Tinker Hatfield’s tenure at Nike has seen the Vice President for Innovation Design and Special Projects usher into the marketplace such illustrious offerings as the Air Max 1, Air Trainer 1, Air Windrunner, Air Revolution, Air Safari, Air Tech Challenge, Air Hurache and Air Jordan III.
In a more modern context, Hatfield has partnered with fragment design’s Hiroshi Fujiwara and Nike President and CEO Mark Parker for a series of collaborative releases under the united “HTM” banner which has come to represent an expedited attempt from the Swoosh to get new and innovative products into the marketplace without outside interference.
With Air Max Day set to be celebrated once again on March 26, the three legendary sneaker designers decided for the first time that each would design their own take on one of the numerous silhouettes from the Air Max vault.
We recently caught up with Hatfield to discuss a variety of topics associated with the HTM line.
What were the original intentions with HTM when the three “meetings of the minds” decided to collaborate?
My recollection of course might be a little different than Mark’s or Hiroshi’s. I simply remember thinking that with all the complexities of running these big category business, there was possibly another way to get new and interesting products into the marketplace without going through all that complexity.
And so having three different authors with some background and storyline – and keeping the business a little more at bay so that the three entities – being Mark, Hiroshi and myself – [we] could make decisions and get new ideas into the marketplace a little quicker and with a little less scrutiny from all kinds of people which is really nice for creative types so that we can feel like our stuff can be impactful and be cool. That’s how it started.
I will just throw in that the early HTM models had more to do with recoloring and using new materials from existing shoes. Our intent all along has been to actually introduce new products, new technologies and new ideas through what Mark Parker would call, “this different pipe.”
I think hardcore sneakerheads might be surprised to learn that an Air Force 1 was the first project worked on together for HTM. Why that palette?
My recollection is that it’s a classic and [it] is arguably the largest and most successful model in Nike history. I don’t really know that for certain, but it seems like it would be right up there. It seemed to us that it was a logical place to just get started [because] it’s shoe that a lot of people like and is easily able to be updated and modified. We just went with it [and] it was a good starting point.
What was Flyknit’s role in the evolution of the collection?
It was the first product that made it to the marketplace through HTM. I’m sure you understand the complexities of running these big business. Nike at-large is a gigantic business. But just even our categories in and of themselves are large, singular businesses. As such, you have to do a lot of navigating to get new ideas through all the channels.
We were able to take the Flyknit technology and just make a quick decision about essentially pulling the trigger on manufacturing and “boom,” it’s in the marketplace with a little less complexity.
I just come back to the point that we’re looking for cleaner, simpler, easier ways to get new ideas to the stores and of course to the people.
The HTM line is a combination of three legendary sneaker entities. Do you three share any outside interests which led to this being such an impactful collaboration?
Yes. I can tell you that Mark Parker and I still go to Tokyo from time to time. It’s a fascinating city and there are a lot of creative people there. Hiroshi was a known entity when we met him as a style-setter and designer.
After repeated visits and working with him on a few little side projects, it became obvious that we all got along and we all had similar ideas about moving design around and changing ideas. It seemed really natural to go ahead and develop the sub-brand using our initials. It was pretty “no muss, no fuss” and everyone seemed to be on the same page and it seems to still be that same way.
What can you tell us about your own personal offering from the collection? What are you most proud of about this new product?
First off, I can’t tell you how fun it is to be working with Hiroshi and Mark. Mark is an amazing person as both a creative person and a business person. Hiroshi is definitely legendary as you pointed out. So to even be mentioned in the same sentence with them is really, really cool.
For me, when I was approached to develop/redesign an Air Max I would have already done before, I don’t normally do that. I am not a part of that retro business at Nike. I figure my job is to always do new and different things. And lots of other talented people were already working on reinterpreting our older designs.
However, because it was an HTM – and Hiroshi was doing one and Mark was doing one – I was like, “sign me up!” I’ll actually work on a retro now because there’s a good story, the camaraderie is great, and again, to be in cahoots with those two guys is really an honor.
So I thought about it for a while and thought choosing an Air Max model that I felt could use a little freshening [was a good plan].
Was there any competition in designing the shoes this time?
I guess it would be a juicy story to say we fought like dogs all the time and we were arguing about who got to do what, but the reality is, they were all separately done and I wasn’t really that aware of what Hiroshi or Mark were doing. That’s what makes this particular iteration of HTM unique. Whereas before, most of the projects were collaborative, these are very separate and possibly more unique than the others.
Aesthetically speaking, your name has always been synonymous with various facets of designs – specifically the Air Bubble and now Flyknit. From what I understand, both will be attributes on this HTM election. Does that make this a “full-circle” moment at all?
I guess you could say that. I’ve been so fortunate to be in this business for a while and have worked on innovation and sometimes new ideas are just reorganized old ideas and sometimes new ideas out of left field. In this case, everything did come full-circle and I was able to combine a few things that we’ve been working on recently with some older lines. And I liked what happened.
For me, every time I look at a project I’m never bored because I look at them differently all the time. In this particular case, it was a fortunate convergence of past ideas and more recent ideas [that] are all blended. I don’t normally do that, but this one felt right and I’m in good company so what can I say?!
What does the upcoming anniversary of the Air Max mean to you on a more personal level?
Well, that’s a big one. I’m constantly looking at new ideas and my job is to be more of a “futurist.” However, the more I talk to consumers and the media, I’m reminded of past projects and I tell stories and this entire approach to celebrating Air Max as a past, present and future kind of projects is very interesting, and I’m kind of blown away at how our amazing PR and sportswear people have figured out a way to celebrate this stuff in the way that it is being done. I am just along for the ride in many ways and it’s extremely flattering that some of the old designs are continually brought back. It’s also exciting to do some remixes.
And then there are new ideas coming down the pike for future years. It continues to amaze me, and I thought I’d be worn out and be like “whatever,” but the reality is that there are a lot of creative people around this campus that are paying attention to how to keep the energy up and make things exciting. I’m impacted by all of these new ideas and it’s been a lot of fun.
I’m just honored to be included and to work with Mark Parker. He sends me sketches all the time via his iPhone and I send him sketches. We are in constant contact that way. We sort of communicate through these “shoe-to-shoe” sketches which is hilarious. We should do a book of all these crazy sketches!
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