?uestlove x LaDainian Tomlinson + Nike = Soul Mates

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Even a style icon needs a swagger makeover every now and then. Nike’s 1World collabo series is the adrenaline shot the classic Air Force 1 sneaker is banking on to maintain freshness. Looking to cause a buzz among sneaker fiends, industry titan Nike chose 18 international innovators, both in and out of athletics, to contribute to the project. The shoes were produced in a limited run at select retailers, like Alife, Nike Sportswear at 21 Mercer and the Montalban, and Ubiq, leaving sneaker heads left to trolling eBay for sizes.

To tackle this monster of an undertaking, Jesse Leyva, creative design director of footwear at Nike, paired with the chosen ones to design the signature AF1s. The eight-month rollout started in June 2008, with Detroit Piston, Rasheed Wallace’s hi-top AF1. That was followed by The Roots’ drummer, ?uestlove, and the NFL’s LaDainian Tomlinson.

While both are longtime AF1 devotees, they took different approaches to the design. Leyva describes Tomlinson’s aesthetic as “classic and straightforward.” “I wanted to go with a clean look and create a shoe that you can wear with anything, whether it be a suit or jeans. Since baby blue is my favorite color, I decided to lay it down that way. I added some texture to the leather, similar to crocodile, to give it that look like when you wear your alligator shoes with a suit.” LT also made a special addition to each heel so that, “when you see the 21, you know whose shoe just went past you.”

?uestlove claims that his penchant for “unorthodox-looking shoes” led him in the opposite direction of LT. “I wanted sneaks that match my life: chaotic, all over the place, tasteful, and watermelon-y…and also hard to obtain,” he says. “It takes a brave soul to rock ’em.” Leyva describes the experience as “no rules, no materials off limits.” It’s a dogma evidenced by the green elephant print and metallic gold swoosh paired with contrasting shades of red. And if the bold scheme doesn’t make you immediately attribute them to the hip-hop maestro, the silhouette of his dome will.

Feedback from the streets has been positive, but Leyva says the Nike design team is already brewing up different concepts to change the game. So don’t expect to see another round of the 1World project.

But both the NFL MVP and the Grammy winner are certainly proud to have been a part of it. “My first Grammy is broken and Krazy Glued… But I’ve got a shrine for my special sneaks, so that goes to show you where my priorities lie,” ?uestlove says. And Tomlinson, whose edition launched with the start of the 2008 NFL season, is anxious to spot somebody rocking his kicks. Their passion for the project worked into Nike’s plan: When you need to elevate your game, get down with those at the top of their own. —Meaghan Dorman