Nicholas Mudskipper for Nike Dunk Low SP "Ultraman"
When you have an archive pull from like Nike has, you are essentially tapping into a treasure trove of cultural history that intersects with disciplines and interests as varied as the communities and subcultures that have defined the last sixty years.

The launch of Cult Classics sees the brand dive into their library, and revive some of the most surreal and covetable expressions of Nike’s DNA. So, when we caught wind that a feature of this year’s Cult Classics would include the Dunk ‘Ultraman’ - inspired by the hero of a serious cult-classic status created by Eiji Tsuburaya - there was only one person in the city that we knew to go to. Enter Nicholas Mudskipper, tattooist, shop owner and Japanese vintage toy collector, whose passion for Ultraman runs deeper than the ink in his skin.

Nicholas owns ‘TOMB’, a tattoo shop in Gardens, Cape Town. The space is like the left-hand path come to life - where any of your wrought attachments to māyā (illusion) are obligingly left at the door - and if tattooing were a ritual in which practitioners gather to study and meditate upon; then TOMB and its cast of artists would be Cape Town’s monastic order. After moving back from Bangkok nearly eight years ago, where Nicholas previously owned another shop, Nicholas explains that “TOMB is a strong name - its four letters, and coming from a graffiti background, I was looking for a name that was easy to remember. I’ve always loved the macabre - memento mori - things to do with death and honouring things that are impermanent. The whole shop looks like a shrine, inconspicuous from the outside but when you walk in, it's a sensory overload. Its kind of like discovering a tomb filled with internal treasures.” 

Merging the spiritual with the pop-cultural (particularly of the vintage and obscure variety), Nicholas’ kinetic understanding for building a refuge in the city that would serve as a portal to some of the greatest material expressions by human culture is evident in the curation of TOMB, which he notes is filled with “ talismans from all over the world - from travels to places like South East Asia, Nepal, Mexico. There are pieces from sacred places like monasteries up in Russia; I’ve been gifted all sorts of amazing things on travels and by people visiting the shop.” 

As an artist, Nicholas’ deepest reservoir of inspiration is born from the distinctly Japanese expression of ‘kaiju’ (怪獣) - meaning "strange beast" or "monster’’, which have lent themselves to the expansion of a Japanese vision of giant monsters in art — monsters that wreak havoc on cities or engage in battles with other creatures. Think Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and the likes

As Nick says, “I’ve always been into monsters and horror, and it's influenced my tattooing - I love the true designs of the monsters, the colourway, their stories and textures. I love thinking about all the characters and their different expressions, and of course - hunting toys.” Nicholas got deep into the toy collecting scene when he lived in Bangkok, a place he described as a ‘dumping ground for Japanese vintage toys’. The importance of collectibles are as profound to Nicholas as the spiritual invocations and talisman that adorn the walls of TOMB,  “I think my love for toys are pretty evident - when you walk in, you’re hit with a huge counter that's full of Japanese Bandai toys. I think people get stoked when they see all the toys. Walking into shops nowadays, people expect a white wall, a little plant and a welcome mat. I want people to walk in and either be terrified or impressed.”

Nike have always used their repertoire of sneakers to express more than just their engineering and design-thinking. The brand’s history of collaborations share an indomitable commitment to seeing their silhouettes as referential sites of cultural representation. When the ‘metallic silver’ and ‘varsity red’ of the Nike Dunk Low CO.JP “Ultraman” was released in 1999, it caused a frenzied collision between sneaker & toy heads alike - with the colourway being a directly pulled form the iconic colours born from Ultraman’s extraterrestrial suit.

As Nicholas, a long-time fan of the giant alien from the Land of Light in Nebula M78 (who comes to Earth to fight off various monsters and protect humanity) “the colourway is so strong. The gunmetal grey and the red just screams Ultraman. My favourite Ultraman bad-guy is a Pigmon, and he’s based off these very colours. It's very clever - if you’re a toy collector or a shoe collector, knowing it's associated with a vintage Japanese toy line lends such monumental character. I’m really stuck between whether I should be wearing them or displaying them with my toys.” and that “I love that Nike are doing an obscure, artist series approach.”

On Nicholas as our embodiment for this drop, we asked what the purpose of TOMB is for him and anyone who has the chance to step through its doors,

“for me, the shop oozes an 80s biker fantasy-style shop, and it's a reflection of everything that I love. We've got lots of neon, old movie posters, and flash from the 80s and 90s and from around the world. It has everything I think a tattoo shop should be - with some weird things inside for shock value. It's a very inclusive space, it's open to anyone and we love tattooing all styles. It's not a hipster tattoo shop which is something I’m kinda against. I wanted it to have a tough exterior but when people hang at the shop, it's a family business and that people to feel welcome. I hope TOMB will stand the test of time and I hope people will see it as a beacon of what true tattooing is.”

Nicholas’ artistry is animated by all manner of unseen forces - and whether it's the surreal or the gruesome, the comical or deathly-serious; it's a rare thing to see a person be so precisely attuned to deriving the beauty in all this existence has to offer. Lastly, on what motivates Nicholas’ imagination, he says,

“Old fantasy comic books and artworks - my  favourite artist is Frank Frazetta. Anything to do with barbarians, swords, beautiful maidens that need to be rescued, weird monsters, overlords, superpowers, weird dimensions - castles made from skulls - beasts that live in dark lares, heroes too. This stuff does it all for me and it bleeds into my work, and I think it's really special to be able to drift off into a fantasy world. Whether it's in your head, on paper, or deep into a book or staring at a cabinet full of toys.” Some of those in our community might not know that one of Lemkus’ original offerings were toys and collectibles - so this drop taps into a nostalgic and foundational essence of our community, composed of all of our favourite things. We can’t wait to see what’s next with Nike’s Cult Classics.