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Sneaker Designer Spotlight: Tinker Hatfield

Nike didn’t know it at the time, but in 1981 they hired one of their most influential employees, a young architect named Tinker Hatfield.

The man has been a sneaker legend since the mid-80’s, but he started off by helping out in the shoe design department. Tinker helped out as a wear tester for the Nike Air Force 1, and that experience led him towards interest in the sneaker design process. In 1985, Hatfield switched over to shoe design, and turned the sneaker world on its head.

Tinker Hatfield, Mark Smith, and Michael Jordan in Paris

Nike Air technology had been around for a while by the time Tinker came on the shoe scene, but it wasn’t until the Nike Air Max 1 that Nike Air took the world by storm. The sneaker was innovative, and it was the first of its kind. Until Tinker created the silhouette, no one was actively showing off the tech in their shoes, so Tinker didn’t just change the game, he reinvented it.

While the Air Max line has been a staple for Nike since its inception, Hatfield really saved Nike’s bacon with the Air Jordan III. At the time, Michael Jordan wasn’t particularly happy with his signature line. Tinker decided it was time to rope MJ himself into the design process, and The GOAT requested an animal print be incorporated into the sneaker. This gave rise to the elephant print on the heel and toe, and Tinker exposed the air unit in the sole like he did with the Air Max. The AJ III became an instant classic, and it sold Jordan on staying with Nike.

Tinker Hatfield and Michael Jordan

The following year Tinker was tasked with design of the Air Jordan IV, another silhouette forever highlighted in the annuls of sneaker history. The Jordan IV was the first to feature lighter materials such as the mesh on the side panels and tongue. It also introduced us to the cement pattern, prominent on the wings, heel, and midsole, as well as keeping the visible air unit alive in the new silhouette.

Hatfield continue design MJ’s signature sneaker line throughout the years, taking influence from World War 2 fighter planes (Air Jordan V) to African tribal art (Air Jordan VII) to MJ’s own life (Air Jordan VIII), however Tinker has a favorite silhouette.

The Air Jordan XI is Tinker’s favorite Jordan. He designed the sneaker at the time when Mike was in his first retirement. The Air Jordan IX and X both looked great, but they lacked the technical appeal of the previous Jordan’s. The Air Jordan XI boasted a forefoot and heel air unit as well as a new carbon fiber midfoot plate for arch support. The most iconic feature of the AJ XI is the clean patent leather which MJ loved when he returned to the game. So while many shoe heads think the AJ III or IV are the best pairs, the Air Jordan XI may be the most famous silhouette due to MJ’s return to basketball, the Space Jam cameo, the famous 72-10 season, and the patent leather. Either way though Tinker was in the limelight again.

The legendary designer continued to innovate for the Jordan line through the Jordan XV, and he made his appearance again, sitting at the helm of the Air Jordan XX, XXIII as well as co-designing the Air Jordan 2010, Air Jordan XX9, and the Air Jordan XXX.

Obviously due to his monumental success as a designer, Nike made him the Vice President for Design and Special Projects, and he oversee Nike’s “Innovation Kitchen,” where all the groundbreaking ideas flow from Nike. This all translates to: Tinker Hatfield can do whatever he wants, because he is a legend.

Tinker Hatfield with Air Jordan XXX

Images via: jordansdaily.com, news.nike.com, solecollector.com