Boldy kicking off September’s New York Fashion Week, LeBron James released a new, fabulously fly version of his signature Nike shoe geared toward a less than expected customer-base: style-minded women.
This time, his namesake kicks weren't only realized with female sneaker enthusiasts in mind, but also specifically in commemoration of the many women who embody strength in the eyes of the internationally-renowned athlete. The shoe was unveiled at Harlem’s Fashion Row’’s (HFR) annual honors ceremony, during which a selection of fashion’s Black luminaries are acknowledged each year. In addition to James, this year’s honorees included activist Bethann Hardison, stylist Jason Rembert, and legendary Harlem couturier Daniel "Dapper Dan" Day.
Not content to just riff on his shoe’s male version, for this special ladies iteration, James collaborated with three of HFR’s coterie of emerging designers, Kimberly Goldson, Undra Celeste and Fe Noel. Along with HFR’s founder, Brandice Daniel, we caught up with these three creative contributors in order to learn more about how they nabbed this opportunity to conceive a true work of shoe art.
Daniel shared that the call she received regarding the potential project was a testament to the precise value of the patience one must engage when playing the highly unpredictable fashion game.
“As 2018 began, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to accomplish this year with HFR, but I knew that I wanted to do partnerships with brands — to actually partner designers with brands and bring products to life,” Daniel said. “I put that out there, and about six weeks later I got a call from a colleague at Native Tongue Communications, who had promised three years previously to someday bring an exciting opportunity my way.”
That opportunity would ultimately link Daniel with LeBron James himself, who she would later introduce to the work of Goldson, Celeste and Noel — black, female designers that Daniel handpicked. The trio of creatives was subsequently flown to Nike's headquarters, in order to conceive a premium athletic shoe for women.
All three talents shared how exciting (and slightly overwhelming) designing on-demand at Nike's headquarters was. Noel recalled how essential the shoe’s luxe-leather, removable strap was to creating a truly unique product. "Even if they aren’t wearing the sneaker that day, [ladies] can wear the strap as a bracelet or choker. It’s like jewelry,” she said.
The shoe truly embodies the hybrid aesthetic of the HFR trio's individual brand identities, Nike’s unmatched product development excellence and James’ commitment to honoring the strength of Black women. Its gilded trimmings can be accredited to all three designers’ love of gold. “I mean, it’s even in my name,” Goldson joked.
She also noted that she was very invested in seeing the shoe’s uniquely harnessed lacing come to fruition, while Celeste brought up how a swatch of alligator-embossed leather (which she had pinned to an inspiration board during the trio’s initial design meeting) ended up inspiring the shoe’s rhythmically textured, rear-facing, lion visage.
This collaborative spirit didn’t stop once the shoe was made. Daniel was ecstatic to report that the designers have gone on to share resources, like fabric vendors and factories, which can be difficult to locate for upstart labels. She was equally enthused about the blueprint this project has created for future collaborations between celebrities, big-brands and HFR coterie of emerging designers.
“The fact of the matter is, LeBron doesn’t have to do projects like this. But the fact that he does, says something about the legacy that he’s going to leave,” Daniel added. It’s a fitting testament to the NBA all-star, who recently made headlines with his generous donation to founding the I PROMISE School in Akron, Ohio. Daniels and the three designers were in accordance about how James’ philanthropic efforts within the community served to make working on his newest shoe debut that much more of an honor.
As the conversation turned to styling their "The Greatests", all three designers and Daniel chimed in with unique ways to incorporate the shoes into chic, city-ready ensembles. The fashion-confident crew all conjured some pretty bold looks, with Celeste offering, "I'd rock mine with a black, midi-length full skirt and a crop top", Goldson musing, "I'd wear my brand's 'Tamar' dress as a coat with skinny jeans and the cognac strap accented sneakers" and Noel chiming in, "I'd wear one of Nike's "Chosen" jersey's with a ruffled shirt and sports bra to compliment the shoes."
You can get a pair of HFR x LeBron 16 kicks nationwide on nike.com, while limited edition quantities last
*Quotes have been condensed for clarity.