What Had Happened Was Trending stories on the intersections of race, sports & culture

Designer Don C talks his Nike Air Force 1 that dropped during NBA All-Star Weekend

He also shares memories of the 1988 All-Star Game and the sneaker silhouette he wants to work on next

3:47 PMCHICAGO — At 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend, famed designer Don C, a native of Chicago’s South Side, collaborated with Nike and American Express to release a limited-edition pair of high-top Air Force 1s, inspired by the blue and red featured in the city’s flag.

Ahead of the drop, The Undefeated caught up with Don C, who spoke on the design of the “Amex Blue” Air Force 1, his memories of watching the 1988 All-Star Game in Chicago as a kid and which sneaker he hopes to deliver next.

How exciting is it for you that the All-Star Game’s back in your city?

What’s most exciting for me is for my kids to be able to experience this. Because I have such fond memories of the dunk contest in ’88. I can remember the dunk contest, the 3-point shoot-out. I can remember the Legends Game, and the All-Star Game. I can remember vivid details because it’s probably the first All-Star Game that I really, really paid attention to. I wasn’t there in person, but I experienced it all through the television. I’m happy for my kids to have the experience of seeing it in person. … And because we’re talking business here, I’ll say the biggest part of the weekend is my shoe dropping with American Express!

What’s the most vivid memory you have from ’88?

Michael Jordan beating Dominique Wilkins in the dunk contest. Larry Bird winning the 3-point shoot-out. Then Jordan winning the MVP of the All-Star Game. … I remember the Jordan 3s debuted that weekend. Seeing Magic Johnson in Chicago with a fur coat on. Images like that have remained in my memory forever. A lot of my design cues and storytelling comes from this very weekend in 1988.

With Chicago being the inspiration of the “Amex Blue” colorway, what were the most influential parts of the city to you growing up?

Well, I’m from the South Side. And we know Chicago is pretty segregated. So I mostly experienced the South Side growing up. Thankfully, my dad, he wanted me to be exposed to different cultures. He made me go to school in another part of town called Hyde Park. That was really a melting pot in the city, because the University of Chicago is there. So there are people from all over the world who live and commune in Hyde Park. That’s something that I think was a huge part of my upbringing — to not only be in a black community, but to be in a community that had people of all different ethnicities, social backgrounds and lifestyles. That experience just really helped me in life, which I appreciate it. That’s probably the best part of Chicago.

Do you hope consumers take a small piece of Chicago with them after copping this shoe?

Absolutely. … A lot of the storytelling that we’re doing is about Chicago and how we want people to feel the emotion of the city through the shoe. And how we presented the shoe … bringing something exclusive to our people. That’s the whole reason why I opened RSVP Gallery. I wanted my community in Chicago to see all the exclusive things I was seeing all over the planet. That’s the same mentality American Express has with this campaign — bringing this super, uber exclusive opportunity for the community.

When you collaborated with Nike on an Air Force 1 the first time, was this colorway something that you originally planned to do? Or did the idea behind the design develop over time?

The Chicago blue was something that I had kinda earmarked right after I did the white colorway. So when Nike mentioned this might release All-Star Weekend, I said, ‘This is perfect. I definitely want to do it in a blue colorway.’

This shoe is a hybrid of sorts — a blend between the Air Force 1, Air Force 2 and the Air Force 3. How did those silhouettes, and Michael Jordan himself, shape your vision of basketball and fashion in the ’80s?

Basketball and sport meant everything to me coming up. And of course, coming from Chicago, I was highly influenced by Michael Jordan. And because Michael Jordan was Nike family, I was a Nike head coming up … Jordan was a part of the Flight family and I followed all the athletes that were a part of the Force campaign, from Charles Barkley to David Robinson. I just loved them. So when I designed this Air Force 1, I just wanted to give little design cues to pay homage to other models in the Force family, which you see with the back heel from the Air Force 2 and the medial panel from the Air Force 3. And the branding from other Forces are on the tongue. I hope I even get more opportunities, because the Air Force 4 and Air Force 5 were some of my favorites as well.

This is your second Air Force 1. You’ve done three Air Jordan 2s. Of all of your collaborations, where do you rank this one?

I always rank the next one as the top one [laughs]. So this current one is the second-best one. The best one is the next one. … I literally don’t care that much about the past when it comes to my career and what I’ve done. I’m always enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

What’s one silhouette you’d love to work on in the future?

People know me from Jordans. But I’ve never been given the opportunity to design some of my favorite models of Jordans. So I would love to design a Jordan 1 … a Jordan 3 or 4, or 5 or 6. Those are my favorite Jordans. And also other Nike Basketball shoes that have never been retroed. But I really would like to do my own shoe, if Nike gave me the opportunity. It would have cues from a lot of those shoes.

What’s the one thing you want people to take away from this All-Star Weekend?

I want people to leave Chicago and say, ‘Man, I don’t care how cold it was … It was so warm there.’ Hopefully, the local community makes everybody feel that way.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.