A few years ago, the Air Jordan design team flew to Italy, looking for inspiration. They came back with the lightest Air Jordan ever.
On-stage in an undisclosed location in New York City with ESPN's Michael Smith and Michael Jordan himself, designer Tinker Hatfield debuted the Air Jordan XX9, which will drop in September in two distinct styles, something the brand has never done before. The first design features elephant print woven into the upper, and the second showcases an all-gray upper with a jumbo Jumpman logo on the heel. What binds the two designs together, and what makes the XX9 unlike any basketball shoe on the market, is its one-piece, woven upper, created by high tech weaving machines in Italy.
"The first sketch coming from Tinker said 'I want a one-piece, woven upper. I want better tooling, better comfort, higher performance and more lightweight than the Air Jordan XX8," said Tiffany Beers, an "Innovator" member of what Nike calls its "Innovation Kitchen," where most of its shoe designs originate. "I didn't know what weaving was at first, but we started there, working with Italy. Normally we would add layers of material on to add more reinforcement, but we don't need to do it now. With one piece coming off a machine, we can tell it to be stronger here, more breathable here, softer here. It was like a one-stop shop."
The design team experimented with different detailing on the fabric, as you can see in the photos below. Then, people Hatfield called "programmers" created the finalized uppers. Programmers need at least eight years of training before they are allowed to use the weaving machines in Italy. The material is then shipped to Asia where it is affixed to the shoe.
"The shell is very thin and very much shaped like a human foot. It's way trimmer, much more sleek and lightweight and less traditional than any shoe that I've ever worked on," Hatfield said.
Like its predecessor, the XX9 sits atop the popular Flight Plate technology, except this time, the sole and forefoot are connected. This gives the athlete a smoother transition from the back to the front of his foot as he moves around the court.
Hatfield took what he called a "woven shell," a very early prototype of the XX9, and marked, with different colors felt pens, "a topographical map" of how he wanted the shoe to perform. The darker the color, the stiffer the fibers in that area of that shoe needed to be. Other colors marked where Hatfield wanted the shoe to be more visible.
"I developed a language using colors. I had never done that before," Hatfield said.
Once the model was complete, it was sent to the programmers in Italy, who implemented Hatfield's requests on the weaving machines. Thus, the Air Jordan XX9 was born. The kicks also feature a new technology entitled Flight Web, which enhances the natural motion of the foot and makes the shoe feel like an extremely comfortable sock liner.
"No one has ever made a performance basketball shoe using this construction process," Hatfield said.
Watch for Jordan athlete Russell Westbrook to debut the Jordan XX9 on the court during the NBA Playoffs, and expect the shoe to retail at $225 in September.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock