It’s a tricky thing, trying to make sense of a pair of sneakers. The line between poignant and tasteless is thin, and many brands have struggled to respect it. Retailer James Whitner knew this when he decided to make his first retro sneaker with Jordan Brand. “It’s generally contradictory to think that big brands can tell authentic, rich stories without feeling artificial,” he said. Yet: that’s exactly what he decided to do.
Whitner runs The Whitaker Group, the company behind a number of sneaker and streetwear stores like APB, Social Status and Prosper. A Ma Maniére, the brand’s first luxury hub, is the one that partners with Jordan Brand. And that’s the case with a clothing line and a new Air Jordan 3 that has already been ranked as a candidate for the best sneaker of the year. It all comes with a little twist for the male-dominated sneaker world: the shoe, which will be released exclusively in female sizes next week, is meant to pay homage to the role black women have played in Whitner’s life and in the Black. community as a whole. It’s an unusually ambitious collaboration, designed to give a cool new twist to a Hall of Fame sneaker while telling a crucial and timely story.
For Whitner, the shoe and the story behind it share a point of origin. The first pair of Jordans his mother ever bought for him and his brother were the original 3 in 1988. “Jordan Brand has always been Louis Vuitton or Gucci for the hood,” Whitner explained. “Now that [my] circumstances have changed, you still want to represent those things that are essential to who you have always been. “
Although the 3 are “very near and dear to me,” Whitner was not precious to change him. The biggest change is an act of subtraction – removing the elephant print so closely associated with the colourway his mother bought him. Everything is extra-luxury. A rich gray suede on the heel and toe of the shoe showcases a white leather upper. The sole features a cream sheen and a box of dark purple around the iconic visible air bubble. The luxury rise is tied with a silky quilted inner lining and the store logo on the left tongue in place of the traditional Jumpman. It’s the kind of lush neutral treatment you see more often in high fashion brands than in sneaker makers.
It’s a beautiful colourway, but doesn’t seem to draw attention to the themes or storytelling surrounding the line. As Whitner explains, that’s the intention. Anyone can throw a catchy slogan on a sneaker, after all.
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