Gary Warnett explores the history
of Nike's most elusive line.
In 2002, new shoe design wasn’t particularly inspirational. It was a spring-loaded time of shiny panels and overt vehicular inspiration. What was good however, was very good. 2000’s quiet drop of the Air Woven — a truly strange weave construction on the Super Fly racing shoe platform — caused queues and hefty resell with those in the know, while the Air Presto was a more heavily promoted release that united connoisseurs and mainstream consumers. Nostalgia was what really reigned. Retro footwear and the gradual growth of the collector market was more of a story — the Air Max 90 was back on shelves in familiar colours, Air Max 1s got tiny swooshes at the toe and we could grab Air Max 95s in some interesting makeups. You could even grab an Italian-made version of your favourites.
Hiroshi Fujiwara’s contribution to this thing of ours is well documented, even if he displays an admirable aversion to nostalgia. From launching GOODENOUGH — an important post-Stüssy line — to the music, to his role in joining the dots in Ura-Harajuku, he’s an undeniable influence across the industry. Fujiwara had always been a co-signer of footwear oddities in magazine articles for publications like Men’s Non-No and Asayan. That current Nike, Inc. CEO Mark Parker (then Vice President of Consumer Product Marketing) and Fujiwara’s paths would cross was inevitable, with Parker inspired by the obsessive, open-minded Japanese sneaker audience.
Fujiwara would work with Nike on colourways for the Air Woven and get his own (fiendishly difficult to acquire without a Tokyo connect) Monotone Pack collection in 2001 as part of the CO.JP (Concept Japan) collection that was deeply limited. Comprised of late 1990s favourites like the Air Terra Humara, Air Zoom Seismic and Air Max 120, it was an early example of the spirit that drove HTM the following year.
There was a third party too: back in the early 2000s, Tinker Hatfield wasn’t as familiar a name (despite being undeniably memorable) as he is now. For fans who’d coveted Air Jordan IIIs, Air Max, Air Mowabbs, Air Safaris and Air Revolutions, his position as the architect of some masterpieces was well-known, but despite occasional appearances in magazine articles and TV documentaries, he was still a marginal figure to the majority.
"Nothing says early 2000s sneaker makeups like a contrast stitch."
After coining HTM as a working title for Hiroshi, Tinker and Mark’s concept car-like collection, Fujiwara’s shorthand codename ended up sticking. With the first collection arriving in 2002, most of us missed them. Now, you get a realtime update of a drop on your iPhone, but for those picking up magazines like Boon at London’s Japan Centre, by the time we knew, they were gone. All you could do was thumb through that issue of Men’s Non-No with Fujiwara’s A Little Knowledge column premiering them in the knowledge that you were going to have to hand over some serious Yahoo or eBay coin.
Even at the start, there was no strict aesthetic — black coach leather on individually numbered AF1s and stretchy rainbow strands on Air Wovens. Believe it or not, there was once a time when a luxury take on an Air Force 1 seemed startlingly different and nothing says early 2000s sneaker makeups like a contrast stitch. Later that year they even got their own special packaging, with stackable, slide-out boxes.
Future HTM drops were sporadic and infrequent. It wasn’t just about familiar models — they created modifications too. The Air Woven Boot turned the shoe into a laced chukka, a Footscape Woven united two weird silhouettes, while the Air Presto Roam and Air Moc Mid heightened two oddball favourites. Fujiwara’s love of the Court Force (as worn by Eric Dressen) as a skate shoe led to its inclusion, while a full-Zoom Clarks Wallabee homage, keeping it marsupial with the Macropus name pushed the envelope. 2004’s Sock Dart remains one of the most perplexing of the series — a Tinker-helmed Presto prototype that was released as HTM without ever being advertised as such.
Late 2009’s sudden launch of the HTM2 project caught an audience used to leaks and previews unaware. Adding another Mark to the team with frequent Tinker collaborator Mark Smith on board, the ultra limited, numbered Runboot TZ was brilliantly divisive with its Free 7.0 sole, stretch fabric and spray-on swoosh. Then things got quiet again.
“Even at the start, there was no strict aesthetic"
The preview of what was to come wasn’t in any magazine or on a blog — you’d have to be watching the feet of Somalian distance runner Abdihakem Abdirahman on January 14th, 2012 during an Olympic qualifier marathon run intently to see the blue hues of the Flyknit Racer. What was once a lifestyle proposition had, in a typically unexpected twist, entered the performance arena. The following month, the first set of Flyknit releases were announced, with the HTM collection being the first shoes of their kind to go on sale, paving the way for a franchise worth over a billion dollars at time of writing. The Lunar Flyknit Trainer+ has, with uncharacteristic restraint, remained a strictly HTM offering throughout the years, while the Racer has become something of a phenomenon.
Two years later HTM would launch the first low-top Flyknit iteration of Kobe Bryant’s ninth shoe during design week in Milan, demonstrating the series’ power to still arrive unannounced and send fans and resellers alike sprinting to doors that were stocking them. In 2016, the trio’s work has deliberately exited the limited edition world to become a big budget campaign, though the union of a 360 sole and the upper from 1972’s Boston — an important breakthrough from Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman and legendary designer Jeff Johnson that helped redefine cushioning, use of nylon and seamless comfort — on Fujiwara’s contribution sits perfectly within the unorthodox lineage of this pioneering merger of think tank and collaboration.
Whether another dormant period beckons, or whether it becomes a mainstream proposition remains unknown. If you’ve followed HTM since the start, you’ll know that assumption is pointless.
"2004’s Sock Dart remains one of the most perplexing of the series"
Under the HTM guise, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker helped to fuel the global sneaker craze whilst pushing style, form, function and wearability to the limits on all the products they worked on. The latest triptych from the three features Hiroshi's LD-Zero, Tinker's Air Max 90 Superfly and Mark Parker's Air Max MP Ultra; each featuring totally unique detailing throughout.
Nike's latest HTM collection will release in-store at 11:00AM and online at 12:00pm, Saturday 26th March 2016.