Without the impressive direction from Tinker Hatfield, the creative landscape and influence of Nike would be very different today. GQ recently sat down with the creator of Nike’s most iconic sneakers — including Air Jordan iterations III through XV, to get the skinny on why he does much of his work after business hours, and what it was like to collaborate with His Airness himself. The interview also reveals where and how Hatfield finds inspiration, including the very environment that he works in. Much of Nike’s success with the Air Jordan series — and the brand’s impressive resume for innovation can be attributed to Hatfield’s unique approach to design, which has enabled the footwear giant to continuously remain ahead of the competition.
The Flames Less Traveled
“The Jordan V was partly inspired by flames painted on a World War II plane. Michael and I used to talk about zigging while everybody else was zagging, so I made the flames point forward, not back.”
“At one point, I pushed for a less sporty sub-brand called Jordan Beyond. When Michael did SNL in ‘91, he wore a Jordan Beyond quilted green jacket. But I couldn’t make it happen. I’ve still got some samples, including a basketball shoe that was perforated like a wingtip.”
Ignore the Naysayers
“I started designing the Air Jordan XI during Michael’s first retirement—I kept saying he would un-retire. People at Nike gave me a hard time, so I wanted to show those assholes that we could make the best Jordans ever. The XI was the first basketball shoe to have a carbon-fiber plate in the sole and patent leather. By the time I showed Michael, he’d started playing again.”