words // Nick DePaula
portrait // Steve Mullholand
While Michael Jordan certainly did his part in helping the Air Jordan XI reach legendary status during an accolade laden 1995-1996 NBA season, we definitely can't overlook the creative genius of designer Tinker Hatfield.
After Michael's simple request for a "shiny shoe," it was Tinker who sourced and styled the gleaming patent leather support rand overlay that iconically surrounds the upper. Since he's a bit more eloquent than me and quite a primary source, we'll let Tinker explain why they're still his favorite shoe, even all these years later.
Tinker Hatfield details the Air Jordan XI:
The XI, out of all of those shoes, is my favorite one. The reason I like it the most is partly because it has patent leather, the nylon and the carbon fiber shank -- and some of those things had never happened before -- but it was also designed, believe it or not, when Michael Jordan was retired. He kept telling everybody that he wasn’t going to come back to basketball, and Nike wanted to stop the Jordan line. They didn’t want to do any more Jordans, and their thinking was that he wasn’t going to be playing basketball and we wouldn’t be able to sell Jordans. I disagreed with that, even though the people higher up than me tried to stop me. I didn’t stop.
That’s why I like the shoe so much. It was innovative because of the carbon fiber, which came from football cleats -- both soccer and American football cleats. The patent leather was actually Michael’s idea. He didn’t really know about patent leather necessarily, but he had said he wanted a shoe that was shiny. He actually wanted a shoe that shiny for about three years before that, and I could not figure out the right kind of material and how to use it. Really, when we do one of these shoes, we want it to be performance oriented first. That’s what helps the style. If it works better, that’s what helps the shoe look better, because it tends to look more purposeful and then look better.
That’s how the shoe got designed, and MJ was all excited when I brought in the shoe and it had this patent leather on it. The first thing he said was, "You….you….y…." He couldn’t get a word out. [laughs] Then, the first real sentence that he said was, "People are going to be wearing these with tuxedos." I just said, “You’re kidding,” and didn’t believe him.
Then, about three months later, Boyz II Men showed up at the American Music Awards, all wearing Air Jordan XIs with tuxedos. Michael called me up that night, and said, “See, I told you so.” [laughs] I just said, “You probably paid those guys, didn’t you?” He said, “No way! They did it on their own.” The shoe sort of developed a life of it’s own because it transcended basketball a little bit, and ended up in modern culture and music history. It’s my favorite because of all of those things.
Originally published in Issue 22 of Sole Collector Magazine, here's a classic portrait of Tinker Hatfield and the "Concord" Air Jordan XI.