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How Nike is lacing up the athletes for Beijing

Richard Clarke, creative director of Nike Sportswear , gives the lowdown on their new line, how they are reinventing the company's classic products and the 2008 Olympics.
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As Beijing prepares to welcome the world to the 2008 Olympics, Nike has been busy preparing the kit for the athletes vying for glory. Monday's extravagant unveiling of the Chinese Federation's Olympic uniforms in the Forbidden City represented a successful merging of the old and new, with cutting-edge technology and innovation blending with the imagery and heritage of one of the world's most ancient civilizations. All of which ties in rather nicely with Nike's latest line of products: the new Nike Sportswear range (a moniker that pays homage to the original 1979 line). The new line seeks to reinvent the classic products that have defined the brand over the years by using innovative new technologies, as well as drawing on elements of inspiration from the forthcoming Beijing games. sat down with Nike Sportswear's creative director, Richard Clarke, to get the lowdown.

Q: You’re starting off with eight products …

A: Well, it's a lot more that eight. What we really wanted to do was highlight the eight icons, which are the benchmarks of innovation in our company. Nike Air Max, for example, was one of the first shoes that used air cushioning. So we're starting off with the benchmarks of innovation, but they are many more products that have been remastered.

Q: And eight’s a fairly good way to start, given that it’s such an auspicious number in this country. Is there more Chinese inspiration in the line?

A: The main inspiration, on a grander level, is the innovation behind Nike. It's what we are as a company, and it's what's driven us for over 36 years, the fact that we're pioneering new products in terms of sports. So we can take a heritage style, a new style, and blend it into one. Air Max is a design exercise, but it's also a functional exercise, as to how we can improve on that design. So we're commenting on a continuum, rather than being inspired by one single thing.

Q: More specifically in terms of what we’re looking at in front of us now, though, there is a distinct homage paid to China here. The Air Force 1 with the “Bird’s Nest” stadium detailing, for example.

A: From a seasonal perspective, obviously the Olympics is of enormous significance, whether that comes from the Bird's Nest, or the number 8, with the octagon detailing. The Olympic Stadium and the Aquatic Center, from a design perspective, are extremely inspiring. But what's also inspiring is what's happening here, with the juxtaposition of new and old, and also the hybrid between these two different areas. You have new buildings and structures alongside old buildings, and this blended form creates a hybrid.

Q: What’s your favorite product?

A: The Flywire Windrunner is really amazing, mainly because of knowing how it's made, and the fact that it weighs only 116 g (four ounces). We've taken the Flywire innovation in footwear and played around with structures. The octadot dunk is also really cool and inspiring, and it demonstrates innovation from the optical point of view, with the octadots blurring to represent speed. The products aim to balance both the emotional and physical ways we can enhance an athlete's performance.

Q: With all the emphasis on performance, do you worry about compromising the aesthetic?

A: We've got the benefit of providing both of these: performance and aesthetics, the same way we're able to combine a heritage line and a new line. We're focused on the athletes, and this exhibition is a reminder of that. You shouldn't have to give up your personal sense of style to perform as an athlete. This body of work represents how we allow individuals and athletes to perform using their own self-expression through innovation and design.