I pride myself on being what many call a nostalgia nerd. Although I was arguably too young to truly experience the 90s, I make up for it through my current tastes in music, clothing, movies, art, etc. I wasn’t always a “90s nerd” but an early fascination with Air Jordan’s played a big role in becoming one. Since the shoes were released annually, each year arguably had their own flavor and corresponding fashion style. If I feel like dressing in the early 90s, denim heavy style, I’ll wear the Jordan 6s or 7s. If I feel like dressing in the more polished, high tech mid 90s style, I’ll wear the Jordan 11s or 12s. Although I was aware of Tinker Hatfield and his contributions to Nike/Jordan, I didn’t truly know his creative process or his origins. The Abstract episode dedicated to him shed a light on both Tinker Hatfield the designer and the man.
Upon watching the episode, I realized that Tinker’s origins were almost of a storybook nature. Being an athlete under the tutelage of the legendary Bill Bowerman is incredible in itself, but the way in which he became his business partner is even more astounding. Despite being incredibly promising in track and field, with a scholarship to match, a pole-vaulting accident effectively ended his career. Although the odds now seemed impossible, Bowerman ensured that Hatfield wouldn’t be dismissed from the team and also gave him a chance to take part in the genesis of Nike. Since Hatfield was already an architect major, he put his skills to great use with Bowerman by creating detailed drawings for some of Bowerman’s shoe prototypes. Hatfield got to stay active by also field-testing these prototypes, which was a crash course in problem solving. “Unbeknownst to all of us. I was learning, I guess how to design shoes and solve problems for athletes right off the bat”.
To this day Phil Knight still credits Hatfield with saving Nike in the 80s. As legend would have it, he not only managed to convince an unhappy Michael Jordan to stay with Nike, he also redefined the company as a whole. By introducing bolder, more unorthodox designs Hatfield was able to seamlessly fuse athletics with fashion. This concept is probably best demonstrated with the Air Jordan 11s, which are considered by many to be the pinnacle of the line. Since Jordan and Hatfield had now developed a good business relationship, Jordan’s input played a big part in the creation of the 11s. “I wanted a lifestyle basketball shoe where you can still the play the game with that shoe”, states Jordan. “But then at the end of the day you can wear it, you know with a tuxedo”.
Tinker as a designer these days is the epitome of relaxed. His workspace is simple and located in the garage of his retro-bohemian house. Maybe his current laid-back lifestyle (which includes surfing and climbing) probably was the result of his exhaustion working on the Jordan line for over 10 years. Nevertheless, it appears that he has always been heavy sketch practitioner. Even as seen in his sketchbook, his sketches and concepts have an airy, organic quality to them. This is probably why so many of the shoes he’s designed have a free flowing feel which is also congruent to the nature of most athletes. Although it feels cliché to say Tinker Hatfield is an inspiration, but in many ways he’s exactly that. The way he bounced back from a situation that would leave many feeling suicidal is incredible. He truly turned tragedy into triumph.