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MSCHF Defends ‘Satan Shoes’ as Artistic Response to ‘Collab Culture’

MSCHF, the Brooklyn art collective behind the “Satan Shoe,” issued a 400-word statement Thursday afternoon defending its notorious sneaker, now the subject of a trademark lawsuit from Nike, as art, adding that it hoped to resolve the matter “in the most expeditious manner.”

A follow-up to its 2019 Jesus Shoes, the Satan Shoes once again retooled Nike’s Air Max 97 sneaker. This time, however, it injected a mix of human blood and ink into the sole instead of holy water and attached a pentagram pendant to the lacing rather than a crucifix, among other things.

The shoes went viral over the weekend when details emerged online. Many quickly responded in outrage, with some taking specific issue with Nike under the mistaken belief that the footwear company was involved.

Despite the uproar, the drop went ahead as planned on Monday, with the shoe selling out all but one of the 666 pairs—the final was to be given away on social media, but those plans have since been indefinitely postponed—in less than a minute. The shoes were sold for $1,018, a reference to a Bible verse that mentions Satan.

That same day—it is unclear whether before or after the sale went live—Nike filed a lawsuit requesting the court immediately and permanently stop MSCHF from fulfilling all orders. It then served a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, to which MSCHF responded by saying all orders had already been shipped. Nike then petitioned the court to force MSCHF to recall all orders and by Thursday morning the TRO had been approved.

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Fara Sunderji, a partner at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney’s New York office with a background in trademark, copyright, clearance, prosecution, maintenance, enforcement and litigation, said she thinks the case is likely to settle.

“Most cases like this will settle after the issuance of a TRO or maybe go through to the preliminary injunction phase, but not much more,” Sunderji said. “Here, MSCHF may want to go forward until the court rules on the preliminary injunction because they only submitted a single three-page letter to the court and Nike, as the movant, submitted a fully briefed motion.”

MSCHF published a public statement defending its actions—and its mission—Thursday afternoon.

“We believe it is better to make art that participates directly in its subject matter; it is stronger to do a thing, than to talk about a thing,” the statement read. “MSCHF makes artworks that live directly in the systems they critique, instead of hiding inside white-walled galleries. There is no better way to start a conversation about consumer culture than by participating in consumer culture.”

MSCHF had previously claimed that both the Jesus Shoes and the Satan Shoes were created to criticize “the ever-popular ‘collab culture.’” It reaffirmed that stance in its statement.

“As a manifested speculative artwork Jesus Shoes conflates celebrity collab culture and brand worship with religious worship into a limited-edition line of art objects,” MSCHF wrote. “Last week’s release of the Satan Shoes, in collaboration with Lil Nas X, was no different. Satan Shoes started a conversation, while also living natively in its space. It is art created for people to observe, speculate on, purchase, and own.”

In its letter to the court arguing against Nike’s TRO, MSCHF claimed that as the Satan Shoe is a matter of artistic expression, it should be protected by the First Amendment. Sunderji said this argument is interesting, but noted that the judge did not seem to be persuaded during the TRO hearing. “MSCHF would no doubt flesh these arguments out if the case goes forward,” she added.

In that letter, MSCHF also pushed back on Nike’s claims of public confusion by saying the same thing occurred when it released the Jesus Shoes and Nike did not act then. Sunderji said this “appears to be a weak argument, legally speaking. However, it appears to have more legs in the court of public opinion.”

MSCHF, in its public statement Thursday, said it was “honestly surprised” by Nike’s actions, and claimed that “immediately after Nike’s counsel sent us notice we reached out but received no response.” It added that it looked forward “to working with Nike and the court to resolve this case in the most expeditious manner.”

The judge’s ruling in approving Nike’s TRO ordered MSCHF to file opposing papers by April 8 and Nike to file reply papers by April 12. It also ordered MSCHF to appear in court on April 14 to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be issued.