Li-Ning Spring/Summer 2021 “New Frontier” Photography: Mel Bles

Li-Ning—China’s icon of athletics and style—launches  “New Frontier” for Spring/Summer.The new film and image series explores the landscape of a barren  desert setting in Los Angeles county with mysterious figures treking across a shifting terrain futuristic and primitive at the same time with unexpected bursts of water arriving and floating in mid-air, interspersed with footage of raging fire—drawing inspiration from the 4 classical elements of creation. The rocky mountainous landscapes represent the earth, colours resemble layers of sedimentary rock, shifting sands and rich, red clay. White separates represent air and a capsule of pale, blue denim pieces—a first for Li-Ning’s runway collection—reference water.

The edited selection of footwear styles seen throughout “New Frontier” live up to the project’s name—multidimensional forms born at the intersection of boundary-advancing design and modern fabrication. The first shoe to appear in the film— 3-piece Mix Ace, with its convertible sandal to trainer style— arrives, prepared to meet the shifting landscapes to come. The customizable silhouette’s components include: 1) the flexible, outside cage-like TPU frame connecting to the 2) UVA sole through a series of grooves and 3) the lightweight, breathable mesh inner boot that slips inside both pieces. Inspired by the concept of Chinese architectural design “Sun Mao”, each part unites and is held together completely without adhesive.

The season’s running range, meanwhile, is glimpsed at through “New Frontier’s” inclusion of the CRC Shadow, a new iteration of the pioneering silhouette known for its split-level, hollowed-out sole. The sculptural Ace 2—another runner-derived style—is the latest addition to the Furious Rider franchise, continuing that series’ fascination with the important role of the Furious Horse in Chinese culture. This newest edition projects a more explicit, visual interpretation of the beautiful creature’s toned muscles and skeletal system.

Lifestyle shoes, meanwhile, are led boldly into the future with the technical, cyber punk–resembling Xuan Kong. Distinctive for its ultra-chunky sole unit extending well beyond its heel, this new model looks to archival Li-Ning footwear, reviving and updating a storied design detail in the process: the TPU “bow”-inspired shape that hollows out the shoe’s sole and unites its disparate, multi-component base.

Finally, in basketball, the new Wu Xing II Qian model looks ahead to the footwear of tomorrow. The hi-top silhouette pairs an integrated folding upper structure with a vamp spliced by transparent insets, mesh details and ventilating holes – all improving breathability, temperature regulation and comfort. The shoe’s pull-out tightening lace system, meanwhile, allows for quick adjustments and closure with ease while the Qian’s sole adopts a bionic shape, inspired by the rippling movement of water. Lastly, slots are designed and cut into the model’s base, allowing for increased movement and flexibility.

Taken together, this edited assortment of Li-Ning SS 21 footwear provides an imaginative first glimpse of what else the season has in-store, not to mention the future of shoe design at large.

“New Frontier” Credits: Photography: Mel Bles Styling: Jay Massacret CGI + Video Editing: Studio Private Creative Direction: PL Studio Production: Webber Casting: Nicola Kast @ Webber Cast: Sophie Koella @ Vision; Trystin Valentino @ Margaux; James Baek @ Select Location: Los Angeles County, California

Diane Pernet

A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN FASHION and a pioneer of blogging, Diane is a respected journalist, critic, curator and talent-hunter based in Paris. During her prolific career, she designed her own successful brand in New York, costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker.