“The Presto was really all about taking a shoe and stripping it down to it’s most essential components and I think that philosophy is what appeals to me the most.”
After a fifteen-year hiatus Nike’s game changing Presto silhouette has made a triumphant return to the sneaker scene. Tobie Hatfield, the younger sibling of Tinker Hatfield, was the architect of XXXS – XXXL sizing system as well as the other groundbreaking design elements that it embodied. These are a few of the reasons why this work of art garnered it’s cult like following. One such passionate fan is Melbourne native Leon Witherow AKA Prestology. Since a young age he’s been an avid Nike head starting out with the Air Max’ and then eventually unearthing his passion for the Nike Air Presto’s. Now in 2015 the SLEM graduate and now Nike designer has amassed a 100 plus collection of various incarnations of the runner. So crepjunkie.com recently caught up with him to gain an insight in to his life, sneaker design and of course the Prestos.
CJ: Can you give me a bit of history on yourself and how you got in to trainers?
LW: I was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. I come from a long line of German architects, illustrators, painters and graphic designers. I fell in love with Nike from a very young age. My neighbours, who were all skaters, were always wearing a new pair of Dunks or Air Maxes and so from about 6 years old I was starting to notice what people were wearing on their feet. My family couldn’t really afford Nikes for a while and so I actually got my first pair when I was around 12; a pair of red and white Delta Force mids. Then as the years went on I became involved in the massive street art community in Melbourne and Nike has a very strong cultural influence in that community so it really started to escalate from their. I would be down at the factory outlets every weekend trying to find new pairs of rare Air Max 90’s and the like.
CJ: The Reebok Classic and Air Max are usually looked upon as trainers that are firmly embedded in UK trainer culture, what trainers in your opinion would you say are firmly engrained in Australian trainer culture?
LW: “The Air Max 90 and the Air Max Plus are two models that immediately spring to mind when I think of shoes that have deep cultural roots in Australia; the Air Max Plus especially. For a kid like me growing up, having a nice pair of Air Max 90’s- especially the Infrareds- was almost a rite of passage. Then the Air Max Plus hit the spotlight largely due to the fact that it’s higher price point made it sort of a status symbol. Think of the cultural roots that the Air Max 95 has the UK and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how the Air Max Plus and 90 were/are viewed in Australia.”
CJ: You were studying a Masters in Footwear Innovation at the SLEM Footwear Institute; can you tell me about that learning experience and how you feel it it prepared you for your current role at Nike?
LW: SLEM’s approach to education is unlike any other school I have ever encountered, in that you aren’t really a student. You are a footwear designer doing real-world projects with real-world implications in an educational environment. I don’t think any other school can offer that. When you design a shoe, you can’t just do a sketch on paper or some line art and hand it off to a factory. There are so many variables, factors and details that need to be sorted during the whole design and manufacturing process. SLEM teaches you how to deal with those factors by allowing you to do real design projects for brands all over the world. For me there is no better learning tool than being able to experience the ‘real world’ instead of just reading from text books and doing theoretical assignments. My time at SLEM prepared me for the realities of the footwear design industry and, to be honest, gave me a big advantage over other students looking for an internship too. To be able to actually visit the factories in China where Nike manufactures their Jordan line, or visiting a leather tannery in rural Italy that produces leather for some of the most luxurious brands in the world- these are the sorts of experiences that I don’t think you can find in conventional educational systems.”
CJ: I know every sneakerhead has a particular silhouette that sparked their initial interest in trainers and it’s plain to see that in your case it was the Nike Air presto, so tell me what was it about this silhouette that initially drew you to it?
LW: “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was about the Presto that first sparked my interest. I’ve always been drawn to things that are left of field; things that challenge convention. I guess that was the initial appeal of the Presto for me- the fact that it looked completely different from every other shoe on the wall. Then when I tried it on for the first time I realized just how comfortable it was and how revolutionary of a design it was.”
CJ: Personally as a collector I am big in the philosophy or story behind a trainer, can you tell me what it was in the philosophy and story behind the Presto that drew you to it?
LW: “I love the fact that Nike took a risk with this shoe. As I said earlier it looked and felt completely unlike anything at the time. In my opinion it was created to intentionally challenge convention and generate bigger conversations about the future direction of footwear. That’s part of why I love Nike with all my heart; their willingness to take calculated risks in the name of progress. The Presto was really all about taking a shoe and stripping it down to it’s most essential components and I think that philosophy is what appeals to me the most. Later on down the track I learned about the revolutionary way in which the Presto was marketed and distributed and that really inspired me to. It was the first time in history that a sportswear brand had tried to break in to the high fashion game- to blur the lines between performance and fashion was something completely revolutionary back then even though we seem to take that notion for granted now. It’s an ongoing adventure though. Every day I learn something new about the shoe and it keeps the fire inside me well alight.”
CJ: For those unfamiliar with the Prestos and its history can you break down the cultural shift that this trainer caused when it first launched?
LW: “Well, my only wish is that I was a little older when the Presto launched so that I could have given you a more accurate picture of what impact this shoe had upon its launch. All I will say is that Nike had a dream of taking this shoe beyond the realms of footwear. They wanted this shoe to have a place in footwear culture, street culture, art culture, music culture, fitness culture; it was the shoe for everybody. Over the course of the shoes launch and relaunches during the early 2000’s, Nike went to great lengths to make this shoe a sort of pop culture icon in a way. Thanks to a series of incredible marketing campaigns which people still remember vividly to this day, the Presto became a household name- not just from a footwear perspective but from a cultural perspective. If we zoom in purely on the footwear side, the Presto changed the way that the consumer viewed the idea of ‘fit’. Thanks to the ‘t-shirt for your feet’ fit system, the consumer was introduced to an entirely new level of personalized fit and comfort. It also introduced the consumer to an entirely new aesthetic for footwear and, while there have been suggestions that the shoe was too forward-thinking for it’s time, there is no doubt that the sleek, ‘deconstructed’ style of the shoe created a massive cultural shift that served to shape the future of footwear and continues to do so to this day.”
CJ: If you could pick your top 3 grail Presto’s what would they be?
LW: “My all-time number one would definitely be the Niketown Honolulu X Sole Collector collab pair released back in 2005. I hunted for those for almost 7 years and it was like every Christmas and Birthday wrapped in to one when I found them. For me they represent everything good that comes from the footwear culture. The second pair is the Fragment Design ‘Hello Kitty’ set which I unfortunately DO NOT have in my collection yet. These shoes are my white whales and I will not quit until I have the whole set in my collection. In recent months I have missed out on buying them and, while it’s frustrating, it only helps to fuel the fire. The third pair would be the Eric Clapton signature edition from his 2001 World Tour. This pair was designed, worn and signed by the rock god Eric Clapton and then auctioned off for Charity many years ago. I managed to get them after many years of hunting and a brutal Ebay bidding war.”
CJ: We know that you were in to Air Max’s before you got in to presto’s, what was the determining factor that made you switch models?
LW: “I guess it’s the fact that I’ve always been naturally drawn to things that a different or left-of-field. I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf and so I was drawn to the Presto because for me it seemed like a bit of a lone wolf in the footwear game. At that point, in 2008/2009, nobody was really wearing Prestos much any more but absolutely everyone was wearing Air Maxes, so I took a chance and gave the Presto a shot and never looked back after that. It looked and felt different to anything on the shelves and that’s what drew it to me.”
CJ: Being a Nike employee, isn’t hunting down some of those elusive grails ( a la Hello Kitty Presto’s) be an easier task?
LW: Most people assume that it is easier, but trust me when I say that it has not made the job of tracking down rare pairs any easier. I’ve been able to learn more about the shoe as an employee of Nike given that I have been able to speak to some of the people who originally worked on the project and who continued to work on it over the years, but it definitely hasn’t made the the grail hunting any easier unfortunately. I will say that my time at Nike has taught me to be much more inquisitive and proactive than I was before. Being surrounded by all these creative people who have so much knowledge to share with a young bloke like me has fueled my passion for the Presto even further and has inspired me to dig even harder in search for those rare pairs.”
CJ: Bruce Kilgore, Tobie and Tinker Hatfield are some of the most revered sneaker designers who each had their own individual approaches to new designs be it telling a story or making a statement, what would you say is your approach to trainer design?
LW: “While it sounds a bit cliche’, I am still a huge fan of the ‘form follows function’ idea; letting the function or purpose of a shoe help dictate the physical form and aesthetic. I think it’s way too easy to design a shoe that looks good but then fails from a functionality perspective. I prefer to let the technology and/or function of the shoe reach out and speak to the consumer in some way instead of the shoe becoming purely an exercise in aesthetics and decorating. If you can achieve a balance between form and function, such as the Presto did in my opinion, then you’ve really struck gold. I’m also a big believer in obsessing the details. I think the details can really make or break the shoe. We as consumers are subconsciously drawn to the little details that help define the form and function of a shoe and, while we may not realize it at first, I think there is something innate in everyone that draws us to the details of the shoe and ultimately decides whether we like it or not. I guess you could say my approach is a bit old-school. Even though I am young and very new to the industry, I’ve had the honor of being mentored by some extremely skilled and experienced people; designers, makers, developers and engineers who have been in the game for decades. Despite being in the digital age, there is nothing more satisfying to me than sitting down with a sketchbook and drawing some shoes or getting in to a workshop and making a prototype by hand.”
CJ: What is it like working with every sneaker heads dream brand, I’m sure the creative minds you encounter must be immense, what’s been some of your highlight encounters?
LW: “Actually it’s funny you should ask that because next week i’m meeting one of my idols, Mike Friton. He’s considered a bit of a Nike original- running for the University of Oregon while simultaneously helping Bill Bowerman develop the future of footwear in the ‘Bowerman Lab’. He later went on to become a senior innovator in the Nike innovation kitchen and now consults from his own personal business. He had a hand in some of the most iconic shoes and innovations in Nikes history, including the Air Woven and the Presto. I’ll be participating in a footwear innovation workshop at my old school, SLEM. Without getting too sentimental I can honestly say that every day is a highlight for me because I get to work with and meet some of the most knowledgeable, passionate and skilled people I could ever hope to work with. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to be able to design footwear for Nike and so being within those hallowed walls and being able to learn from people who have contributed so much to the footwear industry makes me feel a bit like Charlie Bucket when he went in to Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory. I still one day dream of meeting the team who designed the Presto but I’m worried I’ll go full fanboy-mode on them”.
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