words & interview // Nick DePaula & Zac Dubasik

images // Nick DePaula

Normally come summer time, there's a new low-top or team-aimed version of the latest Air Jordan model, but with the 2011's all-new modular approach to cushioning, this year's drafted-off model brings with it an entirely new approach as well. While it shares the same midsole and outsole design, as well as an identical comfy and plush inner bootie, the Air Jordan 2011 Q Flight marks the first time that the brand has incorporated Fuse technology into an upper. Under the hood, the Q Flight -- Q is for "Quick," duh -- carries over the interchangeable Quick sockliner from the big brother game shoe, loaded with both heel and forefoot Zoom Air. They'll be releasing nationwide this Thursday, July 7th.

Sole Collector recently caught up with Jordan Senior Designer Tom Luedecke to hear all about the new Air Jordan 2011 Q Flight, where it sits in the line as compared to the game shoe, and where the brand plans to take Fuse going forward. Read ahead for everything you'd ever want to know about the Q Flight, and yes, for serious, even why Luedecke won't be designing a butt crack on his sneakers any time soon.

Zac Dubasik: You worked a lot on the 2011 of course.

Tom Luedecke: Yes sir.

ZD: And the 2011 was a great shoe. We both really liked playing in them. How does this come into the equation?

TL: When you look at what the 2011 does, in terms of blending some leathers that are really, really high end, along with comfort and performance and a really hand-crafted construction, there’s a price point attached to that. Now, we know the shoe performed well, in terms of cutting, traction and there was a modularity system there too, but now, it’s about, "How do we take some of the good stuff out of that shoe, and bring a product to market that more kids can have access to?"

One thing is, you take the leather out. You put some more durable materials in that people are not afraid to beat up. We wanted to build a shoe that kids are not hesitating to beat up, and hesitating to take to the court, where they might worry if someone is going to step on their beautiful leather Js and mess them up. And really, our entire brand is shifting towards more and more performance, and better and better performance, so every chance we get, we’re going to try and take a step towards that. For us, this was a great opportunity to say, "Hey, there’s summer ball happening, there’s some good stuff going on in China around that time, and we want to use some of the technologies that are housed within the Jordan family, and blend in some technologies that are housed within Brand Nike in Basketball."

Because it’s a summer calendar timeline and fall release, that really started to mix things up for us. It’s unexpected for Jordan, and I think that’s the kind of thing you’re going to see from us going forward. We want people to say, “They’re doing that? But I thought -- I thought they couldn’t do that?” [laughs] We’re not going to do it just like Nike though, like here, we’re mixing leather with Fuse. We’re also mixing in the exact lacing system from the AJ 2011 and putting it alongside Fuse.

Nick DePaula: You mentioned carrying over the lacing system from the 2011. What else did you want to share between the two?

TL: There were a couple of benefits from the 2011 that we definitely wanted to bring into this. The things that worked included the inner bootie, and [on the Q Flight] we have the exact same comfortable bootie from the game shoe. At $120, you’re getting this ultra-high comfort bootie that we’ve proven out on the 2011. That’s one of the things where everybody was like, “Damn that’s comfy!” So we said, “Well, let’s put it in!” Even though the shoe is $120, we’re not holding back. It’s a lot more accessible of a price, and some companies would maybe shy away from doing a full-length bootie like this and some of the Air technologies that we’re doing at that price, but you know what, we’re trying to do what’s right for the athlete; number one. Two, it’s a great opportunity for us to shine as a brand in the summer and see kids out there on the court wearing the Jumpman loud and proud.

ZD: With the 2011, there were the two options for cushioning, how did you decide which setup to include here?

TL: We actually developed two separate cushioning platforms based on the 2011, so aesthetically, they’re the same on the outside, but on the inside, the air bags are actually housed as the Explosive and the Quick were. The Q Flight here will come with two Zoom bags, and the A Flight will be a Holiday model and feature the full-length Air bag in it. It’s a new regular midsole with the same Air technologies and a nylon shank for stability. The Q Flight is more specific to summer and outdoor basketball, therefore we have the bigger mesh windows, and the A Flight will take on different cues and has a different design. They both have the same agenda though, to take some things that we know work, and take some Jordan elements that keep it interesting and unique.

NDP: How far along into the game shoe did you guys start to design this?

TL: I want to say half-way through, because the game shoe was really an extended process, and we went even farther past our regular timelines to get that finished because there were so many details that we wanted to button down. This project began around half-way through the game shoe, and we thought, “Hey, it’d be great to have the Quick midsole and the Explosive midsole align with two products down the road and have them be unique.”

ZD: Did you guys ever look at anything where you might be able to take your Quick and Explosive midsoles from the 2011 and be able to use it in a different shoe?

TL: Yeah, and there are plans a little bit further out on how to evolve that concept. Specifically, for 2012 you’ll see quite a few things start to metabolize around that idea. We’ll have to talk about that in December or January though. [laughs] We’re definitely thinking about that and want to keep staying on the modularity beat, however, at this price point of $120, that’s not something we’re able to do now. We’re building the modular tools and we’re going to utilize the ones from the 2011 at some point, but it takes some time to build all of that out for the right price points.

ZD: One thing I noticed in the collar is it feels like there’s a little bit more molding and foam than there was in the 2011. Is that right?

TL: The 2011 had a raw edge, and the Q Flight has a stitch and turn finish, so there’s a tad bit more material in there.

NDP: Design wise, was there any particular inspiration or insight for this shoe, or was it more about adding in some breathability and giving the shoe a sleek look?

TL: We wanted to showcase that functionally, we’re going in the right direction. We have big mesh windows here, and we’re showing off the Fuse construction. We’re also using a fairly clean tip toe, and it should feel like we’re pulling the leather away from the game shoe and now revealing the tech. In terms of inspiration, it was really about looking at the athlete and the point in time that this is releasing. What are kids doing in the summer playing hoops? What do you need, and what is an aesthetic that you wouldn’t be afraid to go beat up? We wanted to think about not being too pretty -- and I don’t want to say that in the wrong sense of course! [laughs] You don’t want to have it too beautiful, like some of the products that we put out. When some kids got their 2011s on, they still said, “Oh man, no way I can play in these.”

NDP: Pretty much everyone I’ve ever talked to was scared to play in the XX3s, because they didn’t want to scuff up that awesome TPU chasis.

TL: Exactly, and there are precedents where we went too high-end. Which is ok. They’re still beautiful and functional, but the reality is, the kid here is going to spend $120 on this and go out and ball in it. They’re less likely to do that if they’re spending $230 on a game shoe with a special box and a wooden shoe tree in it, right? [laughs] That’s not going to happen. Here, we're just being respectful to that fact, and the fact that it’s hotter in the summer and the ground is tougher outdoors.

ZD: I played in the red 2011s, and I thought they actually aged awesome, because of the burnishing that was already on there. At least with that colorway, when they got scuffed up, it didn’t look all that bad at all.

TL: That was the intent, but I think it still takes some guts to even get to that point for most people. For me, I’ve had a leather rugsack for awhile now, and the longer I had it, the more beautiful it looked. But how do you get kids that are used to synthetic leather shoes, where the moment you scuff them they’re done, to think that way? We have some concepts on the table for the next few years that maybe play with that attitude of aged and vintage, mixed in with new technologies or leather and techs like Fuse and other composites.

NDP: The game shoe this year had the huge Jumpman along the heel, and that was real prominent and nicely styled. Did you guys talk about having a more molded and textured logo on the Q Flight at all?

TL: No, not at all. I think that was a moment in time that was real specific to that shoe. I think there are many different ways to do the logo obviously, but here, you want to see the logo on the court, and we don’t want to come across as being too much or too gaudy. This shoe is straight up performance, and we just wanted to make the logo count and put it on there in a way that we knew would hold up. Because we have the other complementary parts, like the high-end design and the high-end materials, I don’t think we’re dumbing it down with the logo being stitched, but we’re just being respectful of the environment that the shoe is going to be played in and not overdoing it for that kid.

NDP: So instead of that heel placement, is it safe to say we’ll continue to see a more lateral Jumpman?

TL: It is a big Jumpman, but the big takeaway with the 2011, as a brand, was let’s not be scared of a big Jumpman. We could fault ourselves in the past for not being bold enough with our brand mark, and I think you’ll see going forward a resurgence of that and we’ll be more proud and more visible on the court. When you see footage of our athletes on the court, or footage of NCAA or AAU athletes that you’re checking out on YouTube clips or whatever, we want to be as visible as the Swoosh or Three Stripes or anything else out there. We’re proud to be doing performance shoes.

NDP: In the past, the Jumpman has always been a bit more subtle, definitely.

TL: And it’s all semantics, really. You could say subtle, or you can say understated, or you can say that we weren’t being loud enough. That’s maybe a bit of a shift, and something you’ll be seeing going forward, to be more prominent.

NDP: In terms of the Zoom units, is it 14 in the heel and 8 in the forefoot?

TL: It’s 8 in the forefoot, and I want to say it's 10 or 14 in the heel. We tried to get the max size that we could, and have a big volume unit in there. I know it’s 8 in the forefoot because there was a huge discussion going back and forth with our factory partners. It’s one of those things where we went in circles. I always advocate for more Zoom, so if there’s 14, that means I won! [laughs] More Zoom -- it feels good! [Ed. Note: It's 14 mm. Tom won.]

NDP: What are some other differences between the game shoe platform and what we have with the Q and A Flight?

TL: The midsoles are a little bit higher now, because with the game shoe it was modular and it allowed us to sit a bit lower. They have the same sleek sweep too.

NDP: In terms of a directional standpoint for you guys, is bringing Fuse into the line something that we’ll be seeing more and more, or will it just be a summer play?

TL: You’ll be seeing us bringing in a mix of things, and I think you’ll be seeing us using composite materials in new ways and forms in performance basketball. You’ll also see us use it in new ways on the lifestyle side eventually, too. We’re not shy to start mixing things up and put things in the blender and do things that are unique and different from what you might see from our partners across the pond. I think that’s something that is unique to Jordan, that tongue-in-cheek approach. You might say, “Oh, maybe that’s a little old school with the leather pieces on there. Nike uses all Fuse.” Well, that’s intentional. Their goal is not to have any leather on it, and for us, there’s value and a heritage to leather.

ZD: Design wise, is it tough to mix materials like that, and use something that’s so high tech and new with something that’s considered older.

TL: Definitely, and I think the expectation level in general is that things will become more sleeker. You don’t see big ledges anymore on midsoles, and nearly all shoes now have thinned down. You don’t see rolled edges like we used to, where a lot of leather had real nice rolled or double-rolled edges with real nice painted edges even. I think now, you’re going to see us try to get to using very minimal leathers and have very minimal thicknesses so that we can stay very sleek and close to the foot. That’s probably the biggest challenge.

ZD: Is there any story behind the split up the heel taking on the angle that it does?

TL: No no no. [laughs] I really have an aversion to that….butt crack up the heel. [laughs]

NDP: I’ve never heard it called that. That’s really funny.

TL: I’ve always hated that. There’s so many shoes that do it, and at least put a tape over it or something. Cover it up. [laughs]

ZD: I’ve always thought it was so much cooler when shoes have an asymmetrical split or wrap it.

TL: That’s just one of those pet peeves for me, and I also wanted to have a clean area for that iconic box from the 2011 to still be there too. I wanted to have a clean space for that, and then there’s a bit of story with almost like two hands grabbing with the two overlapping shapes. It also makes for a much better heel rake, which is maybe the more technical reason for it. If you have a single seem here, and you don’t watch what you’re doing or your pattern maker isn’t good, then the heel could start to stand up a bit. With this kind of closure, you’re able to force the rake in and keep the heel of the shoe closer and have better heel lockdown.

ZD: That’s one of my favorite parts of the shoe, is that it’s not, like you said --

TL: No butt crack.

[everyone laughs]

NDP: Is the composite build the same from what we’re to from Nike. The same three-layer heat press?

TL: Yeah, it’s the same composite as the Hyperfuse, just laid out in a different way with the windows and beams. I just wanted to look at a fast and sleek way to pull those windows in there. That was a challenge for me, and I did maybe fifty or sixty sketches on just the windows to see how they’d end up being shaped. That was an exercise by itself, because it’s been done at Nike and now, by other people in the industry, so it was about doing it and still having it look unique. I think it turned out nice, and it looks fast and still speaks to the performance because you can look into it.

NDP: In terms of the overall game shoe plan, some years there’s a .5 or a Low or a + version. Will this be that additional version to the one that releases first in February?

TL: I think you’re going to see us actually re-direct our efforts going forward with the game shoe. We have three signature athletes that we need to serve first, and the game shoe will become almost like a concept car. I think the modularity concept is the first time we introduced that. The pressure on the AJ now is completely different to deliver north star concepts and find ways to influence where we go longer term. Rather than having immediate impact on the line, it may be something that sets the tone for two or three years out. We’re changing the way we look at that model, what it does for the company, what it does for the athlete and what it does for us to halo where we’re going to go. It won’t be like in the past, where come fall, we take influence from it and have a spin-off model, it’ll be more about what we’re doing two or three years from now and how we can be inspired by technology, the materials we use and the build of it. We can do that because we have the three guys of Wade, Melo and CP that drive our three different styles of product, and we can take the pressure off of the AJ shoe to be like more of a concept car. Which makes it really excited to be able to work on.

NDP: Is that going to be something that you are leading going forward?

TL: It’s going to be me and Tinker on the next one, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I think you’ll see different people jump in and out of that shoe, alongside Tinker or Mark [Smith], myself or [Footwear Design Director] Andre [Doxey.] It really will become a concept driver, and from a design standpoint, it’s super exciting.