Nike has always been about creating the best possible circumstances for top performance. Mark Parker and his Portland-based sportswear mavericks know that the X factor, that final component needed for ultimate success, is the athlete and his or her body. Since its inception in 1964, Nike has been committed to supplying us with the best possible gear in order to maximise the chances of victory. As such Nike’s footwear and apparel is as much defined by function as form… If anything, the streamlined beauty of its many products is just an aesthetic bonus. Few Nike sub-lines showcase that mentality as well as ACG. The All Conditions Gear collection was officially launched in 1989 as an outdoors-focused brand, supplying amateur hikers and professional athletes with purpose-built trainers and clothes. Almost instantly the ACG line gained cult status among Nike heads. Often due to the piece’s characteristic designs, most notably the Air Moc (1994), Escape (1984) and Lava Dome (1981), many of them became collector’s pieces, as well as outdoor trail blazers.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise that NikeLab decided that the ACG line was due a revival in 2014. Cleverly, though, the NikeLab design team – lead by Sportswear Senior Design Director Matthew Millward – decided against taking the project down a retro route. Instead, having called in the services of Acronym founder Errolson Hugh, the new ACG line was given a distinctively modern and contemporary feel. “It’s not vintage but stealth and modern,” Millward explains, sitting in NikeLab’s 1948 space in east London. “There’s still the same vibe and aggression, but Mark wanted to take it away from the mountains and place it in the city. The old ACG was all about trekking up K2 and traveling in the Mojave desert, but this ACG is far removed from that…The city is a multifaceted metropolis, there’s so much going in terms of weather and that was the brief, that’s the angle.”
Moving the arena from the woods to the city centre, NikeLab ACG has given itself a set of new problems to solve, following completely new rules. No longer is it a mountain that needs to be conquered but metropolitan life in the 21st century. “The previous ACG was for a specific customer with a focused goal, an outdoors explorer,” Hugh says. “This ACG is for a broader range of people, it’s more varied in terms of your everyday activity – you can be on the subway, you can be a business man on a bike or a walking photographer but you’ll still need storage, warmth, mobility and protection.” The result, at least for the first holiday season, is a focused capsule collection of apparel and footwear, all in black. “The black directive came from Mark Parker; he wanted it to be stealth,” Hugh explains. “Black also reduces the clothes to be all about the fit and the silhouette. Culturally, it’s right at the moment as well.”
The collection was secretly unveiled last week in London, in typical larger-than-life manner. Nike took over the abandoned tube station in Aldwych, in central London. Having walked all the way down to the old train tracks, Millward and Hugh, accompanied by journalist and host for the day, Gary Warnett, all of a sudden stepped out from the shadows and presented the collection. Two jackets, a pair of trousers, a backpack and two pairs of trainers (NikeLab ACG Flyknit Chukka SFB and NikeLab ACG Lunarterra Arktos) stood on melting ice blocks. The jackets, one of which is a limited edition piece featuring graphics and an “exploded logo,” are perhaps the signature pieces of the collection. With extensive pockets and made out of a three-layer Gore-Tex fabric, it’s a 2-in-1 garment. It gives the wearer the possibility to take out or add a layer when needed. Its storm collar includes a deployable hood designed to maintain structural stability even in the fiercest wind conditions. The actual in store collection also features a sweatshirt and a T-shirt.
Nike staple fabrics, such as Tech Fleece, Dri-FIT Wool and Flyknit, are incorporated into ACG’s knife sharp take on comfortable mobility. “I lived in many bigger cities, including New York, so it wasn’t like I had to make it up. And Errolson travels a lot himself. We’ve been in those situations ourselves, where you’ll be hot and dry or wet and cold, and in need of comfortable footwear,” Millward says. “The difference between designing ACG compared to any other performance-driven line is that they are focused on one activity. In the city that’s different. We have to equate for so many different situations, life really,” Hugh fills in. Movement, for a city dweller as well as top notch athletes, is key. “It’s about urban sports utility, this is a modern approach to problem solving.”
For Errolson Hugh, the ratio between style and substance is irrelevant; they are intertwined and dependent on each other: “You can’t divorce form from function, they are intrinsically linked. It’s a holistic point of view. Even if you just focused on the form, it would still have a function.” The key to ACG, when moving in the city, is to master the transition from exterior to interior, environmental changes in micro climates – being over heated in the subway or too cold outside. But, as Hugh acknowledges, there’s also a socio-political side to the project: “Yes, there are cultural aspects as well. This ACG collection moves and operate among people so the code and context of your dress is important – communication is paramount.”
In the early planning stages Mark Parker kept using the word “stealth” when talking to Millward and Hugh but, in the context of the new ACG line, what does the word mean to the design duo? “Stealth has many facets, it means undercover and sharp… It’s also cool and calculated,” Hugh says, while Millward adds: “For me the word means minimal, sharp and sophisticated.” With stealth as a one-word outline for the new line, ACG fits the brief perfectly.