On December 3rd, 2012 I was blessed to be able to experience the unveiling of the Air Jordan XX8 in New York City. From that event I was able to share with you guy’s the conversations that I had with the lead designer on the project, Tinker Hatfield and the lead developer on the project, Josh Heard. To say that I left that event excited about the product is an understatement.
Over the past few seasons I had felt the Jordan Brand had been lacking a polarizing look and an on court presence. The moment I saw that XX8 I knew that notion would change. The only downside to that event was that I didn’t get the opportunity to truly experience the shoe. There was an opportunity to try it on but not enough time to really get to take in all that the shoe had to offer. However that changed last week when I came home to the greatest surprise ever, a beautiful pair of XX8’s waiting on my doorstep.
I have spent the past week experiencing the shoe and over the next three days I am going to give you my breakdown on the Form, Function and Philosophy of the Air Jordan XX8. Come back daily to see why I think the XX8 is the most important Air Jordan of the past five years and possibly the past fifteen years.
Check out the breakdown of the Form below!
The shape of the shoe is by far the most polarizing element of the aesthetic. There is no denying the silhouette causes you to look at the shoe, whether positive or negative, you will notice the shoe. The overall shape is inspired by the notion of being stealth. Tinker was heavily influenced by combat boots and in particular the Nike Special Field Boot. He set out to create a shoe that would become a part of the basketball player, an extension of their game.
The upper of the shoe really is an extension of the body as it flows naturally from your leg down to your foot. What really amazes me about this shoe is how slim it is. If you think back to the era of the shroud, the Jordan XVI-XX, those shoes all featured lace covers that were relatively bulky. They didn’t fit snuggly over the laces and in the case of the XVI and XVII their lace covers were pieces that had to be added to the shoe after being laced. I felt that run of shoes for the Air Jordan was cool but had a gimmick feel to them, this is not the case of the XX8. I have to give credit to the pattern engineer on this shoe because they are the ones to make this upper fit so well and so natural. The pattern really pulls tightly around your foot and keeps everything in place. The great thing is that the shoe looks just as dynamic on your foot as it does on the shelf. That is a rare thing.
A unique element to the shape of this shoe is that it is customizable. The shroud can be worn up or down or anywhere in between and I must say it adds a distinct aesthetic to the shoe. I have turned more heads by having the zipper half way down and letting the collar be unfolded. I think it just gives an extra element that is not normally seen in footwear. It has a bold presence because of the stance it creates.
Material & Processes
What makes this shoe great is that it is an exercise in well-executed manufacturing processes. It features high-end materials that all work together to not only help the athlete perform at a maximum level but also create the dynamic visual that is the XX8.
To me good design is how you use material. Every product has an allowable cost for every piece that is on the shoe. What I love about the XX8 is that the materials are well selected to allow the cost to go in the right areas of the shoe. The shroud of the shoe is most important area on the upper and the design team chose to use a Swiss textile that has a high amount of stretch but also a high amount of tensile strength for support. I love the black version that I have because when light hits the material it moves and creates a nice sheen, so it doesn’t just look black. What is also great about the textile is that it is essentially an open canvas for the Color, Material and Graphics team to run wild with, which we are already starting to see for this weekend’s All-Star game.
Another great example of material use comes on the inner bootie of the shoe. When the shroud is zipped down it reveals the Dynamic Fit Lacing System that locks the foot in place. What I love about the system is that the ends of the straps are wrapped in leather. It’s actually the only area on the shoe that you will find leather. I feel it gives a nice touch of craft and quality and is a beautifully executed detail.
The biggest surprise in process for me on this shoe was what I thought was a welded synthetic, similar to what you would find on an Arc’teryx jacket, on the toecap and around the zipper. When I first saw it I naturally thought it was a welded to add support and shape to the pattern along with durability during toe drag. I was right about the function but shocked to find out it was actually a new form of screen-printing. Pretty amazing and well executed. It is a great example of implementing a cost save but not sacrificing quality or aesthetic.
Fit & Feel
The fit and feel of this shoe is amazing. I can’t really find a negative in them. I honestly haven’t had a basketball shoe that fits this good. The combination of the materials and the shape of the pattern really let the XX8 become a part of your foot. It is pretty unbelievable.
One thing that is really great about the shoe is how light it is. It comes in at 13 ounces and one thing that helps achieve that low weight is the use of carbon fiber in the molded heel counter and the continuation of the carbon fiber Flight Plate. They both lock in key areas of support, the heel and the midfoot, in a way that feels natural. I was worried that I would feel the edge of the carbon on the heel counter through the thin shroud but there is no irritation at all. In fact it is almost unnoticeable.
Another element that really adds to the overall fit of this shoe comes in the inside of the heel. What is becoming a staple of the Air Jordan line, the Achilles area features molded pods that lock your heel in place. It’s a simple, but great feature.
The color blocking on this shoe is quite simple. It features four colors: Black, Volt, White and a tinted Blue for the clear rubber. It’s the amount of color and the placement of the color that makes this shoe so bold. The outside is colored black to tie back to the notion of being stealth but when the shroud is unzipped it reveals the striking boldness that is the color Volt. The placement of the bold color highlights where all of the function is coming from, the inner bootie.
Since the color blocking is so simple, I think one key element that really makes the shoe successful is the gloss and texture of the materials. The textile on the shroud is a base tone of black that picks up bright highlights and dark shadows to give it depth allowing for all of the other materials to become focal points on top of it. The screen-printed toecap and rand around the zipper have a gloss that is low but still picks up plenty of light to make it shine. The highest gloss piece is the carbon fiber. I really love that the carbon fiber was left in a natural weave and that the gloss comes from the resin that is poured over the top and not a layer of plastic.
The graphic on the shoe is quite simple but dominant. Everything is placed in key areas to aide in performance. It is very raw and pure.
The area that receives the most graphic is the inside of the shroud. When it is folded down there is a straight line that screen-printed at the top. What I find unique about it is that it aligns with the top of the carbon fiber heel counter. The line gives the shoe speed and movement that takes the users eye throughout the shoe.
The most unique graphic element though is the Mark Smith designed 23 logo. It always amazes me with how many different ways Mark has managed to create a 23 and this one is no different.
Overall I think this shoe is the perfect example of what can be done when you have the right materials. The shoe looks great with materials they have picked but if they were to go the cheap route on this shoe it would be completely noticeable and would really hurt the appearance of the shoe. I have yet to mention the $250 price tag for the Air Jordan XX8. It is a lot of money. What I can promise you though, is that you are getting the best of the best from a material and processes stand point. You would not be able to achieve the dynamic look, feel and form without the materials they used.
Come back tomorrow for my breakdown on the Function of the Air Jordan XX8.