Since March 31st -- the same day a redesigned nikeid.com launched -- a polite yet intimidating bouncer has taken up residence at the unassuming storefront of 255 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan. His job is simple. He patiently explains to all who inquire that access to the space behind the frosted glass door is by appointment only, and those appointments can only be made with an invitation. It's rumored that the Nike iD Design Lab will open to the public through a lottery system sometime soon. But, with no more than three customers allowed in the space at one time and sessions limited to hour-long appointments, Nike has ensured that the experience will remain Ã¼ber-exclusive and highly memorable.
It was a perfect Spring day and I was excited about the visit, so I wore my Aloha Dunks-- the tropical green, chocolate brown and basket woven side panels seemed the right fit for the day. On my way to an earlier appointment down the block from 255, I got a 'nice kicks' nod from the the guard. Upon my return 30 minutes later, I explained I had an appointment and he immediately let me in. I was so struck by the space itself that when the General Manager offered a beverage, I took an extra moment to respond... 'water.'
From the coaster underneath my glass to the furniture and dÃ©cor, everything had some form of beautiful ornamental branding created by Nike designers. A full length mirror at one end of the room has a baroque style black frame that upon closer inspection (above. click to zoom.) reveals intertwined sneakers and sporting paraphernalia. Custom fuzzy wallpaper covers the walls in (below. click to zoom.) a patchwork of Nike branded luxury patterns.
The modern architecture, by LED Design's Simon Eisenger and Christian Lynch in tandem with Nike designers, features lots of built-in cabinetry. The most impressive is a wall of doors that hides blank grey 'clones' of each sneaker model in every size so you can find the right fit without the distraction of someone else's colorway. Along the opposite wall three built-in booths are each like a mini living room centered around individual computers where you actually assemble a shoe. Shelves hold reference books, color swatches, and material samples To provide information and inspiration as you make your shoe.
The nuts and bolts process of designing your own shoe is really no different from the experience on nikeid.com. Colors and materials not on the site, however, are available solely at 255. The Air 180, Rift, Presto, Free and FC, have a 14-color palette to choose from and there are suede and Nubuck options on several of the models, all full-grain, high-end Inca leather. Currently, only one model is exclusive to the shop, the Waffle Trainer II.
Clearly the focus of the Design Lab is on the experience of customization. The fact that three weeks after visiting a pair of shoes arrives in the mail is almost like a delayed party favor. Wearing them is as much an opportunity to express your individuality, as it is a chance to tell the story of being in the Design Lab.
8 June Update
The Air Max 180s that I designed during this visit arrived. Here are some pics.