words, images & interview // Nick DePaula
As published in Issue 40 of Sole Collector Magazine and iPad Issue 9
As we saw in Beijing during the 2008 Olympic Games, a single shoe like the original Hyperdunk can leave a lasting influence on the Nike Basketball product line as a whole. That shoe in particular worked to reset things like performance benchmarks and best practices for the category, but it also swayed the future of the line with its iconic design cues and traits that have lived on now several seasons later.
Just two years ago, we saw another of those landmark models come to market from the team with the very first Hyperfuse. While it didn’t have as groundbreaking a silhouette or the luxury of a grandiose launch party in L.A. that included Kobe Bryant stepping out of a Delorean, the shoe was rooted in what hoopers were asking for, and over time, that can sometimes mean just as much. It too caught on across blacktops, playgrounds and air-conditioned gyms around the world, and most of that was because of the new take on breathability, the snug fit of the Fuse construction, and the shoe’s welcomed durability.
With more than 30 percent of the NBA sporting the Hyperfuse ever since, Nike Basketball Design Director Leo Chang pretty much instantly had an emerging franchise model of his own to build on. As he explains in this exclusive interview, he wanted to take the shoe’s look in an entirely new direction while keeping around those core performance traits that have made the Hyperfuse such a widely loved model, all as the team got ready for another of those landmark moments with the 2012 Olympic Games. Dive into the new model’s more fluid design language and finely tuned performance cues ahead.
Nick DePaula: For the first two Hyperfuses, you carried over the outsole part and some of the design language. How much were you trying to get after an entirely new look for this one?
Leo Chang: We always had the intention to go to a new tooling on this one, and we also knew that it was going to be Olympic time and we wanted to make sure that we had the best tool, so it was going to be a fresh start for everything on this version. For me, this whole project was really about looking at the way that the foot moves. I worked on the structure a lot, to really let the foot move and bend freely while still giving you rigidity and support that you need.
NDP: The design of the upper is also really flowing and circular. The Hyperposite shares some of that too. Was that part of the direction for the season?
LC: At the time, the stronger side of our product was a little more fluid and organic versus the quicker side, which is a little more sharp and angular of a design language. For us, it just felt like we wanted the product to hang together, but we didn’t want it to necessarily be a takedown from each other. We just really wanted this side of the collection to be fluid.
NDP: Once you got started on layering out the design, how’d the composite package come together and how did that begin to influence the way you designed it?
LC: Everything that we do comes from something that we’ve done prior to this. A lot of the learnings actually started to come from the Hyperenforcer. What we learned from that shoe is that we could start to take away some of the lining packages and integrate them better with the actual Hyperfuse upper package. The Hyperenforcer was cool because we built the lining into the composite package. We didn’t need a bootie then because of that, and that takes away some weight and some of the excess stuff that is normally there. We started out with something that was much more of an extreme design, and really, it was about mapping the foot.
It was an artistic interpretation of mapping the foot in a way that talks about structure and stretch. We originally had an upper that had some dynamic stretch to it, while still allowing it to contain the foot. You can see in some of the earliest samples that these areas can really stretch out and telescope out. They were horrible for weartesting. [Laughs]
NDP: Just not much hold? [Laughs]
LC: Super comfortable against the foot, but in basketball, you just can’t have that much stretch. It was something that was adventurous for us to think about and try, but we learned that you just need more stability and you couldn’t afford that much stretch.
NDP: I’m looking around at some of the samples, and the earliest rounds are on the Hypergamer tooling, which was Lunar. Was that just because of the timelines and it being a tooling to use while you worked on the upper design?
LC: Yeah, exactly, and we only used that because it’s on the same last – the BB-03 – and was at the factory at that time.
NDP: Was the idea to keep with that same Phylon midsole and forefoot Zoom setup for cushioning?
LC: Cushioning-wise, for us at this price point, we’re going to be sticking with the forefoot Zoom Air unit. Also, like we did with the Hyperenforcer, we’re really looking to create some additional cushioning in the heel just by working on the geometry of it.
NDP: And having some heel deflection to soften things up?
LC: Yeah, exactly. At first, I actually created a little more structure than cushioning here, and in the final sample, they’re actually a little less deep. At that point, we weartested it and people loved it. Before, it was still firm and that was something we needed to work on.
NDP: The topline of the shoe is something that’s been consistent through the first three versions. Is that because you want to keep the language and silhouette similar, or simply because guys have really responded to enjoying that height on the court?
LC: It was definitely a bit of both, and it’s definitely both an aesthetic and a functional thing. We want to create a range of motion for the ankle, and it’s almost like a hybrid height. It’s a low in the heel and veers upward and gives you more protection at the top of the collar. That’s something that’s consistently been across our line for a while now, and you really get the best of both because you get the stability and proprioceptive feel of having something around your ankle.
NDP: Have you guys been surprised by how widely adopted the model has been by guys of all positions?
LC: That’s really the goal, and with both the Hyperdunk and Hyperfuse; you kind of meet the needs of players one through five – guys like Russ Westbrook who’ve been pretty diehard with the product.
NDP: He’s still wearing the first one even.
LC: He is! [Laughs] He switches back and forth on the Hyperfuse models, and it’s been fun to watch.
NDP: It’s a guessing game between the first one, second one and then the Hyperenforcer with him, but he’ll just stick with one for a game or two and then switch around. He’s not as unpredictable as Rondo, of course, either.
LC: It’s interesting, and I don’t know if he intentionally did it or not, but [Rondo] wore the new Huarache NSW shoe – not that that’s a performance shoe – and then wore the Huarache 2K4, and then the Hyperdunk Elite. We always consider the Hyperdunk an extension of the Huarache line, and it’s almost like he went from old to new. I guess the Huarache 2012 is an old upper on a new bottom, but it’s still a nod to the old. The 2K4 was a new benchmark at the time.
NDP: A lot of times it seems like he likes playing in lows too, so maybe all of those shoes have a more mobile collar that gives him the range of motion but protection at the same time that he wants.
LC: You can tell he’s still not lacing his shoes all the way too. [Laughs]
NDP: Rondo was one of the guys, and Russ too, that led the Hyperfuse and they had PEs of the Hyperenforcer too. Are there any guys that we can look to be leading this model?
LC: Yeah, you’ll see Russ for sure in these and Rondo at some point in the season wearing them among all of the shoes that he likes to switch in and out of. [Laughs]
NDP: A cool thing with the Hyperenforcer too was the way that you guys were able to layer stuff and play with transparency. How much did that come into play here?
LC: A lot. As you can see, the design has pretty drastically changed. The progression of this model along the way through the samples has really evolved too. What I really thought was interesting was the topographical lines that I really wanted to show that could also accentuate the foot. The earliest execution wasn’t really giving me the depth that I wanted. I also needed to look back at the stretch zones and work in some more mesh through the toe. That was something that was really cool about the first one – that it just had a lot of mesh throughout. I wanted to accentuate that, and then get some x-raying with the layers in some key spots. I started to get to something interesting in terms of depth and layering towards the end, and for this type of shoe, it sits just a notch towards the stronger side, so I wanted to have a little more stability and rigidity around the ankle area. That’s what the design is really getting after, because we’re able to use these additional reinforcement layers and really stiffen up and add more rigidity to the collar. That was the zone that really stayed the same throughout the design process, and then pretty much every other area changed. [Laughs]
NDP: Of course, but that’s not too uncommon either. [Laughs]
LC: Yeah, and as stylized as it is, I think it needed to change too. As you know, the Hyperfuse language has been around for a while now, and you’ve seen that look exist in our other product too. I wanted to just drastically flip it to this organic form. You could see that the design really has a contrast with the skin on mesh. One thing we also wanted to avoid on this shoe was having any layers that could dig into the foot. We wanted to open up the mesh over the toe and strategically place some of the perfs of the upper so that it works with the anatomy of your foot.
NDP: That’s one thing I’ve noticed as you guys went from the first Hyperfuse to the 2011 and now this version. There’s been less and less molding through the toe and you guys have kept looking at that flex zone.
LC: Yeah, and it could become a stiff and pinching point potentially when you first wear it, and then over time it’ll break in. I just wanted to have those areas already relieved in some ways and be softer right away.
NDP: The traction is much more evolved and tuned than the first Hyperfuse. Was that a big point of emphasis?
LC: With the herringbone, it’s something that’s tried and true and works. That’s something that we started on the Hyperenforcer, which you liked, and it’s a pattern that takes some extra time to really get every angle and bevel right, but we’ll look at doing that as much as we can until we find something better. That traction pattern is really something that we’ve been doing for about a year now since Holiday ’11.
This was one of those obsessive things that I was doing for hours upon hours at 3 o’clock in the morning. [Laughs] I wanted to finely tune the herringbone pattern, and anyone that plays basketball identifies the herringbone traction as, quite frankly, really hard to beat. We wanted to own that for basketball and make it also more specific. If you see herringbone now, even on old stuff in NSW or from another company, it’s a static pattern that they just plug and fill into the outsole. I wanted to look at obsessively fine-tuning every angle and every surface to maximize durability, traction and the angle of traction where you’re cutting, toeing off and breaking in the heel. We can space out the rubber in the midfoot where you don’t need as much traction too – just going in and really fine-tuning that out on the outsole. You’ll see this on a lot of shoes that we’ll do, and until we find something better, we’ll continue to use something like this.
NDP: Just as a category, and I’ve seen this from other brands too, but is there something around keeping herringbone in those core and team bank shoes, but then breaking out more of a design pattern for the signature models?
LC: I don’t know about other brands, but I think for me, there’s an element of having something that the consumer looks for from a traction standpoint. Herringbone is just really hard to beat. If you can put a twist on it and have it be familiar to it, I try and keep within that. With stuff like Hyperfuse and Hyperdunk, shoes where a lot of people will get into it, I think it is good to have that. That doesn’t mean we’ll always continue to do that, and if we find something better, we’ll look at that. But it gives us a chance in some cases, like with Kobe, to really tell more of a story there with his product.
NDP: Where about did they end up weight-wise?
LC: I know early on we had taken an ounce out of the shoe and we were around 11.5 to 12 ounces. The other Hyperfuses have been around 12.5, and we ended up right around 12 I think.
NDP: Something on the Hyperenforcer that I liked was the way that you attached the tongue. It was constructed differently and flexed real well. Is this similar?
LC: This is a more traditional construction, but what we did was really look at padding the tongue in zones to get rid of any lace pressure. It was really inspired by Pro Combat, and we have a six-milimeter layer of EVA there and then mesh around it. Our weartesters raved about how awesome the lace protection was on the tongue, and that was designed to almost mimic the crossing of laces. It articulates and still gives you ventilation.
NDP: Was that a change and design that came later to the game after you started out with the more zonal and fused tongue?
LC: Yeah, and I just wasn’t happy with the way that it was coming together with the skin tongue. It was just too stiff and it wasn’t conforming enough. I just sat back and looked at it, and just thought about all of the cool stuff that we had been doing with the Elite Series and with Pro Combat. Jason [Petrie] has been doing some great stuff with the LeBron stuff, so I just wanted to take some of that and really build on what he had been doing there.
NDP: Do you have a favorite color or execution yourself?
LC: As exhausting as it’s been to see a lot of volt shoes out there right now, I really like how that came across. It almost looks like it was modeled out of one material. It’s interesting how it’s all one color and then the surfaces and textures really stand apart.
NDP: I really like that one best too, along with the other tonal versions. I think we’ve seen the collar slope design in other models, so seeing it in one color allows it to be more about the design and different textures that way.
LC: Yeah, hopefully people think so too.