The Nike Cortez, officially released in 1972, is many things: a shining example of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman’s drive to better equipment for runners, the first Nike to offer visible technology and an endearing pop culture icon.
Over the years the shoe has propelled champion runners, graced silver screens (in a 1994 best picture winner, no less) as well as televisions and become a staple of west coast hip-hop street style.
“The Cortez is an iconic shoe that harkens back to my earliest days in the sport. The shoe allowed me the confidence and support to explore my fullest potential as a young aspiring athlete,” recalls Joan Benoit Samuelson, gold medalist of the first Olympic women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Anglenes games.
The first true women’s version of the shoe, the Senorita Cortez, hit market two years later in 1974. The aesthetic and performance retained the hallmarks of the original, and throughout the ’70s enjoyed status as Nike’s best-selling shoe. In 1977, Nike Cortez hit living rooms across the United States via the small screen, helping to solidify icon status among women across the U.S. and beyond.
The Cortez has mixed well with high and low fashion and blended with diverse trends. As evidence, and in celebration of the Cortez’s 45th anniversary, three enthusiasts share their take on the icon.
Andrea Lieberman, Creative Director and Founder A.L.C.
The Cortez is my earliest memory of a sneaker — the classic white with red Swoosh. It all started when I was coming of age in ’80s New York, becoming obsessed with music, street style and fashion. The obsession became my work, and the Cortez my stylist go-to. It reps NY hip-hop while being Cali at the core, this speaks to the DNA of ALC and is why I’ve chosen to style the Cortez season after season with all our collections.
Aleali May, Stylist
My dad got me my first pair of Cortez at the Slauson Swap Meet, around when I was 7 or 8, the all black with a white Swoosh. They were super fire though, because I had to wear uniforms at elementary school back in the day. The only way you got to flex was with your shoes.
I was always into sportswear because my family always bought me sneakers. I was so obsessed with ’80’s and ’90’s hip-hop culture. In the ’90s, I was watching films set in L.A. that brought our culture to the wider world. It was all in my neighborhood, too, so I felt like I had a foundation with it.
I’m from South Central L.A., so all I remember is everybody in the hood wearing Cortez. Cortez is just a really L.A. thing for me. Everyone in L.A. who rapped was in the Cortez. That just started a whole movement, obviously. So that’s what kids saw. They wanted to be cool.
Madeline Poole, Nail Artist and Designer
I got into wearing Cortez after I moved to LA and went to the swap meet with stylist Camille Garmendia. They were her signature shoes. She broke down the history of them to me, and all the colors she had collected. I wonder, how did I get dressed without them before? My favorite pair is the Nai Ke China theme red, white and blue that I’ve worn into the ground, completely destroyed, but I still wear them. I love when something classic is remixed in a way that’s not immediately apparent but just feels slightly special. My style can sway from classic to very eccentric and the things I wear can span many decades of influence. The Cortez is one of the only shoes that can feel simultaneously ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and current.