendary Air Jordan 1. Behind the two silhouettes stand the same creator, Peter Moore who has been one of the best designers of the brand from Beaverton, and the features in common with Jordan are many. 

The story goes that the name of the project initially was "College Color High", since it was a model made only for College players, and revolving around the use of the colors from NCAA's teams connected with Nike. The name Dunk came alive later when Peter Moore and his team were working on the design. 

The first Dunk campaign' slogan was Be True To Your School, a statement that clearly recalls basketball players and their fans.

Besides being created from the same mind, the common fact that bonds the Air Jordan 1 and Dunk is the connection to the skate culture. If the Air Jordan got into the skate culture by chance, when Stacy Peralta, one of the legendary Z Boys, uses it for his movie about the skate culture (due to the Vans crisis, which was unable to deliver shoes for the movie), Dunks were adopted by skaters because of their technical characteristics, which made them perfect for the board. That's where the strength of Dunks came into play: the Dunks have a strong grip on the board and ground, they are comfy and they ease the movement, but most of all they don't look like skateboard shoes, till that moment skate shoes were big, chunky, and heavy, where the clean and catchy aesthetic of the Dunks made them more elegant and pleasant to the eye when on the board. 

Gradually Nike realized that the shoes that they were producing for skaters were not used by the skaters and that they preferred the Dunks, so the giant of sportswear decides to invest all on the Dunk, trying to make it more comfortable for the board's demands. In 2001 Nike hires 4 of the best skaters of the moment: Reese Forbes, Gino Ianucci, Richard Mulder and Danny Supa. Not only the four skaters brought alive special editions of the shoe, with the color blocking that made the Dunk iconic, but they helped Nike to introduce technical innovations thought only for skating, like a thicker sole to hold falls and impacts, and the famous big tongue. 

Absurdly enough the Dunk is more recognized now as a skate shoe than 15/20 years ago. Till the mid-'00s many skaters saw the Nike SB as an outsider into a world that didn't belong, and entered to exploit a new market, for this reason, they rejected the Nike SB, even though many professionals signed up with Nike.

One of the reasons for the Dunk's success is that from the beginning it had a specific public, even the retailers were carefully chosen. Nike understood that the best place to make the shoe available was the skate shops, where the sneakers, born through collaboration with the four skaters, were being sold as a limited edition. Other skaters are the main buyers of these sneakers, that used them on the board without caring to keep the shoe clean or intact.
The collaborations with the skate shops transformed the Dunk from a simple skate shoe to a fashion object, desired and wanted from skaters and not. Nike SB first collaborates with Zoo York and Chocolate, one of the most iconic shops of the era, but in 2002 dropped out the first collab with Supreme, which at the time was still a skate shop in NYC. The Nike Dunk SB Low Supreme Black Cement is the first non-Jordan Nike to be characterized by an "elephant" print, and thanks to this sneaker the perception of the Dunk changed and going over the skateboarding boundaries. 

From this model, it starts to define the first differences between skaters and sneakerheads. If the first one still uses it on the skateboard, like in the official videos of Nike SB, at the same time the sneakerheads make the Dunk a cult object, starting that obsession of having the newest or rarest model available.

I don't think that the passion for skate and sneakers cannot go well together, it is a matter of priority. I've never been a skater but the skate world has always caught my attention for many different reasons, I remember that more than ten years ago I watched for the first time "Nothing but the truth" video of Nike SB in a shop around my area. For as much as my friends loved the shoes as well, they liked the tricks more, while I was only looking at the Dunks and suffering at the same time for how they were getting damaged. 

The drop of a particular pair of Dunks has been the birth of sneaker culture which we are all used today, ultra-limited editions, camp-out, and mostly, reselling. We are in 2005 and the sneaker under the lens is the Nike Dunk SB Low Staple "NYC Pigeon", designed by Jeff Staple for the line 'City Pack' and dedicated to New York City, representing the animal that most populate the streets of the Big Apple. Of these shoes only 150 pairs are being made, 30 for each NYC stores where you could buy them (Rival, Supreme, Recon, KCDC and Reed Space). Only in Jeff's store in Manhattan the sneaker are numbered black on the inside, so to make the model even more exclusive. What happened the day of the release had never happened before: more than 150 people were outside the Reed Space, armed with knives, baseball bats, and machetes, ready to do anything to get the Dunks contained in the precious pink box, used by Nike from 2004 to 2006, for a retail price of $300. It started here the Sneaker Frenzy, as the New York Post titled the next day, the excitement for the new release, the hype for each drop, and the long ques that we are used today. 

The Dunk SB is the first sneaker that guaranteed resellers a high profit since the beginning, thanks to the fast-rising audience interested in the sneaker, and the fact that the audience was young, and the invention of platform such as eBay and social network later did the rest of the job.

After this peak of popularity, it starts a lucky moment for the Nike SB Dunk, which becomes the canvas for a dozen different collaborations. Following are the Stussy edition, with Diamond Supply Co. in the iconic Tiffany color edition, and it continues the adventure with Supreme, the success continues with the Red Lobster SB Dunk Low in the Red Lobster edition, as an homage of the city of Boston, a grail, like the Dunks born from the union with the skate shop Concepts

Today might look banal, but for a period the most known Dunks were the one with the original college colors, it was enough o have an embroidered logo on the hill or an exotic material to actually make the differrence. The 'Golden Era" of Nike SB has then given to us some of the most incredible ones like the original two Supreme Low, Dunkle, Micheal Lau, too many to list them all. 

Rizzi told us particularly about the Dunk Low iD made in 2005 by Stash and Futura 2000, two New York's legendary writers. 

The peculiarity of these Dunks is that on the heel is embroidered the logo of Ferrovie Dello Stato!! If it a recall to the Italian graffiti culture or a less poetic coincidence, the Dunk Low FS is still one of my favorite of all.

After the boom, the Dunk encounters a decrease in popularity around the first decade of the 2010s, due to a return of interest in the Air Jordan 1 and also because of the new development in technologies and silhouettes. In 2013 there's a timid come-back, with the Dunk SB Dunk Concord, inspired by the colorway of the homonymous Jordan. The release doesn't attire as it used to, the Pigeon seems long gone. 

The real year of the come-back for Dunk is probably 2019. Not only thanks to the collab with Parra but mostly because of the return of the Pigeon, and as well with Off-White x Nike SB Low designed by Virgil Abloh and Futura and the most recent one with Supreme x Nike SB Dunk Low.

In the last years, the thirties' birthday of Dunk and the fifteenth birthday of Nike SB have passed without anyone noticing them, two lost occasions in my opinion. one of the last trends that surprised me most is the boom of the Air Jordan 1, an iconic model for sure, with clean lines that made its way between chinky shoes and model inspired by the end of the 90s. This, for me, has been an important signal for Nike and the return of the Dunks. It seems like, for different reasons compared to the past, the young generation is falling in love with the model, the upcoming months are going to be interesting for Nike and fans.

From Special Sneaker Club the exhibition "Wall of Fame - The Dunk Legacy” runs through the most important stages of the evolution of this legendary sneaker, with the rarest, precious and nowhere to be found Dunks.

The hardest one to find was the "London" by Fragment Design, it took my four years to find a pair in my size, at a good price, and above all, in Europe. I ended up buying them from a Swiss guy in almost a smuggling action. Now I laugh thinking about this episode, but at the time I was terrified. 

Mark your calendar from September 19 to 21 at  Special Sneaker Club, in viale Gian Galeazzo, 31 Milan. The exhibition will be officially unveiled tonight with a talk with the likes of Marco Rizzi, Attilio FuocolentoMike Frutto and Luca Santeramo