Nike sues over Lil Nas X 'Satan Shoes' with human blood in soles

Lil Nas X's collaboration on the shoes comes as he released his devilish music video for his new song.
Lil Nas X's collaboration on the shoes comes as he released his devilish music video for his new song.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (AFP, NYTIMES) - It's been quite a few days for sneakers, Satan and the artist Lil Nas X.

It started with a recently released music video that sees the 21-year-old of "Old Town Road" fame give the devil a lap dance, which resulted in the Grammy winner exchanging disses with a sitting US governor who took issue with the seductive clip and began tweeting Bible verses at him.

Then, the announcement that the rapper would collaborate with a Brooklyn company to make 666 pairs of "Satan Shoes" - black Nike Air Max 97s customized to feature a bronze pentagram, a Bible verse referring to Satan's fall and a drop of human blood mixed with red ink in the midsole - resulted on Monday (March 29) as many great American tales do: with a lawsuit.

Nike is suing MSCHF Product Studio, the eccentric company that linked up with Lil Nas X to create the shoe, for trademark infringement and dilution, saying in a statement to AFP that "the Satan Shoes were produced without Nike's approval or authorization, and Nike is in no way connected with this project."

In federal court documents, Nike alleges that the release has prompted boycott calls against them from offended consumers, who erroneously associate the sneaker giant with the bloody soled-shoes due to their trademark swoosh symbol.

The shoes sold out almost instantly after dropping Monday, going for US$1,018 (S$1,372) a pair. The sale is a follow-up to MSCHF's "Jesus Shoes" - white Nike Air Max 97s, which contained holy water in the sole.

Nike did not sue over that product line.

Devilish Music Video

Lil Nas X's collaboration on the shoes comes as he released his devilish music video for his new song "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" - a song whose title appears to refer to the novel and film "Call Me By Your Name," about a summer romance between two men.

In the lusty clip, the rapper born Montero Lamar Hill celebrates his sexuality and queerness - the artist came out in 2019 - pole dancing in stilettos down to Hell to twerk on the Devil.

The song, its accompanying video and the sneakers triggered the ire of many conservatives - including the governor of the state of South Dakota.

"Our kids are being told that this kind of product is, not only okay, it's 'exclusive.' But do you know what's more exclusive? Their God-given eternal soul. We are in a fight for the soul of our nation. We need to fight hard. And we need to fight smart. We have to win," Kristi Noem tweeted on Sunday.

A meme king adept at Twitter trolling, Lil Nas X replied with a number of barbs mocking the outcry, along with a more to-the-point message: "ur a whole governor and u on here tweeting about some damn shoes. do ur job!"

Stephen J. Hoch, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania, said MSCHF was "smart" to make only 666.

"They won't be stuck with too much unsold inventory," he said. "It is totally a gimmick, and not a very good one at that. And the price is ridiculous."

Making limited quantities of streetwear - sold in "drops" - contributes to the hype over products as well as to high prices on the resale market.

The value of many collectibles, like coffee tables, Nike Air Jordan shoes and whiskey, has soared during the pandemic.

At least the shoes are tangible: A piece of art that exists only digitally, verified as the only one in the world by an NFT, or nonfungible token, sold for more than US$69 million this month.

A pair of the Satan Shoes is unlikely to fetch such a price on the resale market. But the blood and other satanic elements are "definitely a unique marketing strategy," said Barbara E. Kahn, another marketing professor at Penn.

She said the strategy would "clearly only appeal to a niche market segment, but it might especially appeal to that segment."

"Part of the messaging is the breaking down of barriers, of societal norms," she said. "That suggests a new way of doing things, which is consistent with the ideas of breaking down societal norms that discriminate against people."