With all the festivities of Air Max Con now well behind us, we got a chance to sit down with Nike’s most renowned designer and one-third of HTM collective, Tinker Hatfield. Tinker, alongside Nike’s CEO Mark Parker and legendary designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, has continued to elevate Nike’s footwear reputation since the birth of the HTM sub-brand in 2002. Named after the three pioneers, HTM has consistently lured sneakerheads to queue up with their re-imagination of select silhouettes like the Air Force 1, Air Footscape Woven and the Sock Dart to name a few. More recently, the sub-label has grown its following further innovating popular models with the Free Mercurial Superfly HTM, Kobe Elite IX and X, and the ever-popular HTM Flyknit offerings.
The latest addition to the Hiroshi, Tinker, Mark collaborative line is the Air Max HTM Collection. This time taking to a line of shoes stringing back to 1987, with a withstanding legacy in its own right, each member of the HTM trio designed a unique new Air Max model consisting of new innovations to pre-existing elements from past silhouettes. The Air Max HTM Collection is the perfect union of Nike’s most iconic and extensive line of sneakers and the brand’s most prestigious outlet.
In our conversation with Tinker, he offers his two cents on the well-established Air Max line, describes his process as a designer and chronicles his ongoing relationship with Hiroshi and Mark.
What does the Nike Air Max 2016 silhouette add to the already established Air Max lineup?
I think the new one is really playing off of our strategy [which] is to continue to improve the Air units that the people have loved all these years and to make them more flexible. [We’re] trying to be a little better, using more advanced upper technology that actually works in tandem with that big Air bag, that midsole unit. At the same time we’re trying to pay respect and pay homage to some of the earlier designs, and overall it’s a good business and design strategy.
With regards to Nike Air Max, what are the challenges of balancing a timeless retrospective aesthetic with groundbreaking innovation?
Oh boy that’s a great question, that’s a tough one to answer. In many ways as a designer we’re trying to balance performance and innovation, flipped with in many ways sort of the memories that people have of classic shoes and kind of what was going on in the world at the time when a particular shoe came out. I think its really interesting for us, it’s a very complex decision making process and that decision is how modern do you make a shoe and how do you sort of resist making it so modern that no one even understands it. So there are combos of things we work on to make shoes appealing to basically put a shoe in front of lots of people and have people think wow that’s really cool and really different but I also understand it and I also see myself wearing that shoe.
When introducing a new silhouette range like Air Max how much emphasis do you place on ensuring a lasting legacy for the shoe. Is that something you think about during the design process?
I don’t know if anyone sits down to design and think that it’s going to be a lasting legacy. I think that we try to do out best to design performance shoes that fit well and look cool and fit into people’s lives and quite frankly we are not the arbiters of what becomes a timeless classic or what becomes cool 10 years later.
With regards to certain Air Max silhouettes, what do you think contributes to certain, or select Air Max silhouettes being more popular than others? Especially when you consider some iterations are a hybrid version of, looking at Air Max 93 being somewhat of a hybrid of the 90 and the 95.
Well the reality is that from year to year we’re actually trying to change the look of a shoe but evolve the performance. So the performance improvement of the design, the way it works is more subtle but we also want to keep the market excited with the look of the shoe. A lot of people are involved, the designer, the merchandising people and we talk to the customers a lot and it all just goes into some kind of a decision making process and that’s how things get done here. That’s another reason why we have HTM because we can kind of simplify that process down a little bit. Maybe we don’t have to run it by so many people, but we can make decisions on how we actually introduce a product or how it gets designed in the first place. We’re trying to make products that work for real people in the world of fitness and sports, and we’re also trying to make products that people want to wear.
What’s your biggest source of inspiration and do you look to all the new trends when developing new concepts and designs?
Well I don’t know if I’m a big trend-watcher per se, but I will tell you this: when I design I like to think that I might have a list of problems that I’m trying to solve, but in general every time I go to design a shoe in this case the result of the design is because of everything I’ve seen and done in my life up to that point. I might have been influenced by a really cool piece of architecture or I might have been influenced by something I saw in a museum, or influenced by a song on the radio. I’ve been influenced by a number of other things that I’ve seen or done. I’ve been influenced by being pulled behind a boat by a water ski because I thought of something at the time. So inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere and I think that’s what keeps me interested in being a designer because I seem to understand how to extract ideas from my own life and the things that I see and do.
Shifting focus on HTM, how has the rapport between you Mark and Hiroshi evolved over the years?
Oh that’s a good question. At first Mark and I travelled to Tokyo just to be inspired by fascinating things in a different culture, and the fast moving of a big city like Tokyo. We got to know Hiroshi during those trips and realized he was quite an influencer and creative person in his own right. We thought it would be fun to start working with him on some projects and that’s sort of how HTM got started. Early on we got into the same room and did some projects together. You asked how our relationship might have changed, well we’re still friends, and we still get together maybe not as often because of our amazing travel schedules. We’re communicating a lot via our computers and I’ll often send sketches to Mark and he’ll send them back to me, and Hiroshi is sometimes travelling and he might see something that gets him excited. He might ask if we can maybe work on a particular version of a project. So I think we’re all moving around a lot more so we have to communicate not by always being in the room together but still communicating. That’s just happening for most people that we’re spending time communicating by phone or computer.
Would you say you guys are still very much hands on with the HTM designs and what’s next for you guys?
I think that one of the biggest conversations the three of us have is how we can use the HTM sub-brand to introduce new technologies and new ideas, not just older ones that have been reinterpreted. Although we would like to do that we would also use it as a vehicle to essentially present innovation to the world. Sometimes it’s easier to do that through HTM than through our categories because it’s just simpler. Part of the future is to leverage the HTM sub-brand as a mechanism to deliver crazier, new ideas into the real world.