Nic Galway On Designing Adidas' New NMD Sneaker
Text: Jessica Schiffer
The sneaker market is so oversaturated these days that it takes something truly novel to grab our attention. A classic brand introducing something new, when it could easily rely on old standbys, is one of those moments, so when adidas Originals launched the NMD sneaker last month at the Lexington Armory in New York, we paid attention. The massive film screens displaying bustling cities and their so-called urban nomads made it hard not to, as did the knowledge that Nic Galway, adidas Originals’ Vice President of Global Design, was behind the shoe.
Galway, who's been with the brand for 16 years after starting his career in automotive design, is the man responsible for hits like the Pure BOOST and the Y-3 Qasa, as well as a key player in Kanye West’s recent collaboration with the brand. He’s revered in the industry for his swift ability to align adidas Originals’ past with their present and future, a reality that seems to have reached its apex in the NMD shoe. By fusing elements from the brand’s previous styles—the Micro Pacer and the Rising Star, to be exact—with today’s engineering capabilities, Galway has created a sneaker encompassing the best of both worlds. A shock-resistant sole and flexible Primeknit upper make it worthy of your workouts, while the simple color-blocked foundation lends itself to daily wear. We chat with Galway, below, to find out more about his process and inspiration.
VMAN What inspired such an elaborate presentation of the shoe? What message were you trying to get across?
NG The last 12 months have been an amazing time for adidas Originals. There is a real confidence and momentum building in the brand and that’s also reflected in the product we are creating. I have always seen adidas as a pioneering brand – both in the products we make but also in the way we present ourselves and the way we work with partners – and as Creative Director it’s my responsibility to carry on this legacy. We saw the NMD presentation as the perfect opportunity to celebrate where we are as a brand right now, and showcase how adidas Originals continues to think outside of the expectations of the sneaker industry.
VMAN You’ve said it takes more than a year to bring a shoe to market. How much time did you spend conceptualizing this one?
NG The creative process for NMD was relatively quick. I worked closely with a very talented group of designers within my team who share the same mindset. The concept phase for NMD was around four to five weeks, however the creative approach from which it was born was developed over a number of seasons. Building on the concept of using our collective memory as a source of design inspiration and our past informing our future, I feel we are now at the point where the team as a whole shares this vision which is a great thing and will result in some great new products.
VMAN These are very high concept shoes. How do you approach balancing your aesthetic preferences with functionality when designing?
NG My approach to design is very hands on. I like to explore product in three dimensions, I often make 3-D design studies rather than sketching. The good thing about this approach is that you really get to explore the construction of the shoe and how it works rather than just the aesthetic. By going through this process you really consider how far you can push the boundaries of the design and gain a deeper understanding of the experience the finished product will bring. This is something I’ve always found very interesting, creatively, how you can use new constructions or materials to inform the aesthetic and challenge the status quo.
With the NMD the design is visually striking – from a distance it is instantly identifiable as adidas. What I am really proud of with the NMD however is the way the team ensured that every component is reduced and has a functional role to play. There is no one element that can be removed without changing the function of the shoe. For me, that’s the great thing about my role within adidas Originals – we have the greatest archive in the industry, but at the same time have access to the best innovations of today such as BOOST and Primeknit. It’s a great platform for creating new product.
VMAN The slip-on-like quality of the shoe suggests that the laces are merely a design choice. Are laces obsolete, or perhaps immune to improvement?
NG It's a good question and a challenge that many have taken on in the past. From a lifestyle perspective, you could for sure wear the NMD without the laces, but what I have found through working on many sock constructions is that lacing offers a dynamic fit that allows you to adjust the volume without over-restraining the foot. For higher impact sports you need a more static fit to hold the foot, there have been many attempts to better the lace over the years, yet it is so functional and effective that I don’t see them becoming obsolete anytime soon.
Beyond function, however, I also feel that laces bring context to sneakers. Much like the collective memory of the past, they are one of the visual codes that help us digest the new. When you create futuristic or challenging wearable products, these codes become important cultural references that can bring a sense of familiarity to the design, which I think is important.
VMAN Were there any initial elements that didn’t make the final design?
NG Yes, a couple of our earlier concepts referenced more closely some of the iconic designs from the archive. Visually these were very strong, however we wanted this to be a completely new sneaker – somehow familiar from a distance, yet completely new when you get close up. That was the reason we decided to reference more so the creative aesthetic of adidas during the mid ‘80s rather than speak to one particular model.
VMAN Is there another shoe from the Adidas archives you have your sights set on?
NG There are so many shoes in our archives that I find inspiring, but what excites me most are the stories behind the products and understanding the context of the time in which they were created. I always view the archive as a tool rather than a museum, and encourage my designers to do so also. Every product in there was innovative in its time and I am always discussing with the team how we can tell those stories in new ways. What is important to me is that we don’t get set on one path. NMD is very future thinking and utilizes the latest innovation and materials. I like to think how we can balance this approach, with Futurecraft for example we took a different path and looked at how we could use a traditional material such as leather in a new way through innovative manufacturing.
VMAN Based on the Futurecraft series, do you envision a time when bespoke footwear will be the norm?
NG In the time I have been designing footwear I have seen amazing progressions in how we can create product, especially within 3D printing. I really feel we are only just getting started here and that in 10-15 years we will look back on now and see that it was only the beginning. These advancements open up the opportunity of bespoke footwear. Futurecraft is our opportunity to explore how we create product for the future by partnering with experts in fields outside of the industry. What I also see in the future however is that with advancements in manufacturing there will also be a desire for craftsmanship and the human touch. This may take on a different form from what we know today but I have always felt that the future doesn’t necessarily need to look ‘futuristic’.
VMAN Kanye West has referred to you as “the number one designer”, which is a sentiment many share. How do you feel about such a claim? And where’s there to go from here?
NG Well, of course it's a huge compliment coming from Kanye and means a lot on a personal level. I have worked very closely with Kanye over the past two years and his approach is equally challenging and inspiring. I learn a lot through working with him and to be given open access to Kanye’s world and see how focused and visionary he is, is something that motivates me and makes me want to challenge myself and my creative team.
But the most important thing to me is that I love what I do and the opportunities my role brings. I still bring the same energy every day as I did when I joined adidas back in 1999. As to where I go from here: I still see so much opportunity within design, but also widening my creative approach beyond product. The last 18 months in my new role of Creative Director of adidas Originals has allowed me to extend my creative reach across all areas of the brand such as the NMD presentation and the way we approach communication. I see this as an exciting new chapter.
VMAN What inspires you to keep creating and reimagining classic items?
NG I have always been fascinated by history and brands with strong heritage. It's not so much the products that these brands created, but how they have been adopted by culture and re-appropriated by each new generation. What I find unique about adidas is that we have this amazing archive but at the same time we still innovate to the very highest level today and it is this pioneering approach that I find so inspiring. adidas Originals isn’t a retro brand, it’s a cultural brand and by utilizing our archive as a living resource rather than a museum, there is so much that can be explored.