The Cortez trainer was first track shoe to be created by Nike and was designed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman whilst the company was still known as Blue Ribbon, specialising in Onitsuka Tiger trainer sales. Bowerman was himself an Olympic track coach at the University of Oregon and wanted to design a shoe durable and comfortable enough for long distance running and training. By adding a raised heel with more rubber, Bowerman aimed to prevent painful Achilles tendon injuries in those who spent many hours training for and taking part in races. The originals were first constructed in leather, however this was later replaced by the nylon and suede uppers which we are familiar with today for their lightweight properties.
The Nike Cortez silhouette was finalised in 1968, coinciding with the Mexico Olympics, and originally was to be named the ‘Aztec’ after the sporting event. Meanwhile however, Adidas had developed a new style to be named the ‘Azteca Gold’ and so after much reconsideration the name Cortez was adopted. This was in honour of the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes who invaded south America in 1519, causing the fall of the Aztec empire. Cortez then became a rather apt name for this new trainer, daring to rival Adidas, just as Cortes had taken on the Aztecs.
The Nike Cortez had to begin with been sold alongside Onitsuka Tiger products, but now Blue Ribbon had inspirations to create their own brand and so Nike was formed. After a legal case it was decided that Nike would market the shoe as the Cortez, whilst Onitsuka Tiger would produce the trainer under the name Corsair. Released at the height of 1972 Munich Olympics, the Cortez was favoured by US competitors and this attention from professional athletes has been accredited with Nike’s early success as a company.
Away from the track, the Cortez gathered a large following amongst Latino individuals living in LA in the 1980s and 90s, becoming notoriously associated as a symbol of gang culture, with every member donning a pair of Cortez trainers as an identity feature. Today however, the Nike Cortez does not come with professional athlete nor gang connotations and has become a casual fashion staple. Not only has the Cortez become recognisable at street level but in recent years has also made iconic appearances on the big screen.
Remember Forrest Gump’s epic run across America? He did it in a pair of white Cortez trainers!
And do you remember when Leonardo DiCaprio smashed up that Lamborghini in The Wolf Of Wall Street? Yep, he did it in white Cortezs!
Perhaps then we might consider, even as an early foundation style of the Nike empire, the modern perception of the Cortez lives up to the very fundamental message of Nike. Get those Cortez on and ‘Just Do It’.
Written by Lucy Jackson