Wednesday, 23 September 2009

It's the shoes: Nike Air Jordan

Manflet's resident sneaker pimp Neil Sanderson shows love for the most iconic trainer franchise ever launched.

1985. A trainer drops that will change the way sneakers are made and marketed forever. Now is the time for the branding of an athlete and his signature shoe to dominate the globe.

The first shoes designed by Nike for one of the greatest basketball players of all time were nothing short of a revolution. No sooner were the Air Jordan 1s introduced than they were banned from league play, their red soles flaunting an old NBA rule that the base of all sneakers must be white. In black/red and white/red colourways to match Jordan's Chicago Bulls uniform, they were instantly recognisable and have been reissued and revamped countless times. These days, you can find people selling the originals on eBay for anything between £400 to £800. If you had the sense back in the day to buy a pair and keep them deadstocked the recession may not seem so scary for you right now.

The commercial success of the shoe led to another, designed in time for the next basketball season. The Air Jordan II was the simplest, in terms of design, in the entire franchise. Nike stitched “made in Italy” on the tongue of original pairs, an attempt to position them as a high fashion design concept, rather than sneakers to be bought by kids the world over. While still popular, they failed to match the impact of the Is, and by the time a third signature shoe was planned, it wasn't clear how long Michael Jordan would stick with Nike.

The Air Jordan III saved the franchise. An instant hit with Jordan himself, the sneakers' popularity was secured when he won his second slam dunk contest while wearing them. They were the first in the Jordan line to feature a visible air unit in the sole, and the "Jumpman" emblem - a silhouette of Jordan dunking a basketball, which has become one of the most recognisable logos in the world. The shoe's designer, Tinker Hatfield, went on to create the next 12 pairs of Jordans. To this day, the III is one of the most sought-after shoes in the range, not least since Nike started reissuing all of the Jordans in the mid 90s. The "true blue" colourway remains a firm favourite, and when it was reissued to the baying masses in 2001, it sold out almost instantly. Since then, dedicated trainer spotters like myself have been scouring the sneaker blogs for rumours of its next reissue. True Blue was finally called back for release this year, and I was lucky enough to bag a pair of these supremely well-made shoes, with elephant print running from heal to toe. A great day.

The brand has continued to thrive and the interest in, and demand for, Nike Air Jordans shows no sign of waning. As Mars Blackmon (the infamous Spike Lee character from the early Jordan commercials) once asked, “Is it the shoes?” It most certainly is.

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