Nike Sportswear: The Story of the N.354 Collection

Compiled of stand out footwear styles that pull elements from prototype creations imaged by Nike throughout time, the Nike N.354 project was introduced alongside two other like minded collections last year. Since the debut, each line has expanded to offer a number of releases that continually catch the eye of sneakerheads and those seeking more abstract aesthetics as part of Nike’s contemporary urban and youth-focused sportswear label.

Acting as a representation of a drawing board used within the initial stages of a new design, the N.354 project demonstrates the trials and tribulations of the early creative process behind footwear and expresses how even though one idea may not work initially, it is still part of an important path towards the end product. Acting as a celebration of mistakes and mishaps which can often be noted as being the key to some of the most iconic innovations in the world, Nike have kept each of the designs within their N.354 project looking fairly raw as a representation of how their design team plays around with different colours, fabrics, textures and details before the finalised version is decided. Having been trained under University of Oregon’s head coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman at the beginning of 1969, the N.354 collection gets its name from American runner Steve Prefontain’s fastest mile and personal best of 3:54.6 in 1973 - which was only 3.5 seconds off the world record at the time.

Labelled as ‘futuristic and reinterpretted silhouettes’, the three key models of the N.354 line include the Drop Type LX, Squash-Type and Daybreak Type. Whilst they have each been created with the same vision of highlighting the creative design process, they boast their own individual character as a demonstration of how since the beginning of Nike’s establishment, the aim has never been to create one shoe well, but rather continue to better themselves with each new release.

Nike Sportswear: The Story of the N.354 Collection | Always in Colour

Nike Sportswear: The Story of the N.354 Collection | Always in Colour

The Drop Type LX is based on a 2001 prototype of the Nike Mowabb, a hybrid hiking style that has since been released with a hi-top silhouette for full ankle support. Constructed using a variety of textures and materials in addition to an autoclave construction method that fuses the outsole to the midsole, the Drop Type LX Shoes have a low-cut profile, fine mesh overlays across the uppers and suede edging around the laces, heel and front left side of the foot. The exposed foam tongue looks purposely unfinished but provides ample padding whilst the tongue overlay has a raw edge with lines of top stitching to help keep it in place. The discrete curved rubber toe cap provides additional durability in a key area and is overshadowed by a more prominent wrap around heel panel that continues towards the toes on the right side. Ventilation eyelets have been pierced into the outer side panel and small ‘N.345’ lettering has been printed above that looks like a quick model identity note which has been added before the design has been sent off for finalising. A given for any Nike shoe design, the Swoosh tick emblem features but has been reworked with a sketched outline and overlapping tips.

Nike Sportswear: The Story of the N.354 Collection | Always in Colour

Nike Sportswear: The Story of the N.354 Collection | Always in Colour

Nodding to ‘80s court-sports with a noticeably retro inspired aesthetic, the Nike Squash-Type Shoes have a more finalised look in comparison to the Drop Type LX with clean leather uppers and smooth suede overlays at the toe and heel. Suggestive of the final stages of a prototypes design when the shoe is almost ready to see its official release, edges have been completed and vulcanised construction runs throughout. Directly stitched into the leather, a simple outline of the infamous Swoosh tick can be seen on either side panel whilst debossed ‘Nike’ lettering has been reversed and positioned towards the front of the outsole in addition to a small ‘Squash’ label below the laces border on the right side of the shoe. The same hand-written ‘N.354’ signature as seen on the Drop-Type LX can be found embossed on the back of the heel and again on the woven tongue label above a stylised Swoosh tick. With a fairly low-key finish that is enhanced by subtle but effective detailing, the emphasis for the Squash-Type is for it to be a reimagined comfortable and flexible ‘future classic’.

Nike Sportswear: The Story of the N.354 Collection | Always in Colour

Nike Sportswear: The Story of the N.354 Collection | Always in Colour

Giving us an insight into the skeleton of the iconic Nike Daybreak which was first unveiled in 1979 as a custom design for American runner Joan Beonit Samuelson, the Nike Daybreak Type Shoes are the latest style to emerge as part of the N.354 family. Characterised by a deconstructed look that includes fine mesh across the uppers and toe box, suede and leather overlays and exaggerated stitching that is purposely imperfect, there is a strong sense of this being an early mockup that has been quickly put together in the rush of an inspiring thought. A single eyelet has been highlighted with an embroidered edge that matches the tone of the laces and the stitched Swoosh tick outline on the upper is at a noticeably different angle than normal, in reference to how it has been subtly tweaked and adapted throughout time. A shaped heel tab provides a background for sketched ‘N.354’ lettering which can be seen again on the woven tongue above a smaller Swoosh. As a brand new rendition of one of Nike’s best loved running shoes which have made their way into the lifestyle sector in more recent years, the Daybreak Type celebrates the individual elements of the design which together have created such an iconic footwear style that continues to be celebrated through accurate remakes and new releases that incorporate some of the designs best elements.

Recognisable for a certain ‘chop and change’ aesthetic, the collective shares a common look but individually taps into different elements of Nike’s history. For THE10TH project, respect has been paid to co-founder Bill Bowerman’s time within the Tenth Mountain Division of the US Army whilst the D/MS/X line is considered the most adventurous out of the three as it brings in niche elements from sports not always directly associated with the brand, such as motocross. In addition to celebrating the brands extensive archive which continues to be a direct reference for new innovative designs, there is an underlying message of the power that can come from Nike sharing the process with customers as a way of encouraging experimentation and to not give up on pursuing a talent, even if at first try things aren’t perfect.

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