Tinker Hatfield’s contributions to Nike constitute the most illustrious and famous run of a sneaker designer ever. As the architect of Nike’s first signature shoe line, the “Air Jordan”, his artistic skill would be equally matched from Michael’s brilliance on the court over time. Hatfield’s concrete speckle, infrared colors, translucent soles, and patent leather are just a few of the popular motifs seen repeatedly across his 26-plus designs to the extensive Air Jordan line.
Looking back to when their partnership began in 1988, this union seems mystical. Together they’ve catapulted Nike to its position as the most dominant global athletic apparel brand ever and just last year the Jordan brand sales exceeded $2.6 billion. The Air Jordan III commemorates their first collaboration. Maybe it was a good luck charm of sorts. In this shoe, Michael made his 1st All-Star appearance, won the Slam Dunk Contest and earned All-Star MVP honors. Flush with the Jump Man logo, clear air pockets, and elephant print, these elements established an identity for the Jordan Brand simultaneously to the unveiling of Tinker’s skillful artistry to commemorate his very first design.
Tinker’s creativity came to life in the drawings he created for each release. He channeled his inspiration taking aspects of Michael’s life into and integrating them as design elements. For example, the heel tab of the Jordan VI was symbolic of Michael’s Porsche and that same shoe features a vibrant neon, infrared shade. Tinker used influence from World War II with a part of the Air Jordan V’s makeup. Mimicking a design element of the mustang fighter plane, he used similar “teeth”, which appear on the shoe’s midsole. Tinker pushed innovation and technology to revolutionize basketball shoe design and in the process distanced Nike heights above the boring, status quo styles seen from the competitors (Converse, Adidas, Avia). He used non-traditional fabrics, such as a connected aqua boot, lightweight mesh lining, perforated leather, cris-crossing velcro straps, tongues constructed with square holes, and air padded soles. Similar style elements that Tinker has created also power the current designs of Nike’s other wildly popular Air Trainer, Air Max, Roshe, Huarache and Air Vapor Tour (Federer) lines.
Throughout the countless designs Tinker created for the Air Jordan line, there was never the slightest hint of a dud. The sheer volume of work and sustained quality, which he devoted to the Jordan brand makes Tinker one of the best shoe designers ever. From looking at all of his subtle, futuristic, bright, bold and sleek designs it’s rewarding to see his creative appetite, and vision manifest itself in the shoe’s aesthetic. MJ and Tinker’s relationship encouraged each other’s best work. Aligning with Hatfield’s inspirational design efforts, the fruits of Michael’s labor garnered 6 rings, 5 MVPs and 14 All-Star appearances.
Hatfield’s vow was to make a sleeker and better performing basketball shoe with each new release of the Air Jordan. To basketball players and sneaker fans the Air Jordan XI ‘Concord’ is regarded as one of the best shoes ever. Michael would voice his feedback for various improvements before any of the upcoming models were released. Tinker’s Concord design fulfilled Michael’s request for a “shiny shoe”. With its final design Tinker created the first basketball shoe ever to incorporate patent leather along with a carbon plate in the shoe’s midsole.
Any figure relative to the magnitude of Michael Jordan, whose shoes have sustained such popularity, even 16 years after retiring is a reality that’s unfathomable for any brand. For Nike and the Jordan Brand’s sake it helps to have a figure comparable to MJ endorse a brand from the onset, be overwhelmingly successful throughout their career (to the point of “greatest ever”) and continue with the promotion brand afterwards. If Tinker didn’t possess an insatiable appetite for creativity it’s speculative whether the Jordan label would achieve such notoriety. The success of the Air Jordan was influenced by the monster of a marketing machine created to promote it by leveraging filmmaker Spike Lee for several commercials. Lee’s inclusion of the shoe in the film Do The Right Thing was seen a seminal moment for the integration of brand endorsements into mainstream and hip-hop culture. For these reasons I don’t think the Jordan brand simply sells itself.
Nike follows a calculated schedule for the retro Jordan releases. They are made with the slightest material and color variations from the original drops. When Nike launches a new pair Air Jordan’s it’s very difficult to secure a purchase, despite their typical sell price ($190). These drops around the world attract crowds of crazed, sneaker heads. Usually the inventory sells out in a matter of minutes. It’s safe to say the body of work put forth by Michael and Tinker marks them as the best of their craft in basketball and sneaker design. Today, royalties Michael has on the Jordan Brand generate him an estimated $60 million annually and Tinker holds the Vice President of Special Projects/ Design title for Nike. Of course it’s exciting to have been part of the Air Jordan generation and to have watched him play, but I feel just as lucky to have witnessed the Tinker Hatfield’s designs.