The Air Trainer 1 is the shoe that really got me obsessed with sports footwear — i saw the in store displays at the Co-op department store in my hometown and was smitten from first touch. From Mac to Bo and beyond, it led to a fixation with the cross training category. Continue reading THE ORIGINAL NIKELAB
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. Continue reading AIR JORDAN MYSTERIES
The majority of documentaries on sports footwear are a bland retread of past glories with the same talking heads telling exactly the same stories. The world doesn’t need some guy in weirdly laced shoes asking people who’ve been queuing for 16 hours, “What is a sneakerhead?”, any more than it needs another Imelda Marcos reference in the opening of an article on collectors and resell. Dull. The much-hyped exhibition in NYC right now looks a little middle-of-the-road too, even if the first part of the book offers a useful primer on the history of athletic shoes Still, there’s a few slept-on productions with some rare footage out there, like Sneakers, a 2004 Dutch production that features Patta brothers and true shoe Jedis Tim and Edson (back when Tim had dreads), some super-dated “cool hunting” (which seemed to fascinate people back then), and some chats with Steve Van Doren, Tinker Hatfield and Nobukazu Kishi from Boon. Like much on the topic from this period, it’s dated, but in a nice way — like over-designed Flash streetwear and shoe websites from the same time frame that don’t work on Wayback Machine. Submarine did a decent job on this 50-minute film, so salutes to whichever kind soul took the time to subtitle this.
I see a lot of Q&As conducted to promote a product or project, and there’s generally a recurring message and company line throughout. That’s understandable, because if you sit down expecting a Frost/Nixon confrontation, then you’re you’re an idiot. My longtime preoccupation with Air Jordan has been fairly evident on here over the years. 1988 brought me two great revelations: Bomb the Bass’s Don’t Make Me Wait video featuring the mysterious Air Jordan III, and seeing the Air Trainer 1 in my home town’s Beehive department store as part of a Nike Air display. Those moments were my introduction to the work of designer Tinker Hatfield. I never stopped obsessing. I popped to Paris a couple of days to see some excellent activations to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Jordan Brand — BKRW’s section in the Palais 23 space was a standout — and after a more bombastic presentation and chatter between Michael Jordan, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith for the global press in front of a slow grilling LED back drop, we got to see a significantly more intimate talk over at Nike France’s showroom.
I’ve often wondered whether Tinker (and can we have a moment of appreciation for his outlandish outfit in the circa 1991 brainstorm session photograph they used as a backdrop during the Palais 23 presentation?) deliberately drops a line in to keep the PR team nervous each and every time, but he’s always one to veer sharply from the company line at times, which makes interviews with him pretty compelling — on discussing the underrated Jordan 23 during this session, he exclaimed that, “We had to smoke a lot of weed for that one!”, before his “Just kidding” was drowned out by the applause as MJ entered at took a seat. That is just one of many reasons why Tinker stays legendary. Because, I know that there are some fanatics like me visiting this site, and because I recorded the chat, I thought I’d up it here. While the Jordan 29 gets mentioned a lot (after all, it’s the most recent instalment, though Tinker nearly mentioned a possible woven element on the impending 30), there’s a scattering of trivia in here too — I never knew that, for all the excellent ads over the years, Jordan’s favourite is still the old one where he goes one on one with Santa. All questions bar my one at the very end to Tinker and Mark were asked by Jordan Brand’s communications director (and all-round good guy) Brian Facchini.
Brian Facchini: Is there an individual shoe that you guys are most proud of?
Tinker Hatfield: The 20 was pretty cool because he storytelling was very rich and it was actually kind of hard to get Michael to open up about the past, but we finally got him to open up and we got a bunch of stories and Smitty and a bunch of other people put that tapestry together. That’s pretty special. I look at that shoe today and I see a tapestry. I see a specific symbol inside the shoe and I remember the story…it almost makes me cry — they’re very emotional stories.
Mark Smith: I’m really proud of the 20 but I think the 23 is a special one — we did something very different there and we are telling different stories and there were new ways to hold the product together with processes that were also storytelling. That was very interesting.
BF: For you, how many times have these two brought you something and you were like, “These two are out of their minds”?
Michael Jordan: Practically all of the time.The good thing about it is that these guys can go to the edge, which is what Nike are good at — being an edgy company. We push the envelope as much as possible. What I do is try to take it back to reality like, “Come on man, I don’t know if I can wear that — that’s a little bit out of the page for me.” Sometimes it takes a little moment to grow on me, but once it grows it, I love it. Tinker’s good at telling the stories and Mark has adapted to that now. They come up to me with this long story and I’m like, “Come on! Shut up and show me what you got!” But the stories connect the dots. We don’t do things just to do them and there’s a method behind the madness and it tells the story about me, how I play the game the things that I like and the innovation and technology is taken into that. I think that’s the beauty behind the relationship.
BF: As we’re looking back at 30 years of your career, do you find yourself looking ahead?
MJ: I live in the moment. If you live too far in the past or the future, you never enjoy the moment. I enjoy the moment and these guys take me on these different paths, but for me, it’s about how much fun can I have hanging out with you guys today. I’m not worried about tomorrow. I keep it very simple, while these guys take it a lot further than I could. I enjoy the game and enjoyed it in the moment and most fans could see that — I want that to come out in how we design shoes.
TH: If we stayed in the present and didn’t go into the future, he’d fire our ass.
MS: We’d be out.
BF: Is there one piece of a shoe that you remember having to go to war for a little bit?
MJ: The area on the toe of the 10s. I wouldn’t say that they’re my least favourite in all the 30 year of shoes, but Tinker and I had a communication breakdown. He went out on a limb and I had to pull him back down, because I wouldn’t wear that. It came out to be a great shoe because of the compromise we figured out.
TH: He had to threaten me.
MJ: It was during the baseball thing, so we didn’t have our normal meeting. He made an assumption and as you know, if you make an assumption, sometimes it makes an ass outta you. We had to make some changes and the shoe had been made so we had to eat a bunch of product. If you’ve got a pair of those, they’re worth a lot of money today.
BF: Is there one new technology you look at now and think, “I wish I had that when I was playing”?
MJ: The 29s. I think in terms of innovation — and I’ve only been able to walk in them and never played in them, though I wish I could have — that shoe in itself is incredibly comfortable but I think it responds to a lot of things that you do when it comes to performing at basketball. We’re working in the 30 now, which I think is a step up from the 29. The work in innovation in the technology that goes into the shoes now is far greater than anything I played in. Those shoes have evolved into signature things, but in terms of innovation, the shoes have improved tremendously since I played.
BF: Going back to the beginning, the Air Jordan 1. That was arguably the most popular sneaker in the world but the innovation was the two colours.
MJ: Well, one colour. It was black and then that red. It was the ‘breds’ that everybody always calls them. I don’t come up with these names, but I’ve kind of adapted myself to them. My kid said ‘bred’ and I said, “What do you mean? All of them are ‘breds’ to me?” But that shoe changed everything for us because of the acceptance of the acceptance of the community and the consumer and how the league hated them because of the colour for the difference in uniform — you had to wear white shoes or black shoes, but we went out on a limb with the black and reds, and the modification of that was the red, white and black. Some kids connected to, not the negative, but the different. That made it different to what was on the market and the people absolutely loved it. That’s where the whole Jordan thing got started and we’ve been able to maintain it since then, but originally that black and red said that it was okay to be different. You don’t need to be like every other shoe and the consumer bit and we’ve been riding it ever since.
BF: Is there one commercial that really stands out to you?
MJ: There was the one where I played Santa Claus one on one, and we got a bunch of letters from little kids saying that Santa Claus would have whooped me. I wish people would have understood the meaning behind the commercial — I was playing this guy and you didn’t know who he is, and then it was revealed. It put Santa Claus in a very difficult position. Parents of kids didn’t really like it — it was a fun commercial, but the message got kind of misconstrued. I think it ran about one time. All that hard work I had to do for it and they broadcast it one time!
TH: I asked him that before and it’s always consistent. I said, “Your favourite is you beating up on Santa Claus?”
MJ: It was a good match up.
BF: Materials and the graphics that Smitty is renowned for now play a big part in the shoes. When you see a shoe like the XI…
MJ: That’s my favourite.
BF: Besides the XI, which materials over the years have redefined how the brand was going?
MJ: Well, the woven. When he showed me how all of that works — the uniqueness of it. When they show me stuff the first thing I ask is, “Is it functional? Can you play in it?” I don’t want it to just be about show. You can build a shoe and everybody says they like how it looks, but I want it to be functional for a basketball player. When he showed me how that material could be so functional with less weight, and maintain the strength, I was impressed. I liked to wear a new pair of shoes every game. Part of that was feeling and energy of having a new thing, but the other thing was because the shoes were so different in that you sweated and the leather might stretch, and I wanted that tightness. The thing about the woven is that it’s tight every time, like a brand new shoe.
BF: You guys have developed an amazing working relationship. How has that changed over the years?
TH: I think any good organisation tries to evolve, and it used to be that you saw Michael five or six times a year and it was always a presentation or just going out and hanging with him, but now I think that it’s a little different in that we keep on adding people to the team and he’s like any great athlete, politician or movie star in that he has to have a big team around him, where it can be difficult because he might not necessarily trust them. What we try to do is keep introducing them over the years so he can get comfortable with that growing team.
MS: When you introduce experts in other disciplines to the team, that gives him confidence. He enjoys that conversation — he learns and he’s so curious. When you bring somebody to the team, he enjoys meeting them…mostly. He’s mostly curious about what they bring to the team.
BF: After 27 years, do you still think you’re learning stuff about him?
TH: I do. I mean, I spend less time with him than I did before. I feel like I know him fairly well and we’ve hung out a lot. I’m still amazed at how he continues to grow and how he lives in the moment. As you get older, you start to think backwards and live off past glory, but he’s not like that, which to me is very interesting.
MS: I don’t know what the next call or text is going to bring. It’s usually something that’s going to make me go, “Uh, okaaaay, cool, I hadn’t even considered that.” Whether it’s facilitating his interest in motorbikes or whatever, then that’s good for us as designers.
BF: You guys are both artists — what part of your art do you bring to your work?
TH: I think that’s the secret actually — blending art with technology to create a new shoe. For me, some projects, whether it’s shoes or apparel, may have been a little more skewed towards technology and less toward art or sometimes it’s the reverse.
MS: I think, whatever discipline you’re in, you can speak creatively and draw from different places, then apply them. One of the things we’re constantly doing is bringing them to the table.
TH: We both draw on our iPads — that’s not new news, but we both draw really fast, so we’ll sit down and have a meeting and after we’ve finished talking, we can be like, “So, what do you think of this?” Technology has allowed us to draw a lot quicker and also get technology a lot sooner. If athletes see a result during a meeting or maybe a couple of minutes after, they feel more involved in the design process because you’ve reacted to their feedback, which means they feel much closer to the actual design. It’s a good little trick, because if Michael doesn’t feel like he’s part of the design process, he’s less apt to actually like it. So that’s a good strategy. It’s crucial to our success.
BF: Why do you think athletes react better to imagery presented like that than on paper?
TH: I think when you do a pencil or pen sketch, that’s a little more personal to me. It’s tiny and it’s maybe delicate and complex, and maybe doesn’t look like it’s going to look. But when you do it on a computer, especially with the current technology, you can add light, texture and colour. I think it’s a little easier for people to really understand.
ME: I know that in the past, what you designed wasn’t always able to be produced, due to restraints in production at the time. Has new technology meant that what’s in your mind can be realised a little easier?
TH: No. I think that, if it’s too easy to make, we’re probably not pushing it far enough. It’s probably just as difficult now to get people to do something as it ever was. Even the knitted and the woven stuff that we’re doing now isn’t normal — they’re still scratching their heads about how they want to make it weave. There are experts who know how to do it, running the machine and doing the programming, but we’re pushing them beyond what they ever thought they could do.
MS: That’s what’s fun about it. In the end, they appreciate it too.
TH: In the end they do. They might not appreciate it at first.
MS: No, not at first. I just came back from the factory and they’re not appreciating it yet! But they understand why.
TH: He was just at the factory in Asia to talk to them about spinning the weave stuff to combine it with…
TH: I nearly slipped up there! But it was not going well, so he went to Italy.
MS: We find the best standard and Asia will get there because it understands the benefit. If you’re going to go to a new place, when a Jumpman is going to be on that thing, they know they’ll have to pick up on it and figure it out.
Being a Brit, the American college and high school sports star thing is perplexing. That’s not to say that an athlete at any school I went to wouldn’t get the girls, but PE teachers in charge weren’t being held aloft by excitable parents or being drenched by buckets of Lucozade being tipped over their heads post inter-school cross-country event. Beyond the eccentric televised nature of the Oxford/Cambridge boat race, I’m not sure that too many would be rushing to Ladbrokes if the University of Bath played Loughborough, or that a coach for some ex-poly could be so deified that they could probably commit a hit and run in their university town with immunity. In America it’s different. They have scholarships, big stadiums, big pay packets for coaches. They have All-American trophies, which sound amazing, even though I don’t even know what they actually are. I always knew that Tinker Hatfield was an athlete in high school and university (every athletic shoe designer on Nike campus appears to be capable of running an ultra marathon before work), but I never realised exactly how highly he was regarded in his day. When he told us at a Nike Q&A in Paris that a lot of people assumed he was black, because of his speed and name, he alluded to a certain status in Oregon as a teenager, but a June 1971 Eugene Register-Guard piece describes Hatfield Jr. as, “…perhaps the finest all-round track athlete produced in Oregon…” Tinker was taking four golds in track meets and, by all accounts, was no slouch in football either. The amount of sport section headlines on him during his high school days alone — pre University of Oregon — is impressive. Long before people were looking up to him for his shoe design savvy (something that has been rolled out on a grander scale than say, 12 years ago, when a core band of nerds would start banging on about Jordan XIs and Safaris at the mention of the year, his name was being mentioned in revered tones.
All this, and he designed the Huarache too. Tinker Hatfield is quite the overachiever.
If you can’t find the sweatshirt you want, take matters into your own hands and make the damn thing yourself. I’ve been enjoying Concepts’ Canadian-made fleece creations lately in some seasonal colours and patterns, but it’s good when the UK represents and as the man behind The Original Store, Spiv Agency and as one half of the S London tradeshow squad, Carl Burnham knows his stuff. Seeing as The Original Store championed (pun unintended) Buzz Rickson and Champion Reverse Weaves, with their polar opposite fits — jock body or smedium, but undeniable merits, Burnham has taken his favourite parts of an everyday classic, from the loopback cotton to flat locked seams, ribbed side panels to the Dorito-like ‘V’ neck. Best of all, as the Good Measure name of his sweatshirt brand suggests, it’s cut fairly wide, slightly high and with a neck that doesn’t hang off the shoulders. It sounds like the man responsible has spec’d out the kind of crew sweat we’ve loved and lost over the years. As a bonus, they’re made in England too. The idea of a perfect fit is open to endless debate until a Gattaca style uniformity comes in to play, but Good Measure seems to be aimed at a sweet spot for those hunting sweats that can be worn to the death. Oi Polloi’s got them in right now and the Dirty Yellow is a strong look.
That’s a GOOD segue to this very brief video (via Cameron McKirdy) of Tinker Hatfield, who very briefly addressed the Kanye West/Nike situation during a presentation a few days ago. Tinker doesn’t bite his tongue on certain matters and with either Air Yeezy being built on two platforms that are his babies (Air Jordan III/Revolution and Air Tech Challenge II) he’s entitled to respond — “…and then there’s this other side of the coin where we take retro sneakers and we allow people to just design their own versions and that’s really style and sometimes those lines, they blur — they cross — and that’s how you probably end up with this Kanye situation…” There’s probably a lengthy think piece to be written paralleling sampling to using Hatfield’s existing creations for a new form, but life’s too fucking short to write it and it probably exists somewhere anyway. Tinker jokily expresses concern regarding Kanye sending goons his way for his comment, but an Anchorman-style DONDA vs. Innovation Kitchen style lunchtime rumble could be an incredible thing.
One-week between blog updates is bad form, but a trip to Nike’s WHQ for some Crooked Tongues and INVENTORY work got in the way of me and WordPress. In Portland I saw some interesting things – beyond the shoes that were being launched (and I can testify that Free Hyperfeel and full-length denim looks terrible, but the Flyknit Free is good to go with pretty much everything), I picked up some more trivia from wandering the campus and talking design out there. I learnt more about Kukinis (a shoe that reminds me of the earliest days of Spine and CT and the people I owe my career to) than ever before, I saw some Foamposite prototypes (presumable from a little later in the process than these and these), a display showcasing Tinker Hatfield’s first ever shoe design (a kid’s shoe for his own children from 1980, half a decade before he switched from architecture to shoe design), a prototype Nike shoe pre-swoosh with a bad-looking ‘N’ logo, an Inspector Gadget style experiment in Shox technology from 1984 that makes the Internationalist into something from Saw, Jordan’s injury editions of his first signature shoe. Thanks to Mr. Josh Rubin, I also visited the Portland outpost of Japan’s Snow Peak stores – one of those rare retailers that can make you want things you don’t need through beautiful packaging and dual purpose functionality. I never knew I needed a titanium coffee mug or spork until I set foot in the shop. Now I want all titanium everything.
The fruits of my few days away should manifest over the coming months, but in the meantime, there’s a Reebok Classic collaboration coming soon (late September?) that was the brainchild of some friends and I. Having a personal connection with that silhouette, it was fun to create something using it.
Southbank Centre Limited director (amendment: Nihal has informed me that this is wrong. He’s a governor of the board) Mr. Nihal Arthanyake’s wide-eyed and patronising plea for London’s skaters (video removed after this blog went live) to embrace their holy ground being redeveloped and relocated is excruciating. He’s keen to point out that the youth can visit the new facilities, “…not just to hang out, but to be actively engaged in the creative process – whether that be street dancing, whether that be theatre, whether that be circus skills…” While Mr. Arthanyake (usually a smart chap) purports to be a, “hip-hop guy” –after making skating sound like a supplement to street dance, he gives it an “urban” affiliation for extra faddishness – he fails to understand that sub-cultures need to defend their strongholds. The joy of the Southbank undercrofts is that they’re a piece of reappropriation. If Nihal understood hip-hop, he might grasp that. Some pre-graffed spot down the road defeats the object entirely.
He also sees skaters opposing the development as irrational. Those irrational kids taking an organised stand against their heritage being demolished eh, Nihal? It’s all about teaching the teens to get their big top skills up. Another suit who thinks a Supreme Being garment will act as a sign that they’re down – back when our man was presenting shitty Clothes Show segments on trainer hoarding, they weren’t above filming in the Southbank for credibility.
Cannon Films has been mentioned on here several times for both their schlock and their rare detours into quality like Barfly. After the 1986 BBC Omnibus episode on the Golan-Globus empire, Electric Boogaloo: the Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is coming soon from Mark Hartley (director of the excellent Not Quite Hollywood and the impending remake of onetime late-night BBC staple, Patrick) – this will almost certainly be excellent and shed light on some B-movie gems.
While we wait for Champion Europe to get it together, now Champion USA seems to have smelt the Nescafe and understood that they’ve got a powerful logo and realised that there’s mileage in fleecewear with a heavier pricepoint. Made in Canada, Todd Snyder + Champion has some interesting moments. The tees are a little too Euro for my liking, but a Reverse Weave crew that’s literally in reverse and the pocket sweats and cut-off shorts are interesting. That sleeve branding that unites the classic stitch-on ‘C’ with a 1950s Champion logo works well too.