TURIN, ITALY, is not a basketball town. At least not how New York, Los Angeles or even Beaverton, Oregon, is.
But when Nike was looking to unveil the Air Jordan XXXII, the newest model in Michael Jordan's long-running signature line, it chose Turin for the setting. The city and its history inspired many of the design elements that made their way into the final shoe -- the famed "Bred" colorway, which will be released Oct. 18.
This is how the Air Jordan XXXII came to life.
The Original: Air Jordan II
It has been 14 years since Michael Jordan last graced an NBA court, and more than 30 since this soaring, contorting capture of His Airness was photographed in Seattle during All-Star Weekend, but the brand's namesake still serves as the foundational inspiration for every Air Jordan model.
"We want to own that idea of our heritage and our DNA," said David Creech, Jordan Brand creative director and vice president of design. "When we think of these iconic photos of MJ, they embodied the concept of flight."
The Crafting: Made In Italy
When the shoe first launched during the late 1980s, the Air Jordan II was unlike anything on the market. There was a faux-iguana texture along the main panel, a more tasteful approach to branding with the "Wings" logo atop the tongue and some built-in mystique for the shoe with its "Made in Italy" backstory. All of those details and the shoe's then-lofty $100 price point helped establish it as not only a premium basketball shoe but also a crossover lifestyle product in America. Three decades later, the shoe has also inspired the brand's newest flagship silhouette.
"We wanted to capture the essence of how the AJ II was crafted 30 years ago," Creech said. "Things like Italian craft, and the elevated and premium materials that happen here in Italy. When they crafted that shoe 30 years ago, they really created the first luxury basketball shoe."
The Setting: Turin
Turin is a sleepier town than tourist-heavy locales like Milan, Florence and Rome, and for Tate Kuerbis, the senior designer behind the Air Jordan XXXII, the city served as a showcase of its endless landmarks and statues, rich and detailed cafes, and noted tailors and craftsmen.
"We looked into a lot of beautifully made Italian products and tried to really capture that," Kuerbis said. "If you look at how the leather is stitched from the inside on the collar, or how the liner is attached, we really wanted to emphasize that the shoe feels hand-stitched and hand-crafted."
The Museum: Museo Nazionale dell'Automibile
Turin is home to the Museo Nazionale dell'Automibile, which has long served as the preeminent showcase of vintage Ferraris, dating back to several of Formula 1's most iconic winning models.
For Kuerbis, the construction techniques and finishing edges helped inform how the XXXII could come to life. "You could see the engine, but the way they disguise it, it's kind of hidden," he said. "You go and look at the detailing of the leathers and they are beautiful -- the stitching at the seams, the piping, the color pops. The blend of having this high-performance car, but it's done in such a beautiful, restricted elegance way -- it's really amazing."
The Inspiration: Ferrari
Not only has the long-heralded lineage of Ferrari been admired by Jordan Brand for its design and performance, but it also has been Michael Jordan's car of choice since he entered the league. He adorned his earliest Ferraris with custom license plates reading "UNC 23" or "M AIR J."
The last shoe he wore as a Chicago Bull, the Air Jordan XIV, was heavily influenced by the Ferrari 550M. Years later, he's still switching in and out of the latest models and finding inspiration from the series.
"We're lucky enough to go to MJ's house," Kuerbis said. " He has all kinds of Italian sports cars in his garage. It seems like he gets a new one every year. I don't get to be around those cars very often. When I do, I like to spend time in there, open the door and sit inside. One time, he told me I could get in there and drive, but I didn't want to have that Ferris Bueller moment and wreck it."
The Look: Rosso Corsa
The newest Air Jordan doesn't feature "red," but rather "rosso corsa," the official color shade driven by the Italian racing team.
With parts and pieces strewn across a presentation table, it didn't take long to spot the other Ferrari points of influence that made their way onto the sneaker. "If you look at the details, the craftsmanship, and the smell of the leathers, even the detailing on the steering wheel really inspired where we wanted to go with the design of the shoe," Kuerbis said.
The Drawing Table: Visualizing the Future
Most signature shoes are designed and created over a 14- to 18-month timeline. For Kuerbis, that meant a flurry of sketches and alternate looks, all pulling from the original Air Jordan II.
"When you're sketching, you can just go for days," he said. "Literally, I was filling up all kinds of notepads. Really, it's about a gesture that feels new. Maybe it captures the essence of some of our past shoes, which is something special for Jordan, because we do have a legacy of amazing game shoes to be inspired by."
The Meeting: Almost There
As with every Air Jordan, there's the meeting. The designers will look to present a near-finalized version of the shoe, eager for Michael's final stamp of approval and sign-off to go forward with the concept. For Kuerbis and the rest of the team, the XXXII experienced one last hiccup down the stretch.
"I showed up to Michael with paper put on the back, where the panel was going to go," he said. "We had a sample that just had one piece on the back and we showed him. I said, 'I think we figured it out.' He goes, 'You know, I think you guys are close, but it just doesn't have that special touch to it.' He said, 'Doing something fun or having a dynamic piece on the back would be cool.' I explored that part of the shoe for a super long time, and for me, that heel piece became the expressive piece."
The Finishing Touch: MJ's Title Legacy
After Jordan's feedback, it was back to the drawing board, prompting Kuerbis to sketch a new version of the shoe with a ribbed heel counter. The six notches are a nod to MJ's six rings.
The Third Dimension: Knit Fabric
The past few Air Jordans have used a woven material for the majority of the upper. On the XXXII, the knit fabric provides more texture and variance. "It literally comes out of the machine in a three-dimensional form," Kuerbis said. "Woven and other materials are a flat material. This was really fun."
The Challenge: Building "The Program"
Throughout the ups and downs of the process, Kuerbis found himself making small changes that called for big efforts to execute. One tweak to the shoe's knit pattern required an entirely new "program," as he calls it.
"This was probably one of the more challenging game shoes that I've worked on," Kuerbis said. "Just because Flyknit was new, and if you make a change, it's not like you just go and cut a new piece. You have to talk to the programmer, and your poor programmer says, 'Well, I just spent two days programming this knit, and you want to change it? That means a whole new pattern.' By the end of it, we had over 300 programs for just the front part."
The Technology: Evolution in Air
While the knit pattern and mix of leathers and suedes along the upper became the defining design solutions to solve for, the tech setup didn't stray far from the Flight Speed cushioning platform seen in recent Air Jordans. The shoe once again incorporates two large-volume "Zoom Air" units, with a carbon fiber and plastic spring plate helping to amplify the cushioning on each stride.
"With the Flight Speed setup, we really wanted to push the Zoom units and highlight that explosive first step," Kuerbis said. "We looked at the 28 and the 29, and we knew those were really high performing shoes. With this big Zoom bag in the forefoot and the Zoom bag in the heel, in combination with the Flight Speed plate and some carbon, the responsiveness and the cushioning will hopefully have a propulsion type feel."
The Shoe: Air Jordan XXXII
For Jordan, the three-decade homage to his second signature shoe captured that Italian essence that the brand's designers had set out after.
"We've always explored new materials and technology to create the best game shoe. That was evident when we went to Italy to make the II, and it still rings true today," Jordan said in a statement relayed at the event. "On the XXXII, we challenged our designers to push the limits while staying true to the brand's DNA."