A few years after Staple’s Pigeon began selling for thousands and around the time Nike ramped up its limited lines, luxury companies began to offer similar products. Though many of the best current designer sneakers resemble high-tech runners, the decade started in retro, as Saint Laurent produced high and low tops of a slimmed-down, 80s-leather Jordan 1 silhouette, Gucci returned its Tennis Classic to production, and Prada reimagined a Nike aqua sock. Since then the best designer sneakers, and there have been plenty, ring as emotionally true and direct as any golden-era Nike. Their design risks seem less driven by sales than exploration, or fun, while being tethered to athletics, which has both muddied the waters and broken the rules. Classic sneaker silhouettes have become, in a decade, so familiar as to look outworn, and habits unthinkable years ago, like wearing fakes and send-ups of fakes—or reps, through platforms like WeChat and stores like TaoBao—are now both avant and acceptable. And with sportswear sneakers going runway and designer sneakers recalling mid-90s Eastbay fodder, bets seem to be off. The peanut butter is with the chocolate! There’s a Margiela — a Tabi — Pump Fury!
But even if the goalposts have been moved out, it’s still a business. And so if overt homages from the past, like 2002’s BapeSta, and the debates they engendered, seem quaint, it’s because the stakes are higher: the sneaker resale market is in the mega-billions. And so the motifs in the WL, designed to be resold, are too close for comfort. The shoe, from across the room, looks identical to its Nike; the colors and toebox don’t differ, and the swoosh’s shape is only slightly modified. Whether it’s a homage or deceptive is based on your reading, and if you think a sneaker is a design piece or a thing to be sold: but the stories and lives of both shoes have more to do now with StockX or Grailed than a brick-and-mortar store. It’s not that Lotas reproduced a Nike, but the stories behind it.
This past year, as the Dunk began rolling out in its original college colors, Nike began putting early-2000s SB colors on the calendar, and while no Pigeon has been announced, it very well might.. But it wouldn’t make sense to let a Staple-approved shoe that he originally designed for Nike hit a resale market as an original, when it isn’t, ahead of a re-release, or with the actual original still on shelves. The rare Dunks that were a gateway drug over a decade ago are now just a date on the calendar, but there’s competition: luxury shoes, collaborations, bespoke fakes, the handful of not-exactly-Dunks with not-exactly-swooshes littering Instagram by designers other than Lotas, vintage. The sneaker market Nike helped create has grown exponentially, but fractured. And while it’s still mostly theirs, there’s no pressure anymore for sneakerheads to stick to Nike.
Lotas’ official reinterpretations never reached StockX, though a number are trading on Grailed in the high hundreds and low thousands. For now, it seems as if orders for his Pigeons won’t be fulfilled: a recent post explains that customers who ordered the shoes can opt for a refund. “We tried to reach an early resolution with Nike and basically complied with everything they wanted, but we believe they are making unnecessary demands in order to intimidate other small businesses from exercising their creative freedom in the future,” the caption reads. Or, he says, they can receive the shoes in the accompanying image: a slightly further tweaked take on the Dunk silhouette, hopefully far enough from Nike’s to avoid another lawsuit. “We believe NIKE’s claims, such as supposedly owning color combinations and functional, run-of-the-mill design elements, hurt everyone,” Lotas writes, “if we don’t push back.”