Denis Dekovic knows football boot design – this is very clear. After all, the Nike Global Football Design Director has the Mercurial 9, the Tiempo 5 and the Hypervenom to his name. But when I bail him up for chat at the Barcelona unveiling of his latest venture, the Magista, another thing becomes clear: a big idea (a Flyknit technology football boot) doesn’t take off on wow-factor alone, it gets realised through painstaking research, testing and revision. Standing on a simulated football pitch, he greets me and begins to tell me about the project that he’s worked on for the last four years.
What were the challenges around bringing Flyknit to a football boot?
Initially, the challenge was ‘How do we create something different in order to give a new benefit?’ You cannot give a new benefit by doing it the old way. So the bigger challenge was that idea: I know what the players are asking me, but what is the biggest request? Once we identified Flyknit as a possible solution it was a little bit smoother.
Does that mean that Flyknit was the starting point for this project?
The first prototypes were in no way similar to this. We used different materials back then, but the insides were telling us that you need to go beyond the low cut. You cannot design for the foot; you have to design for the player’s body, and all the body parts are connected. So this is where the idea of ‘Maybe this should be something like a sock,’ came from. But how do we make sock? What tools do we have available?
That’s why we picked up on Flyknit and started exploring its potential for football. It took a lot of work, but the very first knit sample gave us a lot of promise because the players’ feedback on it, in terms of touch, was great. So we knew that could elevate the bar much higher than what we could have done with traditional materials.
Did the project allow for much artistic licence, like the way Tinker Hatfield took inspiration from the Pompidou Centre when designing the Air Max 1.
Not in that sense, because performance products are really performance-driven. Form does follow the function. We know the texture helps ball control and ball grip. The only thing where we inject a little bit of that pure aesthetic is when it comes to colouring, graphics or material finishes. And the reason for that is, if you are a football player – and football players today are very expressive: crazy haircuts, beautiful cars, dressed properly off the pitch – you find that every on your team has the same top. So your only opportunity is to express yourself through the boots. And because they are expressive, the colours are expressive as well.
For this specific boot the neon yellow – the Volt – comes from the Nike DNA – it’s the colour of speed. The pink comes Nike football history – do you remember the pink Mercurials? That was a big rebellion back then, a big revolution in terms of colour. And we put some gold in the swoosh – if you’re playing in Brazil in a couple of months you’re playing for that golden trophy, so there’s a little motivation there. As we were revolutionising for the future, we also looked back for those iconic colours.
As you were saying, the process started in 2010. At any point did a technology come along that forced you to rethink your approach?
No, because pretty early in the process we knew that we had to break some rules in order to elevate performance. And one of those rules was the silhouette: we had to design for the body, not for the foot. And that’s when we started to play with Flyknit.
There wasn’t room for zigzagging too much – once you commit to something, you have to work to perfect it, and that’s what we were doing. The initial idea, based on the insight was quite ambitious – I always say that we started with an ambitious dream and ended up with an amazing reality. That’s what the four years were for, making sure that Flyknit works perfectly for those players.
You’ve got a long history in footwear design. Is it possible to boil your experience down into one lesson?
In general, as as designer, if you wanna leave a mark, you’ve got to make some radical steps forward. In any industry it’s the same – music, film, anything. So keep your eyes on the target and make those big steps forward, but do it in a very smart way.
Read about the unveiling of the Magista in Barcelona.
The Magista will be $320 RRP. You can register interest from March 7, before pre-order at Nike.com on April 29 and availability at Nike stores and Rebel from May 22.