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Two months ago, it was modish to theorise that consumer desire for extravagant luxury fashion might never recover from the pandemic. But two months is a long time in fashion, and this week sees the blockbuster must-have come roaring back into style. On 1 July, an online prize draw will decide the lucky few who have won the privilege of spending £1,800 on the new Air Dior trainers. Even by the hype standards of the sneakerhead world, the buzz around the luxury take on basketball’s most iconic hi-top is breaking pre-pandemic decibel records.
Next week’s pop-up Selfridges “collection point” for the first Air Jordan 1 OG Dior sneakers will be the first luxe iteration of the click-and-collect retail mode that is part of our contactless new normal. The hands-on elements of the pop-up had to be shelved to comply with social distancing and sanitising guidelines, but – for 13 days only – Selfridges aims to bring an experiential element to the process of picking up a pair of pre-purchased trainers. A bespoke architectural experience “based on the concept of air” features glass walls that cloud up with “smoke” to reveal the Air Dior logo, and a real-time countdown showing how many pairs are still to be collected.
The Air Jordan is the Rosetta Stone of sneaker history. This was the first trainer to become part of pop culture, a serendipitous coming-together of the bouncy Air sole technology that Nike had developed in the early 1980s and the gravity-defying magic of Michael Jordan on the basketball court. The Air Dior, which swaps out sportswear primary colours for a soft “Wolf Grey” borrowed from the Christian Dior headquarters on Avenue Montaigne in Paris and overlays the Nike swoosh with Dior’s own distinctive “oblique” logo, is the first luxury link-up in the Air Jordan’s 35-year history. For two bluechip bloodlines of sportswear and luxury, this is a royal wedding.
Nonetheless, the story of Air Dior’s hype is, as per the 2020 zeitgeist, a level of craziness that no one saw coming. Not even Dior’s menswear designer, Kim Jones, an Air Jordan obsessive who owns more than 40 pairs himself, unveiled this collaboration at a Miami catwalk show last year, and has designed a summer capsule collection including basketball-style long shorts, a sweatshirt with Dior-branded “wings” and a dove-grey cross-body bag to accompany the sneakers.
The raffle-to-buy concept, which allows only one pair per customer, was conceived by Jones as a device to prevent the limited edition of 8,500 sneakers being snapped up by resellers. (A few pairs have, however, already found their way on to resale sites, presumably via being gifted to celebrities or influencers. The going rate on StockX, if you’re interested, is £10,000.)
Shortly after its original drop date was postponed because of the pandemic, dangling the new-look Air Jordans tantalisingly out of consumer reach, the Jordan brand was unexpectedly turbocharged via television. The Basketball docuseries The Last Dance, a potentially niche Netflix offering, found a vast fanbase among a global audience stuck at home and hungry to indulge in nostalgia for the simpler world of the 20th century, and rocketed Michael Jordan back to the pinnacle of pop-culture cool.
A pioneer of peacocking in sportswear, Jordan turned stadiums into his personal catwalks in the 1980s and 90s with his Nike berets, earrings, supersized tailoring – and, of course, his shoes. Air Jordans became an extension of the star’s personal brand to a degree that few collaborations have matched. In the wake of the show’s success, Air Jordan mania exploded. Last month, a pair of Air Jordans once worn by the player on court, in the iconic red, black and white colourway, sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $560,000 (£455,000) – more than three and a half times their initial high estimate, and a new world record for a sneaker auction.
Compared with Sotheby’s prices, £2,000 for a pair of trainers is – well, not exactly a bargain. But certainly not the craziest thing to happen this year.