It’s a tricky thing, trying to make a pair of sneakers mean something. The line between poignant and tasteless is thin, and plenty of brands have struggled to toe it. Retailer James Whitner knew this when he set out to make his first retro sneaker with Jordan Brand. “It’s usually contradictory to think big brands can tell authentic, rich stories and not have it feel contrived,” he said. Still: that’s exactly what he set out to do.
Whitner runs The Whitaker Group, the company behind a number of sneaker and streetwear boutiques like APB, Social Status, and Prosper. A Ma Maniére, the brand’s premier luxury hub, is the one joining forces with Jordan Brand. And it’s doing so with a line of apparel and a new Air Jordan 3 that has already been pegged as a contender for the best sneaker of the year. This all comes with a bit of a twist for the male-dominated sneaker world: the shoe, which will release exclusively in women’s sizing next week, is intended to pay homage to the role Black women have played in Whitner’s life, and in the Black community at large. It’s an unusually ambitious collaboration—one built to put a cool new spin on a hall of fame sneaker while telling a timely, crucial story.
For Whitner, the shoe and the story behind it share an origin point. The first pair of Jordans his mother ever bought for him and his brother were the original 3s, back 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’ve always been.”
Despite the 3 being “super near and dear to me,” Whitner wasn’t precious about changing it. The biggest shift is an act of subtraction—removing the elephant print so closely associated with the colorway his mother bought him. It’s all extra-luxe. A rich grey suede on the shoe’s heel and toe accents a white leather upper. The sole includes a cream highlight and a box of deep violet around the iconic visible air bubble. The luxury elevation is tied together with a silky quilted inner lining and the store’s logo on the left tongue in place of the traditional Jumpman. It’s the sort of lush neutral treatment you see more often from high fashion brands than sneaker companies.
It’s a beautiful colorway, but doesn’t seem to call attention to the themes or storytelling surrounding the line. As Whitner explains, that’s the intention. Anybody can throw a catchy slogan on a sneaker, after all.