LOS ANGELES – The first thing you notice about the Air Jordan 33 is what’s not there. We’re still so conditioned to see shoes — especially Jordans — as true to a silhouette, with all the parts accounted for, that when there’s a drastic change, it’s abrupt and arresting. So when picking up a pair of the newest entry into the Jordan Brand legacy, the lack of laces, that negative space, is its own statement.
Talk to any Jordan Brand rep and one word will consistently come up: performance. That was the case with the first pair of Jordans that His Airness laced up, and is the case now even when there’s nothing to lace up. But there’s also an understanding of where the shoe fits off the court, and balancing those two worlds along with honoring the heritage of each and every shoe before it makes for a stressful, if not exciting, design process.
If anything, the Air Jordan 33 is a collection of memories piled on top of one another. Certain elements are buried, or cast aside, or incorporated. Others are direct links to days past. And still different traits are fully new, born out of the past, but unable to exist if not for what came before.
“I think the DNA of the brand lives and breathes throughout,” vice president of design for Jordan Brand David Creech said at an event debuting the shoe in downtown LA last week, “and I think if we are good stewards of the brand, we can truly create distinction and kind of a future for the future generations. For today and tomorrow.”
Tomorrow appears to be looking toward space exploration for influence and inspiration as the AJ XXXIII takes pieces and parts straight out of The Right Stuff. And the brand has senior footwear designer Tate Kuerbis to thank for that. Kuerbis poured over documents, photos, video, and samples to integrate into the new shoe, while still showcasing the laceless technology – FastFit – that Jordan Brand brought to market.
Dime had the chance to chat with Kuerbis about the creation of the Air Jordan 33, how FastFit is resonating with players, and how Michael Jordan reacted to the first prototype of the shoe.
Dime: Obviously flight is always in what you guys do but this one feels a little bit more overt than others.
Tate Kuerbis: Yeah, I don’t know if you heard us talking about flight utility, but that was kind of the overall direction that we were looking at. So inspirational-wise flight utility we started looking at space suits and just the idea of everything is kind of visible, visible technology and a lot of Jordans in the past have been very clean and this one we were really expressive with the technology. Even looking at how we wanted to express to the consumer when they pick up the shoe how are they going to know where to pull first, how to eject. So just being very honest with the technology was new and different.
Any time you make drastic changes there’s going to be a reaction, obviously. So getting feedback all over the place sometimes you know it’s going to be hopefully more positive than negative but with this one the silhouette is still there, which is always got to be important. But even the changes obviously still feel like, they’re always going to feel Jordan.
This is the very first sample that we built on campus that we handed to MJ and this was at the same time talking him through the technology of the fast fit. And so this is explaining to Michael, “This is what it is.” And he took it and the more we talked about the iconic tongue and the heel and being able to see it. Those would kind of lead you into the shoe and then we could have easily just put everything on the inside, but we really liked the notion of just expressing the technology and so when a consumer pulls it they’re actually seeing the forefoot come together. But it’s done in a way that it’s still, it gives the shoe an icon. It’s just very honest and you could see what’s going on and there’s just a lot to look at.
Even getting this tongue to work was extremely challenging but at the end it actually worked out pretty well because we were able to add just a little bit more lockdown and this is actually integrated with the tongue. But for me there’s so many things that you can look at and so many different ways you could wear it. I think it’s just a super fun and departure of, you know, it’s taking it to a new place, which I think is cool.
From beginning to end what was that length of time process-wise?
It felt like years. I mean of course we’re always working with the innovation teams so they had been working on the FastFit device itself for a couple of years. But then once we got it we literally put it in the shoe and you can see all the different samples and iterations we went through but every time you move it just a little bit it changes the fit and so just getting it just right so your forefoot feels good, your heel lock feels good, it took a long time. It took about 18 months from beginning to end so, yeah.
With a lot of the player dev vs the tech design on this one feels like you really have to make sure performance is always first.
Yeah, I mean when you think about it, laces have been around for centuries. So we’re, like, “Okay, this is not going to have laces but this is going to go on the NBA court.” The innovation, we really pushed that and made sure that this was going to work. And handing it to an athlete and seeing it for the first time and they’re so used to, like, going down the ritual of tying your shoe. And they have to kind of erase, they have to erase all that. And then when they do put it on and then they pull it and they engage the FastFit, they just kind of feel a whole new
Light bulb comes on.
So, yeah, I’m curious to see what it’s going to be on court and how’re they going to come off on the bench and just undo it or are they going to go on like before free throw and lockdown and who knows? But it’s been really cool.
With the guys that you guys talk to and who have tried it out, what’s the response been like? Any noteworthy stories about that?
I mean I would have to say that we’re always testing with athletes and we’re always, like, we’re still going through that and there’s been a lot of really positive feedback and so it’s still … We’ll see, yeah.
It’s always beta testing, right?
For sure, yeah. It’s been good, though. It’s been really good.