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The One That Started It All: A History of the Jordan 1 Part 4

The One That Started It All: A History of the Jordan 1 Part 4

Barons minor league baseball team—a source of major sneaker inspiration in later years. In hindsight, there’s no question over the circumstances of Jordan’s decision or how it fit into his own life’s journey, but it was a doozy for his fans—and it showed in sneaker sales. Consumers were confused over Jordan’s move to baseball and, while searching for new basketball heroes, they were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of buying sneakers that commemorated Jordan’s supposedly finished NBA career. It was also the first time a sneaker brand brought a sneaker back that had gone out of production in this way. In 2017 there’s a “retro” sneaker release almost every week, but in the mid 1990s the mere idea of bringing a sneaker back from the dead didn’t make sense. The technology was old and history was happening on TV (except for when history was Jordan swinging bats at laced balls). Nostalgia hadn’t kicked in yet.

Jordan returned to the game of basketball again the next year. And then retired again in 1999. He came back in 2001 and so did the Jordan 1. Over the following three years, Jordan Brand brought back a couple of the classic 13 colorways (Royals and Breds), as well as released a small number of new colorways on the old shoe that would become classics like the Japan Navy, White Chrome (that featured a Jumpman logo instead of a swoosh), Black/Metallic Gold, and introduced the sneaker in a low profile version—the first change to the silhouette since the AJKO. Michael Jordan officially retired for the final time in 2003, and Jordan Brand retired the Jordan 1 the following year in 2004.

Until it came back for good.

In April of 2007, Air Jordan released the Jordan 1 as a two pack they called “Old Love, New Love” that included a retro of the original “Black Toe” colorway paired with an entirely new pair that was black and yellow. Hardcore Jordan fans were mixed on the New Love colorway since it was one of very few new takes on the sneaker in its 22-year history. After the original 13 colorways, very few new additions had been made to the color history and sneakerheads weren’t ready to open their hearts to New Love quite yet. That was too bad, because the floodgates were about to open.

Once the “Old Love, New Love” pack dropped, the metaphorical hose turned on and the following ten years featured a deluge of new colorways. In the first month there were ten colorways (with very few worthy of note). Then, in June, the audacious “Alpha” with a screen printed image of Jordan on the quarter appeared. That was certainly something new.

The following years brought changes to the silhouette that traced style trends. Straps were added, a “Phat” version injected more padding. In 2010 the “Air Jordan 1 Alpha” warped the whole thing to look like a nightmarish version of the future, while the “Anodized” put the whole shoe through a VacTech treatment like it were wrapped in Spandex. The years went by with very few new releases of note (the silver “25th Anniversary” pairs from 2009 still hold up, Dave White’s collaboration from 2011 still has some rabid fans, and the SB take that Lance Mountain offered in 2014 was a seminal moment), until the end of 2014 when Air Jordan released their collaboration with Fragment Design.

When pictures of the “Frags” first surfaced, there seemed to be little to them. The color scheme was the same as the Black Toes, except Hiroshi Fujiwara used the blue from the Royals instead of the traditional Chicago red. There was also a debossed Fragment logo at the heel. For one or many reasons (either because the shoes were so limited, or they kept with a recognizable theme, or stayed within the core four colors), the shoes were hunted down ruthlessly and immediately became the hottest ticket in town. Until the Frags, the only Jordan 1 releases that commanded that kind of attention were from the original 13 colorways, and even then it was mostly just five or six of them. The release of the Fragment 1s represented a modern reclamation of a sneaker that was nearly 30 years old.

After the Frags came a host of new colorways hit in 2016 that would outpace their more traditional siblings: Shattered Backboards (both Home and Away, inspired by Jordan’s shattered backboard moment in Turin, Italy), swooshless lows in pastels, and a “Top 3” take that blended Breds, Black Toes, and Royals onto one shoe. Now, more than halfway through 2017 we’ve already seen the All-Star 1s fly off the shelf through multiple restocks, and Spike Lee’s incredibly limited “Mars Blackmon Promo” pairs that demand blistering prices. But 2017 isn’t done quite yet.

In perhaps the most highly anticipated sneaker release of the year, Virgil Abloh and Off-White have gotten their hands on the Jordan 1. Abloh has conceptually deconstructed the sneaker (along with nine other Nike silhouettes) as a part of his “The Ten” collection, in a treatment he’s named “Revealing.” If you squint, the shoes look just like the Chicago Jordan 1s with all the constituent pieces, but Abloh has put the pieces together in a way that reveals how they’re made, what makes them, and flips our expectations of what the shoe should, and could, mean. Whether it’s the tacked on Swoosh that replaces a normal panel, pieces that are punched for stitches but aren’t stitched, or a sole unit with “AIR” written directly on it, the components force us to recognize our expectations and assumptions about this most iconic of sneakers.

32 years is a long time for a sneaker to be continually reimagined, recontextualized, and reinjected into the culture, but 32 years after the shoe first made it to the market, Abloh has blasted it apart so we can see how we got here through in concept and materials. 32 years later the shoe will be hunted after like it was the first time, proving there’s a long future ahead of it.



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