Remember True Lies, the 1994 James Cameron movie that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a spy leading a double life?
According to legendary shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, it was none other than that forgettable flick that sparked his design for the 28th Air Jordan, which Nike’s Jordan Brand unveiled in a mystery-shrouded event yesterday. “There’s this scene where he storms this beach, kills a few people, steps out of his commando suit, and underneath he’s wearing a tuxedo,” Hatfield explained (while Spike Lee noted that the move actually originated with James Bond), saying that the scene gave him the idea for a shoe with two looks. “It’s great to make sure the players have all the best technology, but we also like to have a lot of fun telling stories, and putting a little romance into it."
The Air Jordan XX8 is the lightest and strongest shoe Jordan Brand has ever produced, weighing in at 13.5 ounces. It’s also the tallest: A swatch of neoprene-esque black material, designed by the Swiss textile company Schoeller, shrouds eight inches of the foot like a combat boot. On the sole, a newly minted technology called the Jordan Flight Plate decouples the sole from the heel of the shoe with a carbon-fiber bridge (consumers will be able to substitute bamboo for carbon fiber when the XX8 hits the market in 2013). Nike’s patented Zoom Air technology, a layer of textiles, plastic, and pressurized gas, gives players the sprinting power they need.
According to Hatfield, the look of the shoe was inspired by Michael Jordan himself. Early on in the design process (which began two years ago), he sent the basketball star a text asking what “stealth” meant to him. Jordan’s response? “You never hear it coming . . . But it’s deadly as hell. You don’t f*** with stealth. My game is like that. When you see it it’s too f**cking late.” The text inspired Hatfield’s early sketches, which show a featureless black boot that unzips to reveal a neon green upper. The final design for the XX8 is largely the same.
It’s worth noting the amount of time and money Nike spent on the stage shows that introduce the XX8. We were greeted by a small army of employees in a room lit by black lights and the sounds of Drake’s "Take Care." After Spike Lee and Carmelo Anthony announced a major donation to the Red Hook recovery program, we were ushered into an industrial elevator, which opened up into a mirrored room cloaked in smoke from a fog machine. A woman in a headset was perched above the hall, controlling the long walls of video projections. The lights suddenly flickered, the fog machines kicked into high gear, and the mirrored walls started to unwrap, revealing walls of the new Jordans behind a stage, where Lee questioned Hatfield and Nike Senior Product Innovator Josh Heard about the shoe.
Not being a sneakerhead, I was dying to pick the brains of the devoted Nike fans at the unveiling. Would they rock a shoe whose ankle looks like a close ancestor of a beer cozy? According to Hatfield, if people don’t have extreme reactions to his design, he’s not doing his job. He compares the XX8 to a concept car—a way to drum up excitement and push the limits of what’s socially acceptable, in terms of style. The Air Jordan has always been the flagship of the Jordan Brand line, a chance to test the consumer waters with experimental concepts like last year’s Zoot Suit model. “I don’t really think of these as basketball shoes,” Hatfield said, noting that he’s also working on other architecture and design projects. “I think of them as objects of art and design that just happen to be used in the game of basketball.”
Will the XX8 be intimidating on the court? We’ll find out tonight, when Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook becomes the first NBA player to wear them, playing against the Brooklyn Nets. The shoes will be available to non-NBA superstars come February, and will run $250 a pair.