While it could be argued that it’s impossible to pinpoint just one Nike icon, an array of Nike sneaker collaborations—including Sacai’s futuristic take on the track shoe and Tom Sachs’s highly-anticipated General Purpose Shoe—champion the Waffle as the shoe that started it all.
Today, sporting any Waffle iteration signals an “if you know, you know” wink, a nod to its 50-year-old genesis story. I asked designer Susan Korn of Susan Alexandra, a Waffle wearer herself, to weigh in on the style’s role in our current fashion zeitgeist: “Really good design defies time, gender, and place. That’s what makes this shoe essential in everyone’s wardrobe.” She expands, “When I was growing up, my dad wore a pair of cobalt blue Waffles from the 1970s. Now, in my 30s, I want to emulate all of his insouciant styling.” Remaining relevant across generations and popular among sports and fashion communities alike, Nike’s most original style has stood the test of time while representing a sneaker story for the ages.
The Waffle was first invented in 1971 at a breakfast table, where Nike co-founder and track & field coach Bill Bowerman was enjoying waffles with his wife. Upon observing his plate, Bowerman realised that the grooves in the waffle emulated an ideal mold for a grip suitable for multiple surfaces (the track he was coaching at in Oregon was transitioning from crushed cinder to an artificial surface. A track shoe’s typical metal spikes would damage the new surface, so Bowerman was seeking a softer solution). Bill’s wife, Barbara, recalled in an interview with The Oregonian in 2006: “As one of the waffles came out, he said, ‘You know, by turning it upside down, where the waffle part would come in contact with a track, I think that might work.’ So he got up from the table and went tearing into his lab and got two cans of whatever it is you pour together to make the urethane and poured them into the waffle iron.”
After creating his first prototype, Bowerman tested his invention with his runners. The style then earned the name “Moon Shoe” in 1972 for the footprint it left resembled those of Apollo astronauts on the moon. Because the inventive outsole was so effective on multiple surfaces, the shoe was then adopted by other athletes, including football and baseball players. Later described by the brand as “an iconic silhouette served with a side of rebel soul,” the Waffle Trainer soon became the best-selling training shoe in the country and an emblem of innovation.
While the most legendary sneakers are born from performance necessity, it doesn’t take long for style savants to recognise best-in-class craftsmanship and design expertise. Seth Weisser, a fashion historian and co-founder & CEO of What Goes Around Comes Around, shed light on the sneaker’s fast foray into the fashion world: “The Waffle changed the game in sport, so wearing them was a form of being ‘in the know’ of what was going on in culture.” Once the Waffle Trainer and Waffle Racer were established in 1973 and 1974, respectively, the style gradually gained street credibility. “Today, the Waffle’s classic, retro feel is a break from the current roster of running shoes,” Weisser explains. “It’s the OG for Nike in addition to later models like the blazer and then the Jordan series.”
The Waffle’s legacy proves that in a world of sneaker abundance, original is always better. Today, Nike’s Holy Grail, the Bowerman’s waffle iron, resides at the Nike headquarters along with a handful of Bill’s handmade shoe treads. Half a century after its contribution to sneaker folklore, a story of imagination, inventiveness, and style so cool it might cause you to stop a stranger on the street, lives on.
Here are the Nike sneaker collaborations that honour the Waffle as the street style comeback shoe that never actually left.
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In their first-ever partnership, Nike and Jacquemus celebrate Nike’s 50th anniversary with a collection of apparel and footwear, which was released this summer. The duo’s fashion-meets-sport shoe collaboration combines a vintage ACG trail shoe aesthetic, elements of the original ‘97 Humara, Air cushioning, and a waffle-like outsole.
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The luxury Japanese label first collaborated with Nike in 2015, when NikeLab looked to Sacai to create a capsule apparel collection that married sportswear and fashion. With a focus on Nike’s most original styles, Sacai first reinvented the Waffle in 2019 with a classic black and white iteration. A successful collaboration, Sacai continues to release limited-edition Waffle shoes alongside Nike and third collaborators, such as Fragment, Clot, and Undercover.
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Nike and Sacai teamed up with the Japanese streetwear brand Undercover to create special-edition Waffle styles. Together, the trio has recreated the LDWaffle, a combination of the LDV and Waffle Racer styles, in a new, deconstructed version that incorporated new materials and colors. Undercover has also collaborated with Nike on the Daybreak, a style that is part of the extended Waffle family.
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Another Japanese label, Fragment, teamed up with Nike and Sacai to create a timeless version of the LDWaffle, which combines the Waffle Daybreak and LDV styles. Available in Blacked Blue and Light Smoke Grey, the designers added signature features to this Waffle, including the double tongue and double Swoosh.
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The Hong Kong-based streetwear label founded by former popstar Edison Chen and entrepreneur Kevin Boon, Clot first collaborated with Nike in 2006. In a partnership that bridges Eastern and Western culture by way of footwear, Clot reimagined the Nike Waffle alongside Sacai, designing a version that incorporates semi-translucent mesh and new colorways.
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Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Nike joined forces in 2019 to create a Waffle Racer built for speed and optimized for style. Designed in various palettes that incorporate bright pops of color, Abloh’s racer is a futuristic running shoe that incorporates Nike’s original Waffle outsole.
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The highly-anticipated General Purpose Shoe, made in collaboration with American contemporary artist Tom Sachs, was designed under the belief that “your sneakers should not be the most interesting thing about you.” The shoe was marketed as “boring” and features a gray and blue palette with a gum outsole as well as a sulfur and cream version.
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Nike teamed up with the Netflix series Stranger Things in 2019 to collaborate on a number of styles, including the Nike Air Tailwind 79, in anticipation of the show’s season three release. The collaboration highlights styles that would be fitting for the show’s 1985 setting and reflect the colors of the show’s school, Hawkins High School.
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In collaboration with Boston-based boutique Concepts, Nike released a series of Air Max 1s that incorporate the original Waffle-style outsole. Showcasing mixed materials and patterns that are inspired by the counterculture of the late ’60s, each sneaker’s fabrics are emblems of music festivals of the hippie movement, including paisley, denim, and tie-dye.
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Fear of God
Jerry Lorenzo, designer and founder at Fear of God, first collaborated with Nike in 2018 to develop a collection. Their Air Skylon 2 was released soon after in two versatile colors, Light Bone and Black Fog. A spin-off of a vintage running silhouette, the style incorporates Nike’s waffle-style outsole while adopting a sleek and modern look.
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Comme des Garçons
In partnership with the renowned Japanese fashion label, Nike dropped its all-black Waffle Racer in February 2020 exclusively at Dover Street Market. Paying tribute to the vintage element of the shoe, the collaborative design preserved the classic silhouette while blending a distressed look with a modern, monochromatic twist.
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The Nike Challenger is a revival of the OG trainer that was designed in the late ’70s. Nike first reimagined this shoe in 2020 and has since released vibrant colourways that breathe new life into this silhouette while maintaining its original retro feel.
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Classic Waffle One
Representing Nike running heritage and the face of the Waffle sneaker family, the Waffle One incorporates transparent mesh, suede detailing, and bright colors into one of the brand’s most archetypal designs.
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Classic Waffle Trainer
An original icon, the Waffle Trainer is reminiscent of the ’70s style that made history and went on to influence many of Nike’s silhouettes and collaborations over the last 50 years. The newest colourways, particularly the University Gold and Blue, are a nod to the shoe’s very first colourways.
This story was originally published on Vogue.com.