The sneaker world has seen many path breakers but the OG shoe that still is worth all the hype is the NIKE Cortez. The shoe was launched in the 1950s when Nike was still called blue ribbon sports (BRS).
Mind you, this shoe dates way back before the LA gang culture had even manifested. The inception of the shoe was when Bill Bowerman designed the shoe while working for BRS which was still a distributor for the Japanese sneaker company Onitsuka Tiger.
The name of the shoe came with it’s own set of controversies. The shoe was earlier going to be named Mexico after the Olympics being held in Mexico at the time. The name didn’t gather the attention it was expected to and was changed to Aztec after the Mexican mythological meaning. This too was not accepted by Adidas as it was very similar to their gold shoe. Finally the named Cortes, after the Spanish conqueror – Hernan Cortes, was agreed upon.
The shoe was a hit among athletes and casual runners. Steve Prefontaine was one of the first athletes to sport the shoe. The popularity of the shoe also gave rise to the “jogging movement” that Bill Bowerman helped to create.
The Cortez became the number one best selling shoe in the history of BRS but at the same time their alliance with Onitsuka Tigers was falling apart. The latter then became ASICS and BRS became NIKE. Both were allowed to keep the design, but the latter kept the name.
The original shoe was in white leather with a red swoosh and a few years later, in the 1970s, a women’s version – Senorita Cortez was released. It was popularised after Farrah Fawceit wore it in an episode of Charlie’s angels. At one point, even Elton John was seen rocking the look.
The popularity of the shoe really helped but Nike on the map as a legitimate sports brand. Along with sports, the brand dug its way through culture as well. The shoe became extremely popular among west coat gangs like the bloods and MS-13. The latter went to the extent of incorporating it as a part of their official uniform.
Jumping to the 1980s and 1990s, gangsta rap became a rage and so did the shoe. It was soon called “dope man Nike” after the NWA song dope man. More recently, the sneaker has made its appearance in movies like Forest Gump and been worn by artists like Kendrick Lamar and Mr. Cartoon who have their own signature model.
By Abhishek Aggarwal