09 Feb Interview with Zak Kyes (Zak Group)
Virgil Abloh. Nike. ICONS
Coming soon from Taschen, ICONS showcases the historical collaboration between two iconic forces: (fashion) designer Virgil Abloh and Nike Inc. Two big players who came together to reinvent ten iconic sneaker designs, from the Air Jordan 1 to Air Presto. ‚A minimum of two‘ seemed to be the magic formula when London-based Zak Group came on board to translate the sneaker-recontextualising, meta-cultural design project into book form. Since both Abloh and Zak Group are well-known for their trans-disciplinary, process-oriented work, they made the perfect match: not simply sneaker-heads, but perfectly positioned to transform consumer objects into cultural artifacts. We had a little chat with Zak Kyes about the making of the much-hyped, impossibly green volume.
Looking back at your and Virgil’s work it seems that this collaboration for ICONS is the perfect match. You both love to work within different disciplines, bringing them together, translating certain ideas from one field into another. So how did this collaboration come all about?!
We both have a strong link to architecture even though it’s not our vocation. Virgil studied at the Mies-designed IT campus in Chicago, and I art directed the Architectural Association in London for a decade. By its very nature architecture gives shape to culture by working across lanes. We’ve both brought that modus operandi to our respective practices. We were introduced through mutual friends and started to talk about the book at the end of 2018. People often don’t realise the amount of teamwork and dedication that goes into making a book. When books are published they seem to come out of nowhere, fully-formed. ICONS was two years in the making and involved countless whatsapp conversations, meetings, mockups and layouts. Culture moves fast, but making a book takes time.
What was the main idea behind this iconic sneaker anthology?! What was the conceptual framework transforming this collaboration between Virgil and Nike into a flat (book) form?! And, of course, what were the challenges?!
The starting point was The Ten, a collaborative project between Virgil and Nike that launched in 2016. Learning has always been a key aspect of this collaboration. ICONS is a conceptual toolbox that makes the ideas behind the design accessible. All the design decisions are about unpacking the creative process. Books, like sneakers, are meticulously crafted objects. The physical process of making is always messy. We created blank dummies by sawing, drilling, glueing and experimenting with different bindings: clips, rings, bolts and sleeves to get to the final object. There were lots of productive failures along the way.
Duchamp’s conception of art, the infamous ready-made plays an essential role for the 2nd part of the book as well as a source of inspiration for Virgil. What is so powerful about this figure?!
Duchamp is important to me because he changed the rules to the game. Works like his Boîte-en-valise, essentially a miniature exhibition in a box, not only reproduces his works, but interprets them. Duchamp takes on the museum’s role of gatekeeper and storyteller, even going so far as to include a set of tiny printed labels.
Publishing is deeply ingrained into the DNA of the Zak Group. Beside running a design studio, you were the art director of the Architectural Association (AA) in London, co-founded Bedford Press and worked together with Whitechapel Gallery and Sternberg Press – just to name a few! It seems there is a certain bond between you and the magic of printed matter. What is it exactly that always takes you back to the good old fashioned book?!
I’m part of a generation that grew up in the early days of the internet — so books and magazines were still the primary form of knowledge. Books were my gateway to culture and design. Eventually I realised these books were designed by someone called a graphic designer who gave shape to our collective cultural history by using other people’s words and images. This was an epiphany for me — that design could be a way to give shape to culture.