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The Evolution Of The Air Jordan: How a Sports Sneaker Transformed High Fashion

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No doubt– today’s hottest shoe is the Air Jordan 1.

High-top, mid, or low, it doesn’t matter. Fashion’s hottest It-girls and models off-duty constantly wear the silhouette on the streets of New York in between castings and getting coffee. The Jordan 1 has been transformed by highly-anticipated artist collaborations and top design houses, proving it’s a luxury staple in any hypebeast’s closet. President Joe Biden’s granddaughter, Maisy Biden, even wore a pair to the inauguration ceremony not once, but twice. The shoe has the presidential seal of approval, clearly.

For us plebeians, the Jordan 1 has slowly trickled down into everyday streetwear. We may not have a pair of Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack shoe take, but TikTok has claimed the Obsidian and Pine Green colorways.

What was once a shoe worn to shoot hoops has become an absolute fashion phenomenon. Like many other fashion statements for the culture, the story begins on the court.

Basketball star Michael Jordan was just entering the peak of his career in 1984 on the Chicago Bulls when he stepped out wearing the Jordan 1s. The athlete wasn’t sold on Nike’s offer to make him the face of the brand at first– he was a diehard Converse stan. To please the star, Peter Moore, creative director of Nike at the time, listened to Jordan’s complaints: Nike’s soles were too thick to play in, there wasn’t any support, and he didn’t want to look like he was wearing clown shoes. Moore accepted the challenge and got to work.

The shoe’s design was simple: red, white, and black leather with a classic Nike swoosh. Jordan’s Wings logo designed by Moore, displayed on the top flap, was added as a finishing touch for the sneaker. Two colorways were designed for the athlete, the “Chicago” model for home games– white and red– and the “Bred” style (or black and red) for away games. The basketball star debuted his newest shoe on November 17, 1984, during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, sparking controversy in the sports world.

With custom technology made for Jordan himself, the Air Jordan 1’s build design was far superior compared to anything on the market– so much so that the National Basketball Association banned them surrounding the rumors that the shoe would enhance the athlete’s performance. Jordan was ordered to stop wearing Nikes immediately due to a uniform color compliance code, but of course, rebels don’t make history. As the athlete wore the sneakers on the court, racking up ,000 NBA fines at the behest of coaches and referees, Nike paid for the exposure. It was a win-win situation, and the rest is history.

Fashion has always loved a little bit of controversy and this was the straight man’s the version of it. The shoes dropped and sold out immediately, making million in the first two months on the market. Resellers got their hands on the shoe, flipping the product to make a profit– something never done before. Between February and April of 1985, Nike got to work on making 13 different colorways. Among these include some of the brands most iconic: The “Chicago”, “Royal,” “Shadow,” and “Black Toe” among others.

As Jordan’s basketball seasons came and went, Nike began producing different shoes for the star to wear during games. Jordan 3– the first to feature the now-iconic jump man logo–eclipsed the first model and the hype for the original sneaker slowed down. Shinier things released and the Air Jordan 1 was all but forgotten.

Similar to today’s skater boys, the hipsters riding in 1986 needed sneakers to break in on their boards. The flood of Jordan 1s on the market provided a cheap, yet trendy alternative, and the shoe slowly became a fixture in the skater community. It sat in skate parks for years, until Nike attempted to re-release the shoe in 1994 its 10th anniversary only for it to flop. The shoe slowly faded in the minds of sneakerheads.

As the years came and went, millennials and Gen Zers became fixated on products from their childhood. Nostalgia-fueled, retro products began making an appearance. capitalizing over youngster’s collective dread for the future and desire to go back to times where the hardest decision to make was deciding what Kids Cuisine meal to microwave.

The kids who grew up watching Jumpman were now in positions of power and determined to bring the shoe back. In an unprecedented move, Nike gave the carte blanche to Virgil Abloh, creative director of Off-White, in 2017 to remaster ten sneakers. Abloh’s deconstruction of the shoe peeled back the layers on what made the Air Jordan 1 so great– blasting the leather, plastic, and metal apart with the design houses’ signature stamps. It was a red zip tie of all things that elevated the shoe from cultural classic to luxury necessity.

Several iterations of the Jordan 1 got the designer treatment: most notability Kim JonesAir Dior collaboration. In the humid Miami weather for Pre-Fall 2020, Menswear creative director Jones catapulted the French legacy house into StockX territory with the shoe. The Air Dior featured the house’s canvas monogram on the swoosh, while blue-tinted grey leather and reimagined Wing logo provided a high-end twist. The kicks broke the internet. A limited run of 8,500 pairs made the release even harder to get your hands on, spawning countless broken hearts and thousands of fakes to pop up on the market a year later. Drip or drown.

The colorway of choice for today’s teens? Neutral colors to go with every e-girl and e-boy outfit. Brown shoes have been spotted on countless street style videos, most frequently rapper Travis Scott‘s 2019 Cactus Jack Air Jordan 1s. The major collaboration was first for the Houston-native, opting to go with Nike instead of Kardashian clan favorite Adidas thanks to Kanye West.

The love for the Air Jordan 1 was astronomical, with kids everywhere begging their parents for a pair so they could shoot hoops like Jumpman on the court. Its impact left no stone untouched, unleashing a cultural legacy for Black athletes in the years to follow. Jordan’s .3 billion 36-year Nike partnership was monumental for its time and continues to be. It isn’t rare for a billion-dollar shoe deal to be seen on the court anymore.

The Air Jordan 1 no doubt gave rise to today’s sneaker heads Love them or hate them, hypebeasts became an integral part of the culture. With Jordan 1s paving the way for the modern resale market available on websites like StockX and Grailed, the shoes early adopters have to be praised for their contributions to modern streetwear.

Today, the Jordan line spans 35 different sneaker silhouettes and countless colorways. The Air Jordan 1s hold a special place in our hearts, though. As a childhood flashback of big dreams on the court, the shoe remains a classic part of mens and women’s fashion.

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