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Virgil Abloh’s Couture Kicks Bring in Massive Haul for Charity

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 2/10/2022 Marina Stanley
A view of The Louis Vuitton and Nike expression of the “Air Force 1” by Virgil Abloh as Sotheby's To Auction Louis Vuitton & Nike "Air Force 1" Sneakers By Virgil Abloh For Charity at Sotheby's on January 21, 2022 in New York City. © Photographer: Theo Wargo/Getty Images North America A view of The Louis Vuitton and Nike expression of the “Air Force 1” by Virgil Abloh as Sotheby's To Auction Louis Vuitton & Nike "Air Force 1" Sneakers By Virgil Abloh For Charity at Sotheby's on January 21, 2022 in New York City.

(Bloomberg) -- Two hundred pairs of Nike Air Force 1 sneakers created by the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh sold for a combined $25.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction on Wednesday. The highest price paid, at $352,800, was for a pair of size 5 shoes that carried an original high estimate of $15,000. The proceeds will go to the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund, which aims to help students of color who are pursuing careers in fashion.

The sale solidifies a design and charitable mission for Abloh, who was integral to the shoe’s creation. The 41-year-old died in November 2021 of cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare, aggressive form of cancer. The auctioned footwear is the first collaboration between Nike and French fashion house Louis Vuitton, where Abloh was artistic director. 

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“Today’s record-breaking azuction, which saw unparalleled global participation, is a testament to Virgil Abloh’s legacy as one of the most visionary artists and designers of his generation whose widespread influence and impact is still palpable,” said Sotheby’s Chief Executive Officer Charles F. Stewart in a statement following the sale.

The leather low tops feature Abloh’s signature “Air” quotation marks and Louis Vuitton’s iconic Damier Ebene pattern. Each pair of shoes comes with an orange case exclusive to the auction and embellished with the LV emblems. 

Video: Sneakers designed by Virgil Abloh go up for auction (Reuters)

Initial estimates for the online auction were $1 million to $3 million, but quickly Sotheby’s hit a participation record surpassing the total number of bids received not only just on opening day, but a record number of bidders for any of its online sales, period. The auction lasted from Jan. 26 through Feb. 8.

By the end, more than 1,200 bidders from across 50-plus countries participated with an average of 52 bids per lot, according to Sotheby’s. Buyers were younger than usual, with more than half under 40. Collectors from Asia accounted for 40% of total sales.

One unique aspect of this auction is that all of the shoes were identical, except for size, and that seemed to make a big difference. In addition to the top-selling size 5, a pair of size 9.5 sneakers went for 2nd highest at $201,600, and multiple pairs—across sizes 9.5, 10, 10.5, and 11—managed to each reach $189,000, the third highest haul of any lot. A size 6.5, on the other hand, was the lowest price paid at $75,600. One hundred percent of the lots sold in excess of their high estimates.

The Sotheby’s auction shines a light on the intense popularity of couture kicks as cult favorites and investments. A pair of game-worn Nikes  worn by Michael Jordan sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Las Vegas last October for a record $1.47 million. The most expensive pair of known shoes ever sold were Nike Air Yeezy 1 prototypes worn by Kanye West during his performance at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards; they went for  $1.8 million during a private sale in April 2021. The purchaser, Rares, plans to fractionalize the kicks as an investment for others.

West was among the many famous collaborators and fans who paid tribute following the death of Abloh at the peak of his game. Drake, Pharrell Williams, Victoria Beckham, and Gigi Hadid were also among this wave paying homage on social media. In August 2020,  Abloh told Bloomberg that he considered his success a means to giving all his fashion projects a higher purpose. “What’s next for me is eradicating systemic racism. I’m taking on the task of raising Black voices—and that, to me, is a new chapter of my career.”

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