Interview – Former NSW Designer Marc Dolce
Basketball was the overall theme during our visit to the Sneakerball in Madrid. After all, it was world championships on that very weekend. There was a basketball tournament in connection to Nike’s #searchforthebaddest campaign, and we had the opportunity to interview Marc Dolce, one of the most interesting designers at NSW, before he switched to adidas. In fact, it was probably the last interview he gave in his position at Nike. Here’s what Marc had to say about the status quo in design and sneaker culture.
Can you briefly introduce yourself, Marc? What exactly do you do at Nike?
Sure, so my name is Marc Dolce, Iʻm the global basketball and training design director for Nike Sportswear. I’ve been there for nine years and part of my job is leading the team to envision a new space for Nike Sportswear and also to focus on iconic models such as Air Force 1s, Dunks and Blazers, Retro Huaraches, Flight Huaraches, Foamposites … and now we also get to work with Kobe, LeBron and KD.
So you’re reworking their performance models for the lifestyle arena, correct?
Yes, we take the performance model but then “re-veneer” it. We take his game shoe, which is done in the most innovative materials, but then do it in cork or suede. What we do is a juxtaposition, we’re showing what they would wear off court, almost creating “podium shoes” for them when they get off the bus and walk into the stadium, or when they get on the red carpet.
Basketball sneakers, especially AF1s on the street obviously have a long history. What do you attribute this crossover appeal to?
I think the key is just the versatility. The AF1 is very well proportioned and balanced. For me, it’s so interesting to see how sneakers have been showing up on runways, the red carpet and in other high-end situations, where sneakers weren’t approved of in the past. I think it’s the materials, the details and fabrication we were doing on them that are now allowing people to see them in different ways. The innovations we’ve done have also become style, just look at Flywire or Flyknit. Those are really innovative products, but they are also about style and how you can wear them.
One of your bigger jobs in the past was the redesign of the Air Force 1 in a Lunar version, which must have been an intimidating job. What are your memories of that design experience?
I remember when we first started the projects for the Lunar Force 1, many people said that, you shouldn’t and couldn’t do it. And so I ended up going through thirty to forty innovations of concepts before going to the final one, balancing what’s right on the shoe and how to make it a bit modern. All the trial and error that we went through, we learned from that, we learned from that development process. I would say that, and being able to now introduce the second version of the Air Force 1 Lunar. I’m really proud of where we are with that model now.
Have there been cases where you designed something that was almost too radical or too ahead of its time?
That happens quite often. Nike designed and developed some amazing technologies and the future is a constant thing for us. To see the consumer take the journey with us is challenging. Some are ready and some take a little more time, but I see that the consumer is excited about what kind of innovation weʻre doing and looking forward to seeing what’s next from us.
Do you think some of the newer models from today can ever reach the status of the retros?
Absolutely! We don’t see that now, but I believe they will retro and re-release a lot of the models that were using now. In 20 years we’ll look back at Flyknit and think about how far we’ve come since then. 16 year-old kids will remember how they were growing up with these shoes around.
Speaking of growing up, you were earlier speaking about your life in Brooklyn and how a lot of trends were born there. Now everything is a lot more global, but do you think that some cities are still ahead of others?
I think social media has kind of leveled the playing field, but I believe that there are still cities that are known for something. Like Baltimore is famous for the AF1, each city has a little bit of “ownership” for something.
Marc Dolce discussing design with London’s Gary Warnett at Nike
Do you see a difference between American and European sneaker culture?
Yeah I feel like in America it’s more about basketball and in Europe about joggers and trainers. But I feel like there’s a crossover happening where people want what the other country has. This summer I wore a lot of joggers and so I kind of feel like it was a trend. But seasonality always plays very much into how you dress.
How do you approach your outfit in the morning?
Usually I dress from the shoes up; that’s the first thing. I wake up and I think about what shoes I’m going to wear and build my outfit around that.
Marc, thanks for the interview!