Earlier this week, Jordan Brand unveiled the Zoom Vapor AJ3, a sneaker that combines tennis star Roger Federer’s signature shoe with the style of Michael Jordan’s most iconic Nike model. From a design perspective, it’s a sensible partnership. The Air Jordan 3 broke new ground in 1988 by drawing inspiration from Jordan’s fondness for Italian leather loafers. It combined a low profile with tumbled leather and an elephant-skin pattern for a basketball shoe that was more fashion-forward than its clunky, high-topped peers. The 3’s luxurious design cues are a natural fit on the Zoom Vapor, a sneaker designed for an athlete who also endorses Rolex and Moet & Chandon Champagne.
But novelty value aside, the Zoom Vapor AJ3 is an odd choice for Jordan Brand. It feels like a tacit admission that even one of tennis’s brightest stars needs a retired basketball legend to spike sales (tennis shoes accounted for under $50 million in sales last year, compared to basketball’s $4.5 Billion), and even worse, it continues the brand’s odd predilection for fusing their most beloved designs into freakish hybrids. Like the frightful animal combinations that roamed the Island of Dr. Moreau, Nike’s ongoing experiments in sneaker vivisection have unleashed a decade’s worth of bizarre footwear hybrids.
Every brand mines inspiration from its archives, but Nike took it a step further in 2006 by fusing elements from six iterations of Jordan sneakers into one lumbering, Frankenstein shoe with a name as unfortunate as its design: The Spiz’ike. Since then, Nike has tampered with a number of it’s most popular silhouettes; The Air Huarache, every iteration of Air Max, and even Penny Hardaway’s line of 90’s basketball shoes have been re-released as hybrids.
Years after the buzzword “mashup,” saw its cultural cache peak and decline, Nike still seems bent on finding new ways to play Mr. Potato Head with their most popular models. Will they ever stop? Maybe if they exhaust every possible combination. So, without further ado, let me present my pitch for Nike’s Air Everything hybrid: