If the Air Jordan XIII provided me the motivation and the passion to become a designer, than the Air Jordan XVIII taught me that designing would not be easy, as it was my first Air Jordan I tried to “design”.
The year was 2002 and I was in full sneakerhead mode. My shoe size was established and I had my own income, so I was buying damn near every release. To the point where I actually bought the Nu’Retro 1 low. That is literally the only regret I have of sneaker purchases. I was a NikeTalk junkie and lived every minute of my computer life on that website. I was constantly refreshing, looking for updates on new product codes and new releases and always hoping that the new Jordan would leak; especially the sketches for it.
As I recall the XVIII was one of the first Jordan’s in a very long time that didn’t truly “leak.” Meaning that it wasn’t out there crazy early like say the XVII was when Jersey Joe (how many of you remember that name?) sold a wear test sample nearly a year earlier than the release date. Throughout most of 2002 nothing was really known about the next Air Jordan outside of a description of the shoe that was accompanied with a silhouette that Nike had placed in their sales’ catalogs. From that description we knew it would have Zoom Air and another lace cover.
The previous two Jordan’s, the XVI and the XVII; both had lace covers. The XVI featured a magnetic shroud that was fully removable and on certain colorways was reversible to give a new color and graphic option. The XVII had less of a shroud and more of a cover, which was also removable. As it clipped in to plastic eyelets that allowed you to vary the width of your lacing giving you the opportunity to customize the level of support you desired. Having a lace cover on the XVIII became an obvious evolution at this point in the line but if I recall correctly many people were critical about the idea, go figure the Internet sneaker game hasn’t changed much in the past ten years as people were already criticizing something that they haven’t seen.
At that point in my high school tenure I was having three of my four classes of the day in the art room. My favorite class was Independent Study as it was just myself coming up with projects that I wanted to create and getting approval from my teacher. I have always been more of an independent designer. There is something about secluding myself that allows me to find the best resolutions. I always knew that shoe design worked in advance, in my 17-year-old head I was thinking it was like three to six months and not the eighteen months it actually is. So for my Independent Study in the spring of 2002, my junior year, I decided to get a “jump” on Nike by designing the Air Jordan XVIII.
At that time the idea of becoming a shoe designer was becoming a little clearer to me for a couple of reasons. The first moment of clarity went by the username Alpha Project, you all now know him as Jason Petrie the designer of the Lebron line for Nike. Alpha started posting up all of his sketches on NikeTalk for the world to see. They were beautiful marker renderings of shoes for Andre Agassi that featured rubber pods for traction with a yellow fade that started at the sole unit and gradated up (I always loved that concept). His Vince Carter concept that made the Shox line completely functional that had a spring that deflected inside the core of the Shox column was absolutely insane (the Chrome All-Star game colorway still blows my mind). He also created his vision for the Air Jordan XX3 that looked like a lycra bootie with milled pieces of Foamposite glued to it, it was absolutely beautiful and in some ways still inspires me today. The other thing that made my vision clearer was the site CarDesignNews. I don’t know how I found that site but it showed me so much about design and how others create.
What I learned from Alpha’s posts and CarDesignNews was that designing was much different than drawing. It’s one thing to look at an object and recreate it on a piece of paper, in that instance you our capturing what you see and what you know to be true. When you design it’s the exact opposite of that. You are drawing what you don’t know but what you think. Designing is less about being true and more about proving that it can be true. It is much more abstract.
With those as my references, I set out on a path of creating a design brief. I had to be able to inform my high school art teacher what I was going to do. So basically I printed off the page of the Nike sales’ catalog that was posted on NikeTalk. I showed her the description and the silhouette of the XVIII and told her I am going to create what that is. She took the bait and I was off drawing.
I began my project by redrawing what I thought the Air Jordan XVII should be. I had the White/Black/Blue pair and I used the silver briefcase it came in as a means to hold my sketches for this project. I didn’t get what Alpha and all the CarDesignNews references were doing. So I kept drawing. I would do contour drawings, timed sketches and would add crazy lines all over the place to make it look like it was effortless. However, it was the exact opposite of that and it was incredibly hard. At that point in life I could have painted you a beautiful oil painting, water color, sculpted an exact replica of the Jumpman statue outside of the United Center (maybe not as good as that one, but you get where I am going) but for the life of me I could not figure out how to design a shoe the way my references were.
As I was looking at Alpha’s sketches I realized he had images of cars and other objects that he used as inspiration. This one in particular was a red Air Jordan that used the Pininfarina Rossa Concept from 2000 as his driving force for his aesthetic. So I did the same thing, I started printing out pictures of Bentleys, Ferraris, Vipers, Corvettes and any other dope vehicle at the time and basically just put direct shapes and pieces from the cars on my designs. I remember thinking to myself “I’ve got it now. I know what I am doing.” My final design basically ended up being the new Lamborghini Murcielago converted into a shoe. I looked at that car and drew it from the ground up and combined it with some shoe technology that I knew was essential like an outrigger and forefoot support.
I created a shoe that looks nothing like the Air Jordan XVIII silhouette or featured anything from the description. So like about every designer on the planet, at some point I completely missed my brief and trailed off down a path that was all mine and not what I originally set out to do. So I was ahead of my skill level in that aspect. The funny thing is if you go back I had a shoe with a lace cover. The most advanced thing I did on that shoe was work in Adobe Illustrator. Which was a complete mystery to me as I was just learning it. It became a frustration for me but I was proud to figure out how to use it, although not nearly to its full capabilities.
I ended up getting an A on the project, pretty sure that was just because my teacher liked me but that shoe project would go down as my least favorite and least shown project of my high school career. Now I know why, because of lack of experience and knowledge; but at the time I couldn’t figure out why my design didn’t look to the level of people I was referencing. But no matter what it became a beginning point for me. I have learned over the years that half of the battle of designing is just starting the idea. You won’t always know the right path but you have to start down the path and that’s what this project taught me.
Over the coming months, images of the XVIII began leaking as it became closer to its release date. If I recall correctly the first real official image came when Nike’s Sole Provider book was released and the shoe was on the cover of the hardback, not the removable paper cover. Obviously the shoe was dramatically different and beautiful compared to anything I had sketched. Also, by that point my shoe collecting had slowed down a little bit, not stopped but slowed, as I had a girlfriend and honestly, you sound lame when you can’t afford dinner for two but can afford $150 shoes every weekend. So I had to put my priorities in check. This didn’t mean that I didn’t spend a quarter of my day still searching the net looking at any and all things footwear related.
The XVIII officially released over All-Star Weekend in 2003. The Black/Blue and suede was the first color to drop. I thought they were amazing but due to my finances being tied up in my future wife I couldn’t afford a pair. So she arranged to get a pair for me. It’s almost like in some way she was a sneakerhead because she didn’t go and wait in line, she hit up my Foot Locker connect and arranged to have the shoes held for her to pick up later that day. No getting up early for her! When I went to her house that evening she had them waiting for me. This would be the first shoe that was ever purchased for me by the love of my life. As soon as she handed me a wrapped box, I seriously knew exactly what it was from the weight of it. I unwrapped those things so quickly. She definitely saw a side of me she had never seen before that day. I inspected them from every view, took down every detail and memorized every stitch line.
As I kept doing research on the shoe I found out that it had something in common with my Air Jordan XVIII concept, we were both inspired by the Lamborghini Murcielago. Mine was way more literal and way less sophisticated (and was a terrible design), while theirs took the “wings” from the Murcielago that opened at high speeds and translated that into ventilation openings at the ankle. The openings were shaped like the wings from the car and featured a metallic mesh behind them to bring the automotive translation even further. I put the “wings” in the forefoot to help lock down the foot. And that is pretty much where the similarities stop.
The XVIII would go on to become a lesson learned for me. The Air Jordan XVIII provided me motivation to push myself harder and further to learn the trade of Industrial Design. I knew that if I kept pushing myself, one day I would be able to create products that are just as refined and sophisticated as the Air Jordan XVIII.