On the eve of the latest colorway drop of the Air Jordan XI Low IE, Tinker Hatfield, Nike Vice President of Creative Concepts, reveals the design process behind the cult classic.
After the Air Jordan 1 and II – which debuted in both high- and low-top styles, in an array of hues – Jordan Brand’s signature retro line developed a regular cadence: mid-cut shoes, delivered in late fall or early spring, in a singular articulation. Until 1996, that is, when the Air Jordan XI Low IE arrived.
“We were looking at how we could extend the original performance basketball shoe into something that could further the design, but turn into a low top,” says Hatfield. “I wasn’t interested in an exact replica of a XI in a low top; I was more interested in doing a low top that was partly the Jordan XI, but fresher.”
As a result, the Air Jordan XI’s most instantly recognizable element, patent leather, disappeared.
“I felt like [patent leather] was contrary to the summer feel,” Hatfield explains. “The shoe didn’t need to feel so stiff and heavy. For the summer, I wanted something that was lighter and easier to wear.”
Instead, as Hatfield elaborates, the upper composition featured a seasonally adaptable solution.
“I changed the pattern to put breathability in the right spots. Then, when you look at the different compositions, you want to fill in the gaps with something that could be decorative, like elephant print. I thought about trying textures and stitching. The mesh said something about summer, and the stitching we did really artfully. Doing that for the initial Air Jordan XI Low actually helped me think about how I was going to design the Air Jordan XII.”
At the same time, the Air Jordan XI Low’s tooling mirrored that of the original Air Jordan XI, foreshadowing the unit’s eventual iconic status.
Nearly two decades after His Airness wore the Jordan XI Low IE in the 1996 playoffs, the shoe’s reputation endures. Its latest colorway, black/militia green, arrives tomorrow as part of a three-shoe collection, including the Air Jordan I High the Return and the Air Jordan I KO.