How do you go about creating a proper set of apparel and sneakers to honor the all-time greatest on her final night of professional competition? The Nike designers outfitting Serena Williams, who retired upon her exit from the US Open on Friday, had a guideline from the GOAT herself: “More is more.”
“What a dream brief when designing for such an iconic moment for the greatest of all time,” says Geoff Hale, a senior athlete footwear manager at Nike who works on Williams’ shoes.
In response to the prompt, Nike, which has outfitted Williams in head-to-toe looks since 2004, gave her the most.
Williams played in her last Grand Slam in a sparkling bodice inspired by figure skating gear and bedazzled with crystals. The outfit was meant to channel the twinkling stars of the night sky, its many ornaments nearly matching their luster. Her skirt of six layers (she shed a few layers during matches to cut weight) referenced her six career US Open wins. Her shoes, an exclusive version of the NikeCourt Flare 2, were diamond-encrusted, with solid gold deubrés sourced from her company Serena Williams Jewelry.
“I love how that in of itself celebrated her entrepreneurship as well as her personal, iconic style,” says Hale.
He’s worked with Williams since 2014, contributing to shoes like the Mirabella, Flare, Flare 2, and Flare Knit Low. The feedback he received from her in their first meeting correlates to that from the most recent in that Williams consistently emphasized pushing limits, even if she wasn’t actually competing.
“Our team had been working on a new footwear model for her, and she invited us to her home court in Florida at a key point in the creation process to test it,” Hale remembers. “It was incredible to see the same intensity she brings to her Grand Slam matches to testing our footwear. The feedback she gave us that day: Going ‘all out’ in practice was critical to informing the final design that she’d later wear in some of the biggest matches of her career.”
In working with her, Hale has found Williams to be an active collaborator who can provide precise feedback on shoes pitched to her. In the case of her gear for the 2022 US Open, she even came with her own sketches for the apparel. She has also been, he says, eager to access Nike’s latest tech and implement it into the items she wears on court.
The brand has leaned into this, involving her more in product through the forming in 2019 of the Serena Williams Design Crew. Its members, assembled in partnership with the tennis icon, are focused on creating what Nike calls a more equitable future for design.
“With this team of young, up-and-coming designers, she is taking the same approach as she did with her on-court footwear throughout her professional career,” Hale says, “pushing the team to bring amazing stories to life while using the best models, materials and process possible.”
Her legacy in sportswear will extend beyond the designers she’s co-signed. Williams is also part of Nike’s Athlete Think Tank, a group at the brand that advocates for women in sport. The largest building at Nike’s world headquarters in Oregon is named after her.
Her sneaker legacy is familial, too. Williams has dressed her daughter, Olympia, in shoes to match her own. At the US Open, the mother-daughter pair shined together, both donning the same farewell sneakers.
“Our first meeting after Olympia was born, when Serena was working on making her return to court, we went to visit her to see how we could help,” says Hale. “Olympia and Serena were matching head to toe! Since then, we have made Olympia footwear and apparel to match her amazing mom.”