How Nike Sneaker Designer Eric Avar Works | Creation



Like a Renaissance artist inspired by a patron of the Medici family, Nike sneaker designer Eric Avar begins by listening to his star athlete.

When Kobe Bryant told executives at Nike in 2006 that he wanted his namesake basketball shoe to be the lightest ever, a low-cut maverick in a sport dominated by high-top shoes, Mr. Avar passed hours to discuss in free association with the Los Angeles Lakers. star to permeate every curve of Mr. Bryant’s hypercompetitive personality.

Eric Avar, pictured at the entrance to the Nike shoe design studio, Beaverton, Oregon

John Clark for the Wall Street Journal

Mr. Avar’s team finally compiled a 20-page guide to the Kobe-isms to forge the spirit of Mr. Bryant’s sneakers, ranging from the pinnacle precision of a laser-scoped rifle to the rapid twitch of the snake. which inspired Mr. Bryant’s nickname, Black Mamba.

“Good design is a marriage of science and art,” said Mr. Avar. “Telling a story is also very important. Bryant will launch the latest version of the shoe, the $ 130 Zoom Kobe VI in snakeskin, on December 25, when the Lakers face LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

Creative director of the design studio Nike Inc. calls its innovation kitchen, Mr. Avar, 42, is celebrated in the sneakerhead subculture for making shoes that not only improve performance, but are also objects of beauty. While others make larger shoes, Avar favors a minimalist approach that uses as little material as possible to match the movements of the foot.

The snakeskin Zoom Kobe VI, below, will debut later this month.


Last year, the website declared Mr. Avar designer of the decade, noting his work on the Hyperdunk, which captured the look of old-fashioned high-tops but drastically reduced their weight, and the Huarache 2k4, which abandoned complex shock absorption. systems for the benefit of a simple cushion.

On the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon, the designer retreats to his closely guarded space in “The Kitchen,” which is off limits to anything but a special group of employees over concerns that rival shoemakers could glean secrets. commercials from the prototypes inside.

Mr. Avar sits at a desk in an open room opposite a portrait of famous runner Steve Prefontaine. Rather than working alone, he prefers ideas of cross-pollination with the internal biomechanics of Nike and other egg heads, as well as other legends of sneaker architecture such as the Tinker brothers and Tobie Hatfield. . “I’m a big believer in the collaborative space. It’s the impromptu, fun meetings with colleagues that generate the best ideas,” said Mr. Avar, a lean and soft man casually dressed in a collared sweater. V and Limited Edition Nike HTM2 Running Shoe.

He and his fellow designers come up with unusual challenges to try to stay loose. They spent hours this summer trying to shoot down a Mylar balloon that had floated to the ceiling, using only the tools at their desk.

For the current version of Mr. Bryant’s shoe, the Zoom Kobe V, Mr. Avar took the herringbone pattern common to sneaker soles, as it helps with traction, and turned it into the spiked pattern observed. on heart rate monitors. “How do we take this proven geometry and modify it? ” he said. “We tried to get the real ECG from Kobe, but it didn’t quite work.” For the upcoming version, the herringbone pattern transformed into black mamba scales.

For the Zoom Kobe V, Mr. Avar borrowed an idea from a book Mr. Bryant was reading, “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, and created a linear code with graphic designers using some of Mr. Bryant’s statistics. . This is the basis of a series of inscriptions on the side of the shoe that intrigued sneakerheads. In the secret code, they spell the word heart.

Mr. Avar, whose father was a mechanical engineer and mother an artist, originally planned to follow in his father’s career footsteps. But he was enthralled when he saw a designer’s drawing of a Nike Air Stab while working at Athlete’s Foot in the late 1980s and persuaded a dean at the Rochester Institute of Technology to let him go. specialize in the subject. After a six-month pit stop at rival Adidas, he joined Nike.

But he doesn’t let his respect for past conceptions limit his sense of what is possible. “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” he said, repeating a favorite quote from Albert Einstein. “I never want to be an expert at anything.”

When Nike learned in 2001 that the Stanford University track team coach preferred runners to train without any shoes on, Mr. Avar and other designers descended on the Stanford campus to trying to replicate the merits of barefoot training for people who wanted to protect their feet with shoes.

Nike used high-speed film to discover that bare feet on the grass felt pressure at subtly different points than feet in shoes. Next, Mr. Avar and Tobie Hatfield began cutting shoes with an X-Acto knife and sampling the roughly finished products, later dubbed Nike Free, in the company’s parking lot.

“Tobit jokes that it was blood, sweat and tears, and there was literally blood,” Mr. Avar joked. “But at the end of the day, you grab this and that and you go out and try. The paving stone is a lost art.”


Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers

Getty Images

A. Inspiration doesn’t just come from superstar athletes like Kobe bryant. Mr. Avar said he got some great ideas from watching his children play.

B. While designing Mr. Bryant’s shoes, he spent hours watching predator videos. Among the animals he studied were the cheetah and the great white shark. “As the shoe starts to take its shape from a performance standpoint, you always ask yourself, ‘How can I amplify it? How do we represent that it is really fast and light and reflects the workings of Kobe’s mind? “”

ENTER THE DRAGON, Bruce Lee, 1973

Everett Collection

vs. Mr. Avar also looked at historical figures the athlete admired, such as Leonardo da Vinci and the master of martial arts. Bruce lee, as he sought to express Mr. Bryant’s extraordinary will to win.

D. Nike innovators are constantly bringing new stimuli into their workspace to stimulate new thinking. Mr Avar and his peers recently surrounded themselves with action photos of the US Open of Surf.

Jadson Andre of Brazil takes to the air during the US Open of Surfing Sunday August 8, 2010 in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Associated press

E. When designing the Hyperdunk basketball sneaker, Mr. Avar drew ideas on its profile and shape from the fictional “Nike Air 2015” automatic lace-up shoes worn by the character. Marty mcfly in the 1980s film “Back to the Future II”. About 18 months ago, Nike applied for a US patent on the self-lacing technology.

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