Who Counterfeits the Counterfeiters?

The Nike x Louis Vuitton Air Force 1s finally connect Vancouver, Canal Street, & Paris.

Now that Nike has gone ahead and secured the patent bag for the Air Jordan 1, one thing we’re likely to see less of are bootleg reinterpretations of recognizable silhouettes…at least from upstart streetwear brands. One industry that’s gonna keep making high-end homages to classic sport silhouettes? Luxury, duh!

Louis Vuitton’s Rivoli Sneaker has clearly taken its design cues from the Air Jordan 1 and Air Force 1 alike, making a minimal, Swoosh-less version in highs, mids, and lows often adorned with the graphic codes of the house, like the original Damier checkerboard and the more prominent LV monogram.

And then you know, Virgil Abloh decided to reveal an official capsule collection of Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1s during his Spring/Summer 2022 fashion show. A dizzying array of colorways made their debut in the accompanying short film Dassai, before making their rounds on the timeline. Say what you will about the cannibalization of sneaker culture, but if anything these officially-sanctioned kicks merely serve as a reminder of how circular trends are.

In the late-’90s/early-2000s, there was an under-appreciated visionary in Vancouver named Raif Adelberg. He helped give brands like Stüssy serious street cred in the Great White North, and also had a hand in shaping labels like wings+horns during the days when parent company CYC Designs was also making Supreme’s blanks for anything jersey.

He also operated a boutique called Richard Kidd that was similarly ahead of its time, collaborating early on with guys like KAWS. After KAWS did a custom-painted interior for the shop, Adelberg went ahead and painted it over…not that he cares about how much those works could be worth now. Around 2001, Adelberg started making LV monogram-adorned Air Force 1s that eventually made their way to the US at shops like UNION.

“I basically took a real Louis Vuitton bag, cut it up, took the Swooshes off, and took them to a cobbler in the city,” he explains in a 2018 Highsnobiety article by Chris Danforth.

Adelberg secured pairs from a Vancouver sporting goods store, claiming to be a youth basketball coach so he could get as many as possible. While he’s quick to give credit to OG logo-hackers like Dapper Dan, Adelberg certainly inspired the trend in the sneaker world.

“I don’t claim to be the first, Dapper Dan and all those guys were the first,” he says. They influenced me and I just kind of brought it back.”

In turn, Adelberg’s customized counterfeits are the kind of thing that’s become a part of early internet streetwear legend. The kind of kicks you’d see on a forum or super lo-res on a blog. They inspired Jon Feldman of Brooklyn boutique Grand Street Local to customize his own pair of LV Air Force 1 mids.

“I went to my local guy and made it with him. I begged to use the machine and finally he agreed we could work on the project together. He thought I was nuts when I first asked,” says Feldman. “But I know that dude Raif has been making cool shit for a bit too.”

Seeing the classic LV Damier flipped into the Air Force 1 in the classic house browns is a bit of a swerve, but the Swoosh certainly looks great in the contrast ivory. Although the all-over check versions with the embroidered Swoosh and little grim reaper print could also be interpreted as a super low-key reference to Warren Lotas, which makes them even better.

But despite the polarizing reaction commenters are having to these unprecedented kicks, you can’t deny that the execution and thought put into them goes a lot further than previous luxury house x sportswear company collabs. The Prada x adidas Superstar was pretty much the same exact shoe but made in Italy (though the Luna Rossa follow-up is admittedly good!), and the Dior x Jordan 1 just felt like both parties could’ve done more to make the sneaker feel special.

Instead, not only do we get a plethora of colorways for this sneaker, but Abloh mixes in his own design codes with LV and Nike’s. Add in some very meta design nods, and the result is almost like a high fashion version of HTM, the revolutionary collaborative Nike imprint by Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield, and former Nike CEO Mark Parker.

Green and white might be a recurring sneaker colorway for any fan of the Boston Celtics (and also one of the debut colorways for Virgil Abloh’s Avia 880-esque LV Trainer), but it’s also closely associated with Ari Saal Forman’s infamous Ari Menthol 10s.

For the woefully unaware, that was a take on the Air Force 1 combined with the motifs of Newport cigarettes. The Swoosh and side panels were flipped to resemble the cigarette pack’s branding, and the alternate laces and sole were also designed after cigarette butts.

The Nike x Louis Vuitton take on the colorway keeps it relatively simple with a green and white contrast, and looks to be made of a canvas and leather mix. Extra Abloh-esque details include the contrast neon green tag on the Swoosh, and the askew “Louis Vuitton Air” tag on the tongue.

The other colorway that stood out was this metallic patent leather monogram take on the shoe. BAPE’s Kevin Le suggested it might be a slick homage to the Cyclops BAPEstas first released back in 2005. The red sole and upper blue and black color blocking certainly match up.

The metallic material could also be a reference to the shiny tones of the OG Foamposite, too. This being a certified Virgil Abloh joint, it wouldn’t be too surprising if it’s a bunch of references crammed into one.

What the real big takeaway here is that no matter what your take on this collaboration is, collectively it’s a big win for how far streetwear has come in terms of driving the zeitgeist. But it’s also nice to see some shine being given to the original fakes.