Category Archives: Design

TINKER, MARK & MICHAEL JORDAN

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I see a lot of Q&As conducted to promote a product or project, and there’s generally a recurring message and company line throughout. That’s understandable, because if you sit down expecting a Frost/Nixon confrontation, then you’re you’re an idiot. My longtime preoccupation with Air Jordan has been fairly evident on here over the years. 1988 brought me two great revelations: Bomb the Bass’s Don’t Make Me Wait video featuring the mysterious Air Jordan III, and seeing the Air Trainer 1 in my home town’s Beehive department store as part of a Nike Air display. Those moments were my introduction to the work of designer Tinker Hatfield. I never stopped obsessing. I popped to Paris a couple of days to see some excellent activations to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Jordan Brand — BKRW’s section in the Palais 23 space was a standout — and after a more bombastic presentation and chatter between Michael Jordan, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith for the global press in front of a slow grilling LED back drop, we got to see a significantly more intimate talk over at Nike France’s showroom.

I’ve often wondered whether Tinker (and can we have a moment of appreciation for his outlandish outfit in the circa 1991 brainstorm session photograph they used as a backdrop during the Palais 23 presentation?) deliberately drops a line in to keep the PR team nervous each and every time, but he’s always one to veer sharply from the company line at times, which makes interviews with him pretty compelling — on discussing the underrated Jordan 23 during this session, he exclaimed that, “We had to smoke a lot of weed for that one!”, before his “Just kidding” was drowned out by the applause as MJ entered at took a seat. That is just one of many reasons why Tinker stays legendary. Because, I know that there are some fanatics like me visiting this site, and because I recorded the chat, I thought I’d up it here. While the Jordan 29 gets mentioned a lot (after all, it’s the most recent instalment, though Tinker nearly mentioned a possible woven element on the impending 30), there’s a scattering of trivia in here too — I never knew that, for all the excellent ads over the years, Jordan’s favourite is still the old one where he goes one on one with Santa. All questions bar my one at the very end to Tinker and Mark were asked by Jordan Brand’s communications director (and all-round good guy) Brian Facchini.

Brian Facchini: Is there an individual shoe that you guys are most proud of?

Tinker Hatfield: The 20 was pretty cool because he storytelling was very rich and it was actually kind of hard to get Michael to open up about the past, but we finally got him to open up and we got a bunch of stories and Smitty and a bunch of other people put that tapestry together. That’s pretty special. I look at that shoe today and I see a tapestry. I see a specific symbol inside the shoe and I remember the story…it almost makes me cry — they’re very emotional stories.

Mark Smith: I’m really proud of the 20 but I think the 23 is a special one — we did something very different there and we are telling different stories and there were new ways to hold the product together with processes that were also storytelling. That was very interesting.

BF: For you, how many times have these two brought you something and you were like, “These two are out of their minds”?

Michael Jordan: Practically all of the time.The good thing about it is that these guys can go to the edge, which is what Nike are good at — being an edgy company. We push the envelope as much as possible. What I do is try to take it back to reality like, “Come on man, I don’t know if I can wear that — that’s a little bit out of the page for me.” Sometimes it takes a little moment to grow on me, but once it grows it, I love it. Tinker’s good at telling the stories and Mark has adapted to that now. They come up to me with this long story and I’m like, “Come on! Shut up and show me what you got!” But the stories connect the dots. We don’t do things just to do them and there’s a method behind the madness and it tells the story about me, how I play the game the things that I like and the innovation and technology is taken into that. I think that’s the beauty behind the relationship.

BF: As we’re looking back at 30 years of your career, do you find yourself looking ahead?

MJ: I live in the moment. If you live too far in the past or the future, you never enjoy the moment. I enjoy the moment and these guys take me on these different paths, but for me, it’s about how much fun can I have hanging out with you guys today. I’m not worried about tomorrow. I keep it very simple, while these guys take it a lot further than I could. I enjoy the game and enjoyed it in the moment and most fans could see that — I want that to come out in how we design shoes.

TH: If we stayed in the present and didn’t go into the future, he’d fire our ass.

MJ: Probably.

MS: We’d be out.

BF: Is there one piece of a shoe that you remember having to go to war for a little bit?

MJ: The area on the toe of the 10s. I wouldn’t say that they’re my least favourite in all the 30 year of shoes, but Tinker and I had a communication breakdown. He went out on a limb and I had to pull him back down, because I wouldn’t wear that. It came out to be a great shoe because of the compromise we figured out.

TH: He had to threaten me.

MJ: It was during the baseball thing, so we didn’t have our normal meeting. He made an assumption and as you know, if you make an assumption, sometimes it makes an ass outta you. We had to make some changes and the shoe had been made so we had to eat a bunch of product. If you’ve got a pair of those, they’re worth a lot of money today.

BF: Is there one new technology you look at now and think, “I wish I had that when I was playing”?

MJ: The 29s. I think in terms of innovation — and I’ve only been able to walk in them and never played in them, though I wish I could have — that shoe in itself is incredibly comfortable but I think it responds to a lot of things that you do when it comes to performing at basketball. We’re working in the 30 now, which I think is a step up from the 29. The work in innovation in the technology that goes into the shoes now is far greater than anything I played in. Those shoes have evolved into signature things, but in terms of innovation, the shoes have improved tremendously since I played.

BF: Going back to the beginning, the Air Jordan 1. That was arguably the most popular sneaker in the world but the innovation was the two colours.

MJ: Well, one colour. It was black and then that red. It was the ‘breds’ that everybody always calls them. I don’t come up with these names, but I’ve kind of adapted myself to them. My kid said ‘bred’ and I said, “What do you mean? All of them are ‘breds’ to me?” But that shoe changed everything for us because of the acceptance of the acceptance of the community and the consumer and how the league hated them because of the colour for the difference in uniform — you had to wear white shoes or black shoes, but we went out on a limb with the black and reds, and the modification of that was the red, white and black. Some kids connected to, not the negative, but the different. That made it different to what was on the market and the people absolutely loved it. That’s where the whole Jordan thing got started and we’ve been able to maintain it since then, but originally that black and red said that it was okay to be different. You don’t need to be like every other shoe and the consumer bit and we’ve been riding it ever since.

BF: Is there one commercial that really stands out to you?

MJ: There was the one where I played Santa Claus one on one, and we got a bunch of letters from little kids saying that Santa Claus would have whooped me. I wish people would have understood the meaning behind the commercial — I was playing this guy and you didn’t know who he is, and then it was revealed. It put Santa Claus in a very difficult position. Parents of kids didn’t really like it — it was a fun commercial, but the message got kind of misconstrued. I think it ran about one time. All that hard work I had to do for it and they broadcast it one time!

TH: I asked him that before and it’s always consistent. I said, “Your favourite is you beating up on Santa Claus?

MJ: It was a good match up.

BF: Materials and the graphics that Smitty is renowned for now play a big part in the shoes. When you see a shoe like the XI…

MJ: That’s my favourite.

BF: Besides the XI, which materials over the years have redefined how the brand was going?

MJ: Well, the woven. When he showed me how all of that works — the uniqueness of it. When they show me stuff the first thing I ask is, “Is it functional? Can you play in it?” I don’t want it to just be about show. You can build a shoe and everybody says they like how it looks, but I want it to be functional for a basketball player. When he showed me how that material could be so functional with less weight, and maintain the strength, I was impressed. I liked to wear a new pair of shoes every game. Part of that was feeling and energy of having a new thing, but the other thing was because the shoes were so different in that you sweated and the leather might stretch, and I wanted that tightness. The thing about the woven is that it’s tight every time, like a brand new shoe.

BF: You guys have developed an amazing working relationship. How has that changed over the years?

TH: I think any good organisation tries to evolve, and it used to be that you saw Michael five or six times a year and it was always a presentation or just going out and hanging with him, but now I think that it’s a little different in that we keep on adding people to the team and he’s like any great athlete, politician or movie star in that he has to have a big team around him, where it can be difficult because he might not necessarily trust them. What we try to do is keep introducing them over the years so he can get comfortable with that growing team.

MS: When you introduce experts in other disciplines to the team, that gives him confidence. He enjoys that conversation — he learns and he’s so curious. When you bring somebody to the team, he enjoys meeting them…mostly. He’s mostly curious about what they bring to the team.

BF: After 27 years, do you still think you’re learning stuff about him?

TH: I do. I mean, I spend less time with him than I did before. I feel like I know him fairly well and we’ve hung out a lot. I’m still amazed at how he continues to grow and how he lives in the moment. As you get older, you start to think backwards and live off past glory, but he’s not like that, which to me is very interesting.

MS: I don’t know what the next call or text is going to bring. It’s usually something that’s going to make me go, “Uh, okaaaay, cool, I hadn’t even considered that.” Whether it’s facilitating his interest in motorbikes or whatever, then that’s good for us as designers.

BF: You guys are both artists — what part of your art do you bring to your work?

TH: I think that’s the secret actually — blending art with technology to create a new shoe. For me, some projects, whether it’s shoes or apparel, may have been a little more skewed towards technology and less toward art or sometimes it’s the reverse.

MS: I think, whatever discipline you’re in, you can speak creatively and draw from different places, then apply them. One of the things we’re constantly doing is bringing them to the table.

TH: We both draw on our iPads — that’s not new news, but we both draw really fast, so we’ll sit down and have a meeting and after we’ve finished talking, we can be like, “So, what do you think of this?” Technology has allowed us to draw a lot quicker and also get technology a lot sooner. If athletes see a result during a meeting or maybe a couple of minutes after, they feel more involved in the design process because you’ve reacted to their feedback, which means they feel much closer to the actual design. It’s a good little trick, because if Michael doesn’t feel like he’s part of the design process, he’s less apt to actually like it. So that’s a good strategy. It’s crucial to our success.

BF: Why do you think athletes react better to imagery presented like that than on paper?

TH: I think when you do a pencil or pen sketch, that’s a little more personal to me. It’s tiny and it’s maybe delicate and complex, and maybe doesn’t look like it’s going to look. But when you do it on a computer, especially with the current technology, you can add light, texture and colour. I think it’s a little easier for people to really understand.

ME: I know that in the past, what you designed wasn’t always able to be produced, due to restraints in production at the time. Has new technology meant that what’s in your mind can be realised a little easier?

TH: No. I think that, if it’s too easy to make, we’re probably not pushing it far enough. It’s probably just as difficult now to get people to do something as it ever was. Even the knitted and the woven stuff that we’re doing now isn’t normal — they’re still scratching their heads about how they want to make it weave. There are experts who know how to do it, running the machine and doing the programming, but we’re pushing them beyond what they ever thought they could do.

MS: That’s what’s fun about it. In the end, they appreciate it too.

TH: In the end they do. They might not appreciate it at first.

MS: No, not at first. I just came back from the factory and they’re not appreciating it yet! But they understand why.

TH: He was just at the factory in Asia to talk to them about spinning the weave stuff to combine it with…

MS: Woah!

TH: I nearly slipped up there! But it was not going well, so he went to Italy.

MS: We find the best standard and Asia will get there because it understands the benefit. If you’re going to go to a new place, when a Jumpman is going to be on that thing, they know they’ll have to pick up on it and figure it out.

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SCHOOLED

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There’s a lot of people whose worlds peaked when Bizarre Love Triangle released. They’ll talk of nothing but defunct Manchester nightclubs and daydream about Hooky’s low slung bass. They’ll sail of a wave of revisionist history that crashes in their heroes fake DJing at a student union, and get angry at any whippersnapper who dares to comment on their teen idols, positively or negatively. Dancefloor veterans telling you, “You weren’t there maaaaan!” But beyond the angry old men, most of the music is still fantastic, and the art direction on those Factory releases is magnificent. Peter Saville is name checked repeatedly with good reason — not only is his work memorable from a graphic standpoint, but there’s a thought process at word that makes him an interesting interview subject. Saville spoke with Lou Stoppard at SHOWStudio recently, and they’ve upped a 99 minute uncut version of the conversation. Every second of Power, Corruption & Lies or Closer is still essential, and much of what Saville has got to say has something to give to a new generation — his pro-research sentiment about the epiphany of realising the amount he never knew (mentioned around the 45 minute mark), and the subsequent bliss of stumbling upon the vastness of context is a call to learn, rather than the actions of a time-frozen curmudgeon. Everyone with a new brand making homages of homages who wants to be around in 24 months might benefit from listening — even if it’s just for 12 minutes.



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This Canadian documentary from 1993 has just appeared on YouTube via Barnaby Marshall. 10-20: Berlin provides some rare footage of the first Cycle Messenger World Championships that took place in Germany. William Gibson makes an appearance, on the back of his novel Virtual Light being based around a courier in a post-earthquake SF, and there’s also a brief chat with Futura 2000 (who was once a messenger himself). Despite the early 1990s Real World style presentation, there’s some superb soundbites in it.

THAI FOOD

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There are plenty of better things to be doing instead of reading this blog. You could watch the first three parts of Noisey’s There Will Be Quiet — The Story of Judge documentary, or you could read Paul Gorman’s blog and get excited about the fact he’s following up a retrospective of The Face with a biography of Malcolm McLaren that releases next year. A few interesting Futura 2000 oddities have emerged on YouTube too — after seeing his work on the opening credits of Spike Lee’s 1983 film school debut, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop I wondered what other film projects he’d worked on. Dale Cooper from Mo Wax Please (who also upped this RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ interview) uploaded the painted opening credits of 1983’s In the King of Prussia — a film by Emile de Antonio (who co-directed the excellent Underground about the Weathermen Underground Organisation) that depicts the trial of the admirably ballsy “Plowshares Eight” in a hastily shot, ultra-real way using the real participants and the real court transcripts. I have no idea what the provenance of this short video, entitled “Thaifood in Thailand” and uploaded by BUILDESTROY, was — is it part of something bigger? Was it a short shot for TV? But with a 1990-era Futura, Daze, Doze and Toxic, plus a handful of soundbites on the state of the scene 25 years ago.

OI! MUSIC & DAMAGE

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These are strange times. I’ve got love for Hov, but the bad start for Tidal is nothing compared to his adoption of the banter-brigade’s beloved Hype brand while ‘Ye is wearing Soloist — he’s gone from getting his grown man on to getting his sport science student on. The only thing odder is Hus Kingpin’s video entirely dedicated to being SuperDry down that shouts out the “orange label.” Even Canibus —who busted out some distinctly Warsaw nightclub garms a few years back — once proclaimed “With no fear like them clothes white boys be wearing,” back in 1998. And what are these brands if not a No Fear for a new generation?

I’m impressed with what my friend Thibault Choay has been creating for his fine CLASSIC imprint. With a company name like that, the pressure to create greatness comes pre-loaded, but the CHIAROSCURO book project is pretty damned good. To create a graffiti book that doesn’t slip into the trappings of earnest graf book formulas is an achievement, but the subject of this book, Parisian tattooist and former writer Cokney, is an interesting character. For starters, he’s a huge fan of Cockney Rejects and has a case over his head that comes complete with a 228,000 Euro fine. Two years after they started planning this project with writer and curator Hugo Vitrani, they’ve completed this two-volume set — the Scuro book is the light side, a collection of photos from the artist’s perspective taken from undeveloped film given back to Cokney by the police in a good cop moment. To my knowledge, at least until the publication and launch of the exhibition at Sang Bleu last week Cokney hadn’t seen the imagery yet — a deliberate action to homage the pre-digital days of waiting for imagery to develop, and the inevitable unfiltered flaws in the mix. That photography is accompanied by the artist’s own texts.

Light comes with a darkness and the black book is synonymous with graffiti, and, at fear of sounding like Nigel Tufnel, it’s really, really black, with a lot of ink used to give it the Chiaro section the requisite matter-of-fact look. As well as photos, Cokney has access to a lot of his police files, and case N° 1203264038’s evidence against the writer — in the form of images, cleaning quotes and complaints — opens up the age-old art/vandalism debate. but gives an unorthodox perspective — through legal eyes, the critics of the piece — to the work that contrasts and complements the white chapter. There’s some translations in the book too, and it completes a real labour-of-love. It’ll be online soon via the CLASSIC site, priced at 45 Euros and limited to 500 copies.

Thibault kindly invited me to take part in a CHIAROSCURO themed Know-Wave show last Thursday alongside Cokney and Hugo where we talked about topics loosely pertaining to the book, fumbled after a sudden decision to find a Goldie track and played a Booba record loudly.

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TINKER

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Being a Brit, the American college and high school sports star thing is perplexing. That’s not to say that an athlete at any school I went to wouldn’t get the girls, but PE teachers in charge weren’t being held aloft by excitable parents or being drenched by buckets of Lucozade being tipped over their heads post inter-school cross-country event. Beyond the eccentric televised nature of the Oxford/Cambridge boat race, I’m not sure that too many would be rushing to Ladbrokes if the University of Bath played Loughborough, or that a coach for some ex-poly could be so deified that they could probably commit a hit and run in their university town with immunity. In America it’s different. They have scholarships, big stadiums, big pay packets for coaches. They have All-American trophies, which sound amazing, even though I don’t even know what they actually are. I always knew that Tinker Hatfield was an athlete in high school and university (every athletic shoe designer on Nike campus appears to be capable of running an ultra marathon before work), but I never realised exactly how highly he was regarded in his day. When he told us at a Nike Q&A in Paris that a lot of people assumed he was black, because of his speed and name, he alluded to a certain status in Oregon as a teenager, but a June 1971 Eugene Register-Guard piece describes Hatfield Jr. as, “…perhaps the finest all-round track athlete produced in Oregon…” Tinker was taking four golds in track meets and, by all accounts, was no slouch in football either. The amount of sport section headlines on him during his high school days alone — pre University of Oregon — is impressive. Long before people were looking up to him for his shoe design savvy (something that has been rolled out on a grander scale than say, 12 years ago, when a core band of nerds would start banging on about Jordan XIs and Safaris at the mention of the year, his name was being mentioned in revered tones.

All this, and he designed the Huarache too. Tinker Hatfield is quite the overachiever.

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BRICKS & HEATED WORDS

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You may have noticed a predilection towards rap magazines here before, and finding a stack of 20-year old publications a few weeks back I thought I’d lost had me feeling a little nostalgic for the days when WH Smiths had at least a few homegrown publications of worth on the shelf. Mainly because, with my Medusa touch, I managed to make every single UK rap magazine I’ve ever written for fold within a few months of publishing my work. Hip-hop magazines are a hard sell when you can log on and get something more up to date or catch something long form on Unkut or Complex.com, but there’s room for something created with care that captures the current state of the industry. Those with a long memory will recall an underrated British ‘zine called The Downlow that ran for four or so years (1992-1996) with an over designed, occasionally unintelligible layout with a ton of electronic typefaces that recalled David Carson’s work on Ray Gun around the same time or Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft’s FUSE. It favoured words over pictures. 1992’s BLAG (which is, admirably, still standing) and 1995’s shortly-lived True (which switched to Trace after True folded) united hip-hop culture with style well, bringing some spirit seen in America’s Vibe and The Fader. I’m interested to see BRICK, a new British hip-hop publication, in the flesh — especially after enjoying the second issue of another London-based project, Viper. Founded and creatively directed by photographer Hayley Louisa Brown, designed by POST — and edited by RWD’s Grant Brydon, the careful approach to the all important look — complete with custom typefaces — is both evocative of the more sincere locally created mags of old and hip-hop’s current aesthetic (despite, bar honourable exceptions, a dip in the quality of album cover art during the last decade). Neil Bedford’s shots of Supreme-hating, Cobain swag jacking stoner Wiz Khalifa for one of BRICK’s cover stories made the Daily Mail (we’ve come a long way since that Snoop “KICK THIS EVIL BASTARD OUTDaily Star cover) and hopefully that attention will turn into sales. Shouts to the team for making it happen. Go check out this fine It’s Nice That feature on the making of issue #1 and visit the official site here.

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On the subject of rap and typography, the Heated Words crew are studiously examining the history and legacy of the mysterious but influential b-boy font seen on Dynamic Rockers, RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ, Mick Jones, Biz Markie, Malcolm McLaren and Joe Strummer that defined 1982-era hip-hop style. Supreme have used a replica of this classic heat pressed typeface several times and Alex Olsen’s Bianca Chandon recently homaged a Paradise Garage tee with it on from back in the day. It’s integral to UK street style too — imported by intrepid tourists who hit up the Albee Square Mall to get a custom creation and the Heated Words: Initial Research exhibition to set off the project opens on the 27th of this month for a couple of weeks at London’s House of Vans. Videos, photographs by Martha Cooper, Mike Laye, Michael Markos and several others, old ads and some of the clothing in question. If you like some of the nonsense I link to here, you’re liable to really enjoy this one.

While we’re talking old magazines and Neville Brody, this Gilded Words piece is great: Jamie Morgan talking about a contact sheet from a classic Buffalo shoot for with Felix Howard for the March 1985 issue of The Face and the moment when every person started calling themselves a stylist.

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LOCKED



Whoa. I wasn’t expecting that CT obituary to spread like it did, but I’m glad people are taking an interest in that company’s history. It deserves to be in the spotlight for its contribution to the culture. In the meantime, I’ve been amusing myself by watching archaic Foot Locker ads, like the 1981 one where the mighty John Goodman wanders into the store pre-fame and asks for every single brand possible (this was two years his role as working class Joe eating Egg McMuffin in a 1983 McDonalds ad) and the bizarre brand loyalty spot above from 1983 in all its white-toothed cinematic glory. Then there’s the 1987 depiction of a colourful, dystopian future where some kind of zero-gravity robot-lobster claw game is the #1 spectator sport shown during a Superbowl XX1 ad break. Because of YouTube, the baritone part of 1988’s Come to the Stripes still gets sung by me during any prolonged conversation about FL’s current contents. This 1989 Australian effort merges American style pop rock with an Aussie voiceover talking about bargain aerobic tights, plus a locker full of Nike rarities like the Air Pressure, as well as some classic trainers. In the early 1990s, it gets a little too stylised and Paula Abdul on us — thankfully, no matter how slick your ads get, you can’t stop the back room buffoonery and fotojack72 was on hand to upload videos of him and his buddies acting a fool while working at his local Foot Locker in 1991, complete with this Harmony Korine-esque footage of a man dancing to Check the Technique by Gang Starr while clutching a red shoe.

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Huck is a great magazine. That it seems to sell well enough to stay in print is a miracle — after all, most conversations about British magazines dwelling on radical culture, photography and creativity are rooted in past tense, because they have a tendency to disappear one day. The Church of London’s work is always superb and after the What I Love About Movies book via Little White Lies, Huck are dropping some artistic motivation in Paddle Against the Flow — a well priced compilation of quotes to memorise and quote as your own until you get called out for it. If you can’t trust advice from Spike Jonze, Kim Gordon and Dave Eggers, who can you trust? Paddle Against the Flow drops next month.

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