Nike Dunk Forever.

The evolution of the sneaker, which at almost 40 years old, is more contemporary than ever.

From the famous claim “Be True to Your School,” which launched them in 1985 as basketball shoes for American Universities, to the runways of Paris Fashion Week, the evolution of Nike Dunk in pop culture has been systematic, slow, and at times, challenging.

Although it has achieved global popularity, with some versions fetching thousands of euros, over the years the Dunk has often been forgotten only to resurface, like a continuous roller coaster ride.

Dunk Low Pro SB x Jeff Staple “Pigeon” – 2005

Walking around the city, it’s impossible not to see people wearing Dunks, the most current sneakers of the moment, chosen across generations from both the young and the adults.

To describe it best, we quote the words of Virgil Abloh: “The Dunk is a shoe that goes beyond the most classic inanimate object.”

Yet, the model has not always had an easy life.

Birth with Basketball.

As we mentioned, they were born in 1985 as basketball shoes: a time that witnessed the unprecedented rise of the sport on the hardwood, thanks mainly to the magic of Michael Jordan. A result of a brilliant amalgamation of Nike’s already famous lines – Air Force 1, Terminator, Air Jordan 1, Legend – the Dunks made their debut at American universities, armed with a high structure designed to protect the ankles, hence the “High” in their name. From the original model, seven colorways inspired by the most famous American colleges were born: Nike SB Dunk, Nike Dunk Pro B, and Nike Dunk CO.JP. All with small variations on the theme but which for sneaker enthusiasts were substantial. These characteristics have contributed to the global success it enjoys today.

Renaissance with Skate Culture.

After the fascinating period of splendor, Nike Dunk faced a challenging period in the late ’90s: Declining sales put Nike to the test, which tried to react with minimal, but ineffective, changes to the shoe’s design.

But a new light shines on the Dunk’s horizon when skate culture begins to take an interest in this model. The decrease in prices, which made them accessible even in the most common discount stores, attracts the attention of skaters. Nike responds with new advertising slogans like “What If We Treated All Athletes Like Skateboarders,” trying to capture the rebellious and creative essence of this subculture.

Nike Dunk SB “reese forbes denim” 2002

Towards the end of the ’90s and the beginning of the new millennium, Nike fully understands the potential of the skateboard market and launches regional initiatives such as the Nike Dunk Pro B for the US West Coast and the Nike Dunk CO.JP for the Japanese market. Each new iteration of the Dunk redefines the standards of the previous model, experimenting with colors, materials, and design.

Nike Dunk CO.JP 2001

Creativity becomes the key to success, encouraging customization and fueling the enthusiasm of sneaker collectors. The first online forums dedicated to sports shoes become lively discussion places, and the exchange of models becomes a coveted art by enthusiasts around the world. It is the beginning of a new chapter of glory for Nike Dunk, in which skate culture and passion for sneakers merge into a single global phenomenon.

Collaborations, Collecting, and the Popularity of Japanese Versions.

In 2002, Nike establishes a new department called Nike SB, focused exclusively on the world of skateboarding. From this, the iconic Nike SB Dunk Low is born, characterized by the low cut that leaves the ankle partially exposed. This new variant, greeted with overwhelming success, marks the beginning of a cultural phenomenon that transforms sneakers into collectible items.

The turning point comes with the epic collaboration between Nike and Supreme in 2002, which revolutionizes the concept of sneaker. Other historic collaborations follow with brands like Levi’s, Stussy, and many others, but 2003 marks a significant moment with the first collaboration outside the world of fashion: graffiti artist Futura joins Nike to create a model that has become a cult object today, of which Travis Scott is one of the fortunate owners.

In 2004, in Tokyo, the Nike Dunk becomes a blank canvas for 25 artists who exhibit their works in the White Dunk show. Outside selected skateboard shops, the fever for each new model or collaboration becomes frenetic, with queues sometimes requiring police intervention. Shop owners become guardians of information, managing access to the most sought-after items.

However, after the tenth anniversary of the historic collaboration with Supreme, enthusiasm around Nike Dunk begins to wane, losing some of the hype accumulated in previous years.

The Revival of the Last 10 Years.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Nike Dunk model undergoes an unprecedented decline.

So Nike steps in, and to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its debut in 2015, launches a new drop of the iconic “Be True to Your School“, thus beginning a revival process that, although not immediate, proves successful.

The renowned retailer Dover Street Market responds with two reissues called DSM Dunk Lux High, capturing the attention of Rei Kawakubo‘s brand and convincing her to bring Nike Dunk to the catwalk in 2016, giving rise to the CDG Homme Plus Nike Dunk High – one of the most influential models ever.

Nike Dunks slowly begin to conquer pop culture, thanks also to the support of influential figures like Travis Scott and Kylie Jenner, who open the brand to a much wider audience outside of traditional sports or artistic circles. In 2019, the collaboration with Virgil Abloh and his Off-White becomes a truly overwhelming event, followed in 2020 by the Travis Scott x Nike SB Dunk Low Cactus Jack. The inability to purchase the new models suddenly pushes many towards vintage editions, revitalizing an almost forgotten market.

Travis Scott x Nike SB Dunk Low Cactus Jack

Collaborations with artists, other brands, or reissues of vintage Dunks create a universe unto itself in the world of sneakers, albeit sometimes struggling to open up to female sizes. The United States and Japan remain starting points for new projects and creative sparks. Nike Dunk writes an important page in the fashion book with its silhouette belonging to everyone and no one.

Bonus: What is the rarest and most expensive Dunk in history?

Nike Dunk SB “Paris” 2003

The most expensive Nike Dunk in history is often considered to be the Nike Dunk SB “Paris” from 2003. This edition was designed in collaboration with the Parisian sneaker store Colette and produced for the “White Dunkexhibition in Paris, featuring artwork by the expressionist painter Bernard Buffet on the canvas part of the upper. Only 200 pairs were ever made.

Estimated price ranges between 93.000,00 and 165.000,00 euros.

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