From the ground up
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Hard to believe 26 years have passed since the introduction of the Air Jordan. Each year still brings a tinge of excitement as February turns and the latest in the line of iconic hoop shoes hits shelves. The 2011 once again delivers ground breaking technology – a revolutionary employment of interchangeable midsoles gives players option to be either quicker or more explosive – clad in an elegant and refined shoe. How refined? The Air Jordan 2011 is the first basketball shoe to feature handcrafted Patina leather.

Tom Luedecke, a Senior Footwear Designer for Jordan Brand, co-led the design of the Air Jordan 2011 alongside Tinker Hatfield. His background in innovation – including contributions to the designs of the Nike Hyperdunk and the Nike Zoom Trainer 1 – are on full display in the technological innovations of sneaker. His personal history, Luedecke is the grandson of the shoemaker, finds form in the refined process of manufacture.

We met with Luedecke to talk about the design inspiration of the Air Jordan 2011. Images and more after the jump.

In discussion with Luedecke, the designer points out MJ’s own game preparation as inspiration for both the technology and aesthetic of the shoe. Linking the game to battle, the design team fused organic tribal patterns (a Warrior theme that emphasizes the shoes core function), seen notably on the embossed leather upper, with new fabrics, like the defense mesh used at the ankle. The grid of the mesh is repeated on the midsole, with the organic pattern of the leather upper finding a mate in the use of elephant print on the outsole.

It’s subtle, the whole mixing of pattern and nods to Jordan Brand Heritage, but it works.

Style, of course, is central to us and in that the innovative use of handcrafted Patina leather is primary selling point. Luedecke promotes the craft saying, “the emboss is pressure over time which gives the oil in the leather a slightly darker, burned sense to it.” Uppers are produced according to size, ensuring that the proportion of the organic pattern is true in each individual pair. Another individual point of interest is that each shoe is hand buffed. The finish, a slight buffing, which creates further graduation promotes the texture. “Add to that some of the gloss versus matte, that the buffing gives you,” says Luedecke, “and then the interruption of pattern through the perforation and the real quality of the leather comes to shine.”

To get this quality, a new focus on craft in manufacture was instilled. Luedecke shares that “it’s literally craftsmen, we had to train people to slow down and craft the product.” A soft hand and a level of sophistication are evident in the way the leather as a beautiful crown finish at the toe which drops at the midsole and picks up against the heal. “Each shoe is going to be unique,” Luedecke notes, “each pair looks the same left to right, but the next pair might be different. That’s part of the shoe being handcrafted.” The level of finishing is a point of pride for Luedecke, who finished our conversation with these words, “this is first and foremost a performance product, but as you say it will live on the street. That beauty of from the finish comes out in the product.”

One true legacy of the Jordan series is undoubtedly beauty in technology. With the hand-finished leather of the Air Jordan 2011, emphasis on beauty comes to the immediate fore, with significant technology hidden just where the athlete needs it – on the inside.

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