The Highsnobiety Crowns are an annual awards series celebrating the very best in streetwear and street culture over the past 12 months. All shortlists are chosen by the in-house editorial staff at Highsnobiety, with the final result left up to you, the readers.
2016’s prize was a $2,000 shopping spree courtesy of luxury shopping destination MATCHESFASHION.COM. Stay posted for more information on the 2017 Crowns later this year.
There are plenty of big figures at Nike that are deserving of this particular award. Of course there’s Michael Jordan, a basketball legend and part-time Internet meme. And Mark Parker, the CEO who has helped usher in the era of Nike being the most recognizable brand on the planet. Then there’s Phil Knight, the outgoing founder of the company who documents its scrappy start in his recently published autobiography, Shoe Dog. But when it comes to what’s really contributed to Nike’s transformation from humble Onitsuka Tiger importer to global sportswear juggernaut, one only needs to remember what Mars Blackmon said in a series of memorable adverts: “It’s gotta be the shoes.”
Michael Jordan’s success story at Nike is buttressed by the rise of Tinker Hatfield. Sure, Peter Moore’s Air Jordan 1 is a certified classic (and saw a slew of re-releases this year), and Air Force 1 designer Bruce Kilgore is the man behind Jordan’s Air Ship (the shoe he played in before the Jordan 1) and the 1’s successor, the luxurious, Italian-manufactured Air Jordan 2—but Hatfield’s Air Jordan 3 is the sneaker that kept Jordan onboard at Nike at a time when he was free to pursue other opportunities. A trained architect, Hatfield’s design experience draws from the same creative wells as modern wünderkinds like Virgil Abloh. It turns out, a mutual appreciation for clean lines and structural integrity is a great starting point for innovative kicks that look good and perform exceptionally well.
The footwear he designed for the Jordan line remain some of the most anticipated retros, signifying a true synergy between style and sportswear—a time before basketball shoes began to resemble complicated foot machines and possessed a subtle, “gotta have them” appeal that drew customers in. Sure, having Jordan, Spike Lee, and Bugs Bunny as spokespersons may have helped, but the shoes were already seductive in and of themselves.
Tinker Hatfield’s legacy has been integral to keeping Nike at the forefront of form and function. From the Pompidou-inspired Air Max 1 that turned the concept of “walking on Air” to a literal sneaker with a window, the Mexican footwear-inspired Huarache, the streetball inspired Air Raid, and the desert-trekking Mowabb that birthed the outdoorsy All Conditions Gear line, he’s created many of the bedrocks of Nike’s oeuvre, things that keep getting revisited and gussied up with the Swoosh’s ever-evolving array of technological advancements—jacquard, Flyknit, Lunarlon soles, the list goes on.
The HTM line—a three-letter abbreviation for “Hiroshi, Tinker, Mark” that functions as a footwear incubator for concepts spawned by the superteam of Hatfield, Hiroshi Fujiwara, and Mark Parker—has arguably produced some of the most influential and important sneakers of the modern era. The Flyknit Racer and Trainer have already achieved “instant classic” status.
In his 1963 book Inventing the Future, Nobel prize-winning physicist Dennis Gabor writes: “The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented. It was man’s ability to invent which has made human society what it is.” 26 years later, Hatfield was doing that on the silver screen. Featured prominently in Back to the Future II, his Air Mag concept of self-lacing shoes of the future incited an overwhelming sense of desire in budding sneakerheads the world over. And that creation has not only become a sought after, auction-only release, but his science fictional self-lacing technology has become a reality: the groundbreaking Nike HyperAdapt.
Hatfield’s own ties to Oregon symbolize a closed loop of sorts for Nike. Founder Phil Knight started the brand with a vision of being an Oregon-based company that keeps the state’s pioneer spirit alive, and Hatfield, a former Duck runner himself, took that notion into the future solely (pun not intended) through the strength of his footwear designs.
- Illustrations: Yu Nagaba