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Riccardo Tisci for Nike Bella Hadid
Bella Hadid for Riccardo Tisci x NikeLab

Riccardo Tisci on basketball, freedom and design

In light of his reinvention of the Nike Dunk trainer, the designer reveals how the sport has influenced his work – plus, who would be on his dream team

How does a designer know they are phenomenal, instead of merely successful? When their vision is so defined you can look at things beyond clothes and still have their name blaze through your consciousness.

Riccardo Tisci has achieved superstar status with total fan panorama – from streetwear crusaders, to hip-hop heads and society belles, to those too fashion to function. His radical shaping of the prevailing late 00s-early 2010s aesthetic – all drama, danger and downright romantic dark-side-of-the-loom – is decorated with recurring symbols that spread through his work like tarot.

The colour black, the number 17 and basketball are just three of his signatures. The latter’s sports silhouette is cast especially deep into his work – all the way from menswear to haute couture. Imagine ‘owning’ the style of something so huge as America’s premier game! And beyond that, turning people on to fashion through it. There’s a great hashtag that sums Riccardo’s influence up: #VeryTisci.

The truth is, it’s basketball that was Riccardo’s first love, long before he even considered being a designer.

“From age 7 in Taranto, the city where I'm from, I played basketball until I was 13,” he explains. “One of the reasons I started working in fashion is because I stopped – I had a little accident with my left leg and I broke my tendon.”

A passion for shooting hoops is expressed in the latest installment of his ongoing collaboration with Nike. Having previously Tiscied the Air Force 1, now he’s cast his spell on the Dunk. “I think it's one of the most iconic shoes that Nike ever did in its history,” he says of the original. Beyond basketball associations the shoe also nods to skate culture and West Coast bowl riders, another lens in his youth and subculture-fed prism.

Besides the thrill of the game, it’s basketball as a metaphor of unity that continues to nourish this Paris-based Italian. Famous for creating an exotic and attitude-laden tribe in his own work, the sport, too, honours the idea of the team.

“In Italy, America, England, everywhere in the world, you have all these basketball courtyards everywhere for free, where kids can go and start playing,” Tisci rhapsodises. “Anybody could play – it was easy, open to everybody. So that was my freedom. It was a way to escape, for me and a lot of other kids of my generation too.”

Would you say that basketball was the beginning of your fascination with the romance of American culture?

Riccardo Tisci: Oh yeah. Italy and Italian culture has always been a little bit ‘the American dream’ – the television is a part of America, everything comes from America so Italians get a little bit obsessed. I’ve got this in my blood. (But) I was obsessed in a different way from kids my age. I was obsessed with the symbology. And for me, Nike is one of the symbols of America. When I was a child, I was thinking Guns N’ Roses, Marlboro – and then I was obsessed with Nike. And in the late 80s and early 90s, Nike was a big thing for Italians. And it was related to basketball.

What were the codes of basketball that you love the most?

Riccardo Tisci: The link between my career, Central Saint Martins, Givenchy and everything I did in my career, a lot is about basketball. I love the silhouette of basketball, the vest. That, for me, is really modern and really cool. And it became a big explosion when I when I was 17, 18. It was the beginning when rock was disappearing and hip-hop, rap and R‘n’B were taking over. Neneh Cherry, Erykah Badu were exploding and there was this rap, ethnic and sportswear mix. I was obsessed with the big volume, the fact everything was hanging. It was amazing because tennis was tight, every other sport was tight, and basketball was pretty baggy.

Basketballs about community and youve always been about a tribe. How did it inspire your Nike collection when you were designing?

Riccardo Tisci: Everything I’m doing is about that, because I come from a very big and dispersed family, so I know how to really live in a group of people, in good and bad weather. When I was a child, I grew up on the streets because my family was not very financially strong. So I didn’t have the money to do many things that other kids could have. So my free time and my growing up, all my experience was done in the streets. So having a part of that energy, the love of people together, deserves to belong to what I’m doing – and that is my strength.

“The link between my career, Central Saint Martins, Givenchy and everything I did in my career, a lot is about basketball” – Riccardo Tisci

Basketball fans are seriously devoted. What do you like about their passion?

Riccardo Tisci: A lot. I knew about it, but now working with Nike, I’m so impressed and shocked at how it became a cult – it’s like a religion. There’s kids that spend every waking second after second to see what new shoes are coming out, only to buy something beautiful. Because today, we’re leaving things, we’re using things, we throw away things very easily – everything changes so fast. These kids become really obsessed, and they have to have the latest. After using the shoes, they clean them and put them back on the shelf – I mean, it’s a fantastic religion, it’s a ceremony.

Do you have any basketball heroes?

Riccardo Tisci: I think Dennis Rodman was fantastic. He’s brilliant, an iconic man. When you say Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley… Dennis Rodman. Of course, Michael Jordan too, who is fantastic. I had the opportunity to meet him. There are so many young players who are really great, but I think these ones are truly iconic stars who made basketball an iconic game.

Who would be on your ultimate basketball team?

Riccardo Tisci: I would like to see a team like Jay-Z, Frank Ocean – all these rappers who come from the streets like me, and I think it’s really in their culture to play basketball. I think that would be the perfect team to play with, lots of fun.

What about cheerleaders?

Riccardo Tisci: Kate (Moss), Naomi (Campbell), Mariacarla (Boscono), Lara Stone, Natalia Vodianova, Bella Hadid, all these major girls, really sexy chicks! I think that would be amazing.

What would be the number you would have on your own jersey?

Riccardo Tisci: What do you think? 17! (Laughs) It’s pretty much the number that everybody knows about me. It’s my lucky number.