The human foot is a culmination of 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. This complex system is hard to adapt to, especially when in motion. So one complex system begets another complex system.
The Nike Presto was released in 2000 with the goal of becoming a t-shirt for the foot. What that translates to is that it was assembled in as few pieces as possible. The upper of the shoe is six pieces, four of those pieces are TPU and the other two are mesh. The average t-shirt is about five pieces of fabric. Much like a t-shirt is a minimal form of dress, the Presto at that time was one of the most minimal pieces of footwear ever created.
With the t-shirt being a benchmark it was hard to think that you could take a shoe and make it more minimal then the Presto. Enter 2016 and the Presto Ultra has managed to take away even more pieces.
Often times minimal requires sacrifices, what makes the Ultra significant is that instead of sacrificing performance and fit to become more simple, it actually increases performance. What makes the Ultra so unique is that if you reference sketches and stories from the original Presto designer Tobie Hatfield, you would understand that the goal of the shoe was to be what it is today. But manufacturing processes were not up to date with the vision of design. So the project was successful in the since that it minimized parts but it was a failure that it didn’t succeed at becoming a one-piece upper.
It took 16 years to turn that failure into a success and capture the vision that was intended in 2000. What you have now is actually more minimal then its original inspiration, it is now truly a sock. Which takes the shoe from six pieces to down to two material subsets: TPU and FlyKnit.
FlyKnit elevates the Presto lineup to new heights. The original Presto felt incredibly comfortable on foot, at that time it was the benchmark for a “sock-like-fit”. The material used to capture that feeling was a four-way-stretch fabric, meaning it would stretch in every direction. Which created a phenomenal 1-1 fit for every consumer, no matter their foot shape or size. However, what the material lacked was support. There was no way of tuning where the mesh would stretch and where it would be secure.
FlyKnit can be tuned to do whatever you need it to do.
Inherently FlyKnit is four-way-stretch. What is significant about the Ultra is the way it splays the tension of the weave throughout the foot. It fits securely around the collar, tight throughout the midfoot and then opens up through the top or the vamp of the foot, to allow the metatarsal heads to stretch and splay naturally. What is beautiful about the function of the design is that it leads to an incredible aesthetic.
The pattern of the Ultra is a classic example of form follows function. Where the upper is meant to be more breathable you see an elliptical pattern that stretches and flows across the foot to really exemplify how the foot flexes and splays. Then those ellipses grow tighter and more supportive as the knit pattern strengthens the structure to support the foot as it reverts back from its splaying motion. It is really a beautiful thing.
The most dramatic difference between 2000 and 2016 is the cut of the collar. It is no longer a low-cut silhouette as it now becomes a mid. While extending the shoe may seem to go against the notion of the minimal mentality, I believe it actually improves the performance of the shoe. Compare it to a no-show sock; they rarely stay secure around the foot. Taking the collar height higher secures it in for a fit that doesn’t slack.
The FlyKnit Ultra encompasses everything the anatomy of the foot is; an incredibly complex system that is in constant flux and change. Yet it is packaged in a beautiful form that can perform at a high rate.