Natalie Bravo is an IPilogue Writer and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Lil Nas X, internet sensation and Grammy Award winning musician, released his unofficial Nike “Satan Shoes” on March 28th, 2021. The “Satan Shoes” are a promotional item for his latest song and music video, Montero (Call Me By Your Name). Nike promptly filed a copyright infringement and dilution complaint against MSCHF over the unofficial shoes, leaving fans and sneakerheads alike scratching their heads.
The viral video for Montero features the musician dancing provocatively on a caricature of the Devil. Lyrically, the song is unabashedly Lil Nas’s expression of homosexuality – in an effort to normalize queer narratives in music. The accompanying promotional sneakers were announced on Palm Sunday and were limited to 666 pairs. They feature a familiar Nike check mark and a drop of real human blood. 665 pairs sold out within one minute at $1,018 each. The 666th pair were held for a giveaway on satan.shoes.
One does not have to be a fan of Lil Nas X to see that his marketing campaigns achieve the desired result. He continually keeps his millions of followers engaged through his viral Tweets and TikTok videos. The Old Town Road singer’s latest Satanic-themed marketing initiative is garnering large amounts of attention, especially from Nike, Inc.
While the Satan Shoes look very much like Nike sneakers, Nike did not license them. They are instead a revamped version of Nike Air Max 97s from a collaboration between the New York based art collective, MSCHF, and Lil Nas X. Each pair contains two ounces of red ink and a drop of human blood from a MSCHF team member. The kicks also feature a pentagram charm, an inverted cross, and a reference to Luke 10:18.
MSCHF are known for reappropriating designer items and creating their own reworked pieces from existing styles. In the past they have sold cut-up Hermès Birkin bags and unauthorized “Jesus Shoes” which were customized Nike Air Max 97s filled with holy water from the Jordan River. The Satan Shoes appeared to be just another hype product release in the same vein as the Jesus Shoes.
The devil-themed song, sneakers, and music video made for immense backlash on social media. The public outcry surrounding the controversy was reminiscent of the “Satanic Panic” of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The outcry prompted Nike to quickly release statements and file a lawsuit against MSCHF. Nike alleges that customers have started boycotting Nike for “apparent association with Satan,” citing this as “irreparable harm to [Nike’s] goodwill” caused by the sneakers. Nike asked the courts to halt order-fulfillments and requested a jury trial to seek damages. A temporary restraining order was granted against MSCHF, however, the 665th pairs had already been sent to customers. The 666th pair giveaway has indefinitely been halted.
Curiously, Nike did not take issue with MSCHF’s previously released Jesus Shoes despite them being also unauthorized and unendorsed by the company. The Jesus Shoes were similarly viral as they also sold out in minutes and were the most googled shoes in the year of their release. Drake and other high-profile celebrities rocked the Jesus kicks and the shoes brought Nike positive press. So why are Lil Nas X and his Satan Shoes in so much heat?
Nike has won the action to halt shoe sales and has been granted a restraining order against MSCHF; but what comes next? MSCHF themselves claim the shoes are works of art protected by the First Amendment. Freedom of expression and freedom of speech are at the forefront of this suit. Nike has historically not hesitated to protect their brand and image through legal proceedings. This case has the potential to change the world of customized fashion – staples in modern streetwear and the art world.