by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

What’s up sneakerheads? I spent my morning on the 53rd-floor suit of The London Hotel in Manhattan, where Jordan Brand was doing it big like usual. The occasion? The press launch for the much-anticipated Jordan 2011. The shoe, which will hit retail in the white/black-anthracite colorway on February 19 ($170), will be featured in our next issue of SLAM and has been leaked online a bit, but today is the day it goes live for real.

SLAM was given the opportunity to sit down with designer Tom Luedecke, a genial 31-year-old German who helped out a “little bit” on the Jordan XX, but had a lead role for the first time ever on this new release. For some serious details on this thing, read the trasncript of Tom’s opening statement and then the highlights of a q+a conducted by myself and MaZe from kixinthecity.com. You should also peep a little video clip of Tom showing off some of the shoe’s best features on the second page of this post and enjoy the photos throughout.

Tom Luedecke: We really want to show you guys the 2011 game shoe that we’re bringing to the table. The idea that we’ve been accumulating over a bunch of years is modularity in footwear—being able to take parts of the shoe out and put other parts of the shoe in place of that, in order to change the performance characteristics of the shoe. What we developed was literally a system that can literally replace the entire midsole, and get an entirely distinctively different underfoot feel for the performance, depending on what you wear in the shoe at a specific point in time. So there are two sets of midsoles, one geared at quick responsive, more cutting and movement, which is for more of a guard player on the perimeter. And then a midsole that is more responsive to an explosive player, playing in the paint, going up for rebounds, etc., so that a versatile player, a hybrid player at the top of the League, being able to play in different positions, is able to adapt their footwear depending on the situation that they’re in. They might wear one the first three quarters, and one the last quarter to finish the game. Or in the game, playing at home or playing away, are very different styles of play sometimes, depending on the team. You might be asked to play in a different position than usual, and we’re allowing them to do that wearing the same shoe, with options to adapt your performance, cushioning, underfoot to the style of play that you’re playing for that certain game. So that’s where the concept started.

We showed it to MJ with a very raw concept. We wanted to get him on the board with the concept, so we explained to him the comfort around the foot, it goes inside a shell, and you put the midsole in side of that, and that sits on your traction pad. As raw as it was, it started the wheels turning for the entire team, Michael Jordan included, and the more we talked about the more it came to discussion around the warrior and really getting ready for battle. It was like a ritual of putting on the product and choosing a weapon, where you choose the midsole that’s right for that specific point in time, and then lace up around that. As we dug a little deeper into what he meant by warrior, defending home turf, going on an away game where you’re really trying to invade someone else’s turf, and how it does feel like going to battle—it did to him in his time and it still does to the players today. We thought it was interesting and a great story point for the aesthetic part of the shoe, so as a really raw concept, really unrefined aesthetically, to then go, ‘OK, how do we talk about the warrior and getting ready for battle, and taking that inspiration?’ So we started working with this very high-grade, dress-shoe quality level, and started looking at warrior patterns, looking at star maps—the warrior would look at stars before they go into battle—for patterns, and then crafting the product and the attention to detail with the crafting part, so that these products are hand-finished, hand-brushed by craftsmen, before they’re put in the box and shipped out. You actually get the colorfade, mid-foot to heel, really accentuating the beautiful premium-finished product. Every single detail on there is done with attention, and [we're] still not forgetting that we’re here to have some fun and we’re here to have a little bit of tongue-in-cheek. So we put the elephant print pattern, that’s very iconic to Jordan, and that’s not something that we need to be very loud about. It’s something that’s already a very iconic Jordan piece, but how do we have fun with it? So we designed a traction pattern playing with the elephant print pattern, and still making sure of course that it performs as a great traction pattern, great court feel. But it definitely is a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek, for Jordan, having fun with some of these assets. That’s the raw concept. The reason elephant print is on there is because Tinker [Hatfield] immediately we had it as an idea for the upper part of the shoe, and it just felt truer to the concept around the warrior.

Q: Could you take us into the cerebral part, before the design was even pen to paper? Also if this has any historical bearing from 2010, if that has any bearing on the 2011, and what you may have learned in the thought process before.
TL: Sure. Let’s separate it into two questions: the research-driven part and how the 2010 leads into this… There’s always been an insight from athletes saying it would be nice to choose platforms on your foot, depending on what type of training, depending on what style of play, depending on my personal condition—injured, not injured, etc. And that’s something we’ve been trying to figure out and something we’ve been trying to design against for quite a while. Tinker really thought it would be great to first come out with a product that includes this in the concept. A lot of it was research-driven, talking with athletes, for performance insight, and then building the product around that. It was really crude, for him, and when he saw it he said, ‘No, it’s time to make a beautiful product out of this.’ So for me it was a lot of research, a lot of prototyping, a lot of trying stuff out and working with our partners in these factories to see how that could be done. And there’s some engineering tolerance we had to refine and get better at, so we had Tinker coming to the table with a very intuitive approach with how this could be done. I think this sketch right here is pretty much where we see the starting point for this project. So we thought it was as simple as a foot, a midsole, a comfort booty, and a shell. And when he dropped this on us to basically say, ‘Hey, this is the bigger idea, this is how it could be visually interesting and iconic,’—we said, ‘OK, How can we build this—because that’s something very unique,’ and [went] from there.

The 2010 was a point in time, and the technology here was not made yet, and we had a very different point of view and insight to MJ. On this product here we were able to start with the technical performance insight, that the innovation pitching team when I was just starting there was already in the midst of bringing to the table as a technology, and then through a discussion with MJ, we found a great inspiration point for the warrior story, and how that really relates to MJ and how he used to play the game, and also how it relates to players as they get ready to battle and how they choose their position and style of play. A lot of those things do cross over onto the warrior thinking, so that was the starting part for the aesthetic. So it really was the science into art approach for this product, and really delivering, from the insight, from the athlete, ‘Hey I’d really love to choose something, technology wise, and be able to replace parts and that brought it full circle in giving it back to the athlete.’