What a time to be a Jordan XI Low fan. I’m not sure I’d ever seen Tinker talk about this design until Nike News upped a piece on it recently, plus fellow fan of this shoe, Ben Berry wrote a nice piece for Finish Line on the topic of the mysterious use of I.E. because like me, he doesn’t buy that story about it standing for “International Edition” at all. I’m with Ben in thinking that I.E. was just a shade of white, material code or a typo. What “I.E.” means is a mystery like the black/golds 1s, the whereabouts of the Jordan II KO (incidentally, KO definitely stands for Knock Off, as in it being a canvas knockoff of the leather version) or photographic evidence of Boyz II Men in tuxedos and Concords.
A lot of people hate this shoe. They prefer to see shiny toes. But, interestingly, everybody I know whose taste I trust goes absolutely ballistic over the XI “I.E.” It’s one of my favourite Air Jordans, ever since my dad brought be back a magazine from Hong Kong in 1996 with a picture of them in it (I wrongly assumed that they were the Jordan XII). There’s a couple of mystery colourways from back in the day too — the red and whites (as included in Ben’s article), these black and reds that professor Steve Bryden upped on Instagram, and the all blacks that some people choose to call the “referees”. I think they’re just the scrapped sample of the black and red editions. But, as Chopper always said, why let the truth get in the way of a good yarn? That said, I want to see a picture of a ref wearing them, so if you’ve got the picture, send it my way, because I want the story to have some truth.
That’s the shorthand version. Below is the more convoluted version.
The shoe now known as the Air Jordan XI Low “I.E.” was introduced in fall 1996 and remains something of an enigma given its lack of publicity compared to its patent toed predecessor.
Another element of the shoe would resurrect the past in style — for the “I.E. White/Light Grey-Cobalt” colorway, (billed as “I.E. White/Cement Grey-Cobalt” in the catalogue) that Durabuck was embossed with the iconic elephant print that’s now played out on other shoes; its first return to the series since 1988 (though it had been used on the STS and some random Pegasus, Cortez, Air Trainer takedowns and Pegasus). A duo of makeups were available in adult and two child sizes— the “I.E. White” and the traditional black and red palette.
Another element of the shoe would resurrect the past in style — for the “I.E. White/Light Grey-Cobalt” colorway, that Durabuck was embossed with the iconic elephant print that’s now played out on other shoes; it’s first return to the series since 1988 (though it had been used on the STS and some random Pegasus, Cortez, Air Trainer takedowns and Pegasus). A duo of makeups were available in adult and two child sizes — the “I.E. White” and the traditional black and red palette.
Notably, the black version, which lacked the familiar print, was initially shown in catalogues as a sample with a black midsole (Black/Dark Grey-True Red), before it was switched to Black/True Red-White to form the version that Jordan gave airtime to. For some reason (which remains a mystery), that black version was sampled in multiple sizes before the switch to a white sole. Those shoes would end up in the resell market.
After it introduction, the Air Jordan Low would be superseded by the announcement of the Air Jordan XII. But Prada bit a lot of the design when it came to creating their own athletic-inspired offerings. History would repeat itself when, as with the AJ1 11 years earlier, a handful of East Coast skaters picked up on the shoe as a performance shoe beyond the court resulting in Vinny Ponte wearing the “I.E.” edition in Zoo York’s seminal Mixtape back in 1998 (he still recently declared “My favorite Jordan’ s !!!!!!!!” under an Instagram post of mine). Maybe the relative failure of the shoe made them an affordable skate option. On the subject of skating in XIs, shouts to Brad Johnson for wearing the patent toe cool greys in a Western Edition video too. Technical skate brands like the mighty éS released some shoes with this model’s DNA in the mix around 1997.
In 2001, Jordan Brand would release a patent leather and ballistic nylon Air Jordan XI Low leading to some confusion. Thus, the use of “I.E.” became a NikeTalk differentiator. While a patent low never went to market in the 1990s and the 1996 Air Jordan Low was never explicitly billed as an XI, (instead it was an XI .5 if you will), rather, a takedown for the warmer season and a precursor for models released when Jordan Brand was officially launched in late 1997.
With more and more signature shoes shape shifting in time for playoffs, the “I.E.” could be considered a pioneering moment. It could be seen as the father of the LeBron 8 V2 and its ilk because, in Hatfield’s own words, “I felt like [patent leather] was contrary to the summer feel…the shoe didn’t need to feel so stiff and heavy. For the summer, I wanted something that was lighter and easier to wear.”
Subsequently, every version of the shoe would be unofficially dubbed the Air Jordan XI Low “I.E.” — two letters that were attached to the white colourway in 1996 only. In 2003, both makeups were reissued, with the black editions now bearing the elephant print too, but the “I.E.” dropped from the labelling on the whites (now it was White/Cobalt-Zen Grey).
The all black samples would find themselves in a few spots including Arch 47 in Camden back in the very early 2000s. In Sneaker Freaker issue #2, the store’s owner Justin Dickens describes the provenance of his pairs, “I used to have over 25 pairs! Back in 96 I lived up north and worked in a record shop…I started to walk back to work when I noticed in the front of the local sports store they had a line up about 10 metres long of sample Nikes that I’ve never laid my eyes on before. I went in and grabbed a selection of runners and the all black XI low samples. While I was paying at the checkout, I asked the guy if he had any other stuff like this round the back. To my surprise, he dragged out a massive box full of these Jordan XI low samples and said that I could have the whole lot for 20 quid a pair. I bought all of them. I started selling them for £300 and they were selling way too fast. I pushed them up to £350 and they were still flying out the door. I raised them to £650!”
In 2007 a lot of new XI Low colourways appeared. Some were good and some were terrible. No labels on boxes mentioned “I.E.” They called them Air Jordan 11 Lows or Air Jordan 11 Retro Lows.
I think they were just a sample that got a last-minute change of sole in line with MJ’s particular nature, rather than some ref shoe made to go with their uniforms. Nike is nicknaming them the ‘Black Cat’ versions for their first official release and billing them as the Air Jordan XI Low.
It might have been billed as the Air Jordan 11 Retro Low on boxes in recent years, but for the most part, the “I.E.” was simply connoisseur shorthand. If it isn’t white with elephant print, it isn’t I.E. It’s just an Air Jordan Low…or Air Jordan 11 Retro Low. Even the white makeup’s label on the 2015 just says White/Cobalt-Zen Grey-Cement Grey. It got a touch of zen, but lost the letters.