Merokean’s sneaker embodies New York

Gabrielle Serrano is a winner of Nike's "On Air" competition

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Gabrielle Serrano, of Merrick, is a self-described “big sneaker person.” Owning more than 800 pairs of them, she’s deep into the culture of collecting fashionable footwear. As someone who values artistic expression, it’s always been a dream of hers to design her own.

Now, thanks to a competition hosted by Nike, Serrano’s dream has been realized, in the form of a product available on the company’s website. She is a New Yorker at heart, and the culture of the city shines through her design.

“New York is the people that make up New York,” Serrano, 30, told the Herald on Monday. “I’ve traveled, but nothing ever feels like home. It’s the people and their energy that make up New York.”

A 2006 graduate of Calhoun High School, Serrano not only knows New York — she was born in Queens and has lived in Brooklyn — but has experienced the culture of Europe and South America. New York, though, is the “most diverse of any place,” she said — and her sneaker had to measure up.

Last year Nike opened its On Air competition to people in New York City, London, Paris, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo, challenging fans to reinvent the Air Max sneaker to reflect the “uniqueness of their communities,” according to the company’s website. A public vote narrowed 18 finalists down to six — one from each city — and Serrano was chosen to represent New York.

Every pair of sneakers “tells a story,” she said. The Air Max 98 design fit her vision — its side paneling was transformed into a gradient of skin colors, showing the array of complexions found on the streets of New York. The sneaker shows that “everyone is on an equal plane,” she said. Blue also mirrors the water surrounding the city, and the suburbs’ cracked gravel sidewalks line the sides. Manhattan’s coordinates can also be found.

Of the winners, Serrano was the only woman, she said, and now her shoe is sold internationally. Although it embodies the spirit of the Empire State, “I wanted people from London to like it, too,” she said.

Her design became inspiration for others, she added. One younger girl, trying to decide whether to pursue art or go to school full-time, felt represented by Serrano’s work — and her career. As a former nurse and current administrative supervisor for Northwell Health, Serrano showed that a challenging career and an avocation can be balanced, she said. Another local told her that the sneakers helped strengthen the personal bond between them and their family during a battle with cancer.

On her Instagram page, @queenleo_ny, the comments show support as well. After the sneaker’s release, Serrano’s Instagram follower count shot up to more than 7,000. One user, a self-described “sneaker head,” said, “I’m impressed. Haven’t seen a dope color way in quite some time and you nailed it . . . congrats!!” Another New Yorker wrote that Serrano is “definitely making the city proud.”

Serrano said she wasn’t done expressing herself. Fellow New Yorkers may find her roaming the streets, camera in hand, capturing candids of locals, highlighting the area’s diversity. “Walk with Love” was the tagline of her sneaker project, a message she hopes to spread in future ventures.

To see the product page for the Nike sneaker, visit swoo.sh/2KOtHok.