Paris photography_Zac Dubasik
[As published in Issue 29, August 2009 - Available HERE]
For Senior Designer Octavio Lubrano, being apart of the Jordan Brand has been nothing short of a tremendous experience. Having worked on several marquee shoes across multiple categories, he's also had the good fortune of traveling the world to meet with elite athletes and apply his knowledge and skills to help them perform at their best. Last month, I caught up with Octavio to learn all about the Jordan Elements shoe that he recently designed with the summer hoop season in mind, and we also got a chance to talk about his experience at the Quai 54 event in Paris, his travels throughout Europe, and how great a feeling it is to be with the brand as Michael is set to be inducted in the Basketball Hall Of Fame this September.
Nick DePaula: For people that might not be familiar with your work, how long have you been with the brand and what are some shoes you've worked on?
Octavio Lubrano: I've been with the brand five plus years now, and some of the most recent stuff I've done is the Jordan Elements, the Air Jordan Fusion 4, and the 6 Rings was something I worked on that launched at the beginning of the year. The Pure Pressure I did as well and I also have done some work on the Derek Jeter line. I do a little bit of everything really. My focus is really just basketball product in general with team and also retro inspired models that we use to elevate the brand.
With the Jordan Elements, what was the goal and brief behind that one?
This shoe was the second shoe specifically done with the Quai54 and the outdoor game in mind, with the Esterno being the first last year. Prior to these two shoes, we would take a shoe that was in-line already and give that to the athlete for the outdoor game. With this shoe, we wanted to take a closer look at the outdoor game and really the whole notion of bringing back the cupsole construction as it relates to the perimeter of the shoe and how we have rubber wrapping up really high.
Along with that, one of the challenges with cupsoles is that it can be heavy. The last model that we started this process with was the Esterno, and that model showed EVA exposed at the bottom to try and take weight off, and with this one, we went more aggressive and the internals of the cupsole is Phylon, and our goal was to get the best of both worlds where we can use Phylon for a lighter weight and great cushioning and then use the cupsole on the perimiter of the shoe. As you noticed at the event, the outdoor game can be really aggressive. When you take a shoe that's meant for indoor use and take it outdoors, it can really get beat up. This is supposed to be your indestructible, get it in, going back to the blacktop shoe. It's really simple, easy to understand, and the upper has more of a protective element to it. There's a rand that goes around the perimeter of the upper, and then there's also an underlay there that allows more protection along the upper. The mesh is also a great lightweight material that helps bring the weight down. The cupsole might look pretty simple, but it's a hard thing to construct where that graphic is painted on the backside, and we also did a cupsole stitching like we did with the Esterno, except for this time it wraps all the way to the bottom of the heel. The TPU shank was also done in an exposed way that's closer to the way that the Air Jordan XI was done. We wanted to kind of play off of that, and to make sure that you have everything that you would need so that the shoe wouldn't fall apart on you.
Was there any inspiration from past shoes in particular, like the Air Jordan XI that you just mentioned?
I think it was a nice touch by our marketing team. The way things are now, a lot of our team stuff sometimes will do that. It's always hard to compare when you're going up against something new, and people like the DNA of Jordan. With the team stuff, we don't need to use it in terms of taking direct parts from our past, but what I did with marketing was work to find some nice material mixes and some different colorways that can play on our heritage. I think it works really nicely and keeps things pretty simple. You're right, there is a bit of an influence in the color blocking and materials that touch on some of the past shoes we've worked on, and it's evident that the XI is the one we looked at. A lot of people have copied our patterns, and we own it, so this is an opportunity to use some of our DNA. Kids will connect it I think. We wanted to use some of our legacy and sprinkle it into this shoe and still let it have its own look.
And how did the Ruff & Tuff colorway of the Elements come about? Was that you working with Gentry on that one?
With Gentry now working in the International division of the brand, this was one of the shoes that we worked on for that group to help do something special for the event and test the shoe out. As we go to the event and deal with the athletes, we're also getting a better understanding of the culture and nuances and what the players want. Gentry thought of the name Ruff & Tuff, and it's just all about bringing some of that street game to the shoes. You want to make the shoes as flexible as possible, but you also have to make it rough and add a tough element to it. As you witnessed at the Quai54, the tournament just reminded me of the old games we would play in the schoolyard. The guys that were playing in the games, some of those guys play internationally or for their national teams as well, and they really put the shoes to the test. The name was something to connect to the event and it may change for next year, but we'll continue to evolve this outdoor series as we go further throughout Europe, Asia and the rest of the world.
Did you get a chance to talk to any of the players specifically about the shoes and what kind of feedback did you get?
Yeah, we had three focus groups with the players, and not only did we get feedback on this shoe, but we also got feedback on next year's shoe. We kind of leapfrogged and wanted to work on addressing a few things like trying to make the shoe more flexible and still durable. As you could tell, the pavement really beats the shoe up really badly, and we want to make sure the shoe doesn't wear out. We always want to make our shoes lighter each year also, and yet make sure we keep the durability of the shoe. The feedback was great, and it played well. Before we took it to Quai54, we had Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Ray Allen and a lot of our guys wearing the shoe, so they already tested it a bit for us. Joe Johnson really liked playing in the shoe, and a lot of our guys really liked the fit. Our challenge is always getting the guys to hold off on wearing their Retro stuff and make sure that the new stuff always plays better. Another thing that made this project pretty interesting was making sure that kids could play in it indoors too. I think that even next year's shoe, you're going to see a big improvement as we gathered a lot of information at the event and you're going to see a big jump even from the technology that we use.
Do you have a favorite colorway or material that was used on it?
With the way we work, we have a really good team, and with Jamaal Lucas in Marketing and Joe Gomez the Developer, as a designer, I don't really have to babysit the whole process. Our product marketing team really has a good feel for materials and looking at our legacy, so I give them all the credit for, number one, making sure the shoe performs. Joe did a lot of work on getting the construction just right, because it was a little bit different because of the rand of EVA above the cupsole. It was a little bit of a challenge to keep that looking right with the paint there and making sure that all of the clear rubber bonds the right way. Jamaal also took the lead on choosing most of the materials and working on the colorways, and I focused a lot on the details and fit and making sure I could do my part to make sure the details and everything finished up to a great standard.
You were out at the Quai54 tournament to catch all of the games of course, what'd you think of the whole atmosphere and experience?
I thought it was really great, and I have a better appreciation for the athletes in France and their culture was really authentic. Just how they understood the music, the sport and they knew a lot about MJ's legacy and everything he's done. They were really pure in the way that they loved our brand, and it was exciting for me to see us bring the game and the Jordan styling of how we do things to their world. In France and in Europe, there's plenty of design cues and products that they buy, but it was great to see how the Jordan style has become connected to their life. I really felt like I could have been at Rucker Park or in Chicago or anywhere like that with the way they embraced the sport. I really think it's up to us to continue to go there and connect with them and really give them the game. I tell you what, some of the cats that were playing, oh my god, they had some game, so it looks like next year the US team is gonna have to step it up! [laughs]
That's what I thought too. [laughs]
They had heart man. They really came to play. And when you watched them play, you'd think some of those cats were from the States. You would never say, "Oh, he's French." They could go to any ballpark in the world and play. Playing basketball that long, in a tournament all day in the sun, it's tough on them and on their bodies. Some of those guys were probably hurt at the end of the day, and they fought hard. It's really nice that we can do something in an outdoor venue, and obviously having Ludacris and Usher come out was typical icing on the cake. I felt really good as part of the brand that we could do something free for these kids who spend their money on our shoes. It was really nice that we did something extra for all of them. We're not just selling shoes, we're celebrating our brand. It was great that all of those kids could enjoy our event and that we did it to that level. I'm excited because it's only going to get better from here.
That's great man. During your trip, you also traveled to other parts of Europe. Where'd you hit and what'd you learn?
Ironically, I was there during Fashion Week. We got to travel with Retail and get some interesting perspectives on the performance end and how that relates to the fashion end in what products they're buying. We also got a good understanding of how they perceive us as a brand. While we there during Fashion Week, we also took a look at other brands that were from Europe and got to look at their take on some of the style and designs that they were doing. Always in France, there's obviously a great number of luxury items that are also accessible, so I always like looking at the quality of detail. I like to be inspired by that and really try and add in that level of detail. I also like to look at women's footwear product and handbags that include everything from Louis Vuitton to also some lesser known local lifestyle brands. What I really got out of it was the hip-hop culture that is so strong there. I bought some French hip-hop CDs too, and found out some interesting things that they're into. Unfortunately, I speak a few languages, but not French. [laughs] The culture also has a lot of mixing going on and the crossover really opened up my eyes to not only some of the basketball traits that we could have picked up, but also just the overall lifestyle that we can really get involved in from an international point of view. We also got a chance to learn about their feelings towards guys like CP and Melo and how they view MJ and what inspires them. It was really cool there, and I also went to Berlin after France to attend the Bread & Butter tradeshow. I got a look at more of the fashion world, but I also wanted to learn more about how our world could connect to fashion in terms of some of the new apparel brands that are coming out and how that influences how kids are buying their shoes.
Now that you're back at the office, what are you working on now that you're really excited about that's coming out soon?
As we're getting ready for the Holiday season, there's a shoe coming out called the Old School III that I think is really nice. What's nice about that one is, as a brand, I like to call it the remix generation, where everyone is remixing everything, and what we've done in Jordan that's pretty interesting is the Old School series. We're designing something today that has the feel and the soul and the swagger of something back in the day, but we're not literally taking from our older shoes. It's retro in the feel and flavor of it, but it's a new product. I think that's a new way of doing the remix, and you want to capture the essence and the feel and style of the older shoes, but the Old School III has a nice real smooth look with the way we exposed the Air bag. I'm excited about that one, and then the AJF4 has been getting a lot of love from people that we've heard from with the way that we mixed the Air Jordan IV with the Air Force 1. There's some really cool colorways that are coming down the road that will get people really excited about it. Those are two projects coming out now that I'm real excited about.
With Michael going into the Hall Of Fame in September, can you talk about how special it is to be at the brand during this time and how important of a moment it is for you?
It's kind of a weird one, cause he's always been a Hall Of Famer to me. It's an interesting one, because we know and I look at him, and this might sound crazy, but he's beyond a Hall Of Famer. [laughs] He's created his own line, and I never thought I'd be designing shoes for the Jordan Brand. I think everyone here is very proud and honored to be apart of it. For me, they're doing a commemorative version of the 6 Rings, so that also feels good to have a little part in that with a shoe that I worked on that they're going to bring back and do an exclusive launch with. I'm excited for the next time I get back east to see if the Hall Of Fame will treat this differently and do a special kind of display for Michael now being there. Maybe they'll do a special statue or something. I think it's going to be well deserved, and we're proud to be apart of this whole thing. Without going into details about why we like Michael, I think everyone feels like it's a great thing to see. In a crazy way, it almost feels like he should never have retired. [laughs] I almost feel like the Hall Of Fame will feel like the end of his career with him going into a shrine, but it's one of those catch 22s. It's definitely a well deserved honor.