The Off-White x Air Jordan V Isn’t Just a Hyped Sneaker Collab, It’s a History Lesson

Virgil Abloh's Off-White x Air Jordan V is one of the most anticipated releases of 2020, so far, but it is also a history lesson from the designer.

Virgil Abloh Off white x Air Jordan V
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Virgil Abloh Off white x Air Jordan V

Last week during Paris Fashion Week, the sneaker world finally got to see its first official glimpse at Virgil Abloh’s much-anticipated Air Jordan V collaboration. Just a few days after being laced up by models on the Off-White runway overseas, Jordan Brand officially announced the collab would be fittingly releasing in Abloh’s home city of Chicago during NBA All-Star Weekend in February. 

Once again, Jordan Brand has allowed Abloh to reinterpret a classic piece of sneaker history. Like the Air Jordan Is or “The Ten” range of retro Nike silhouettes before it, the multi-hyphenate’s take on the AJV will be in high demand. It will sell out with ease, go on to fetch a pretty penny on resell platforms, and be a prized possession to thousands of collectors. Some in the older crowd might have an issue with Abloh stripping down and placing holes all over one of Michael Jordan’s most beloved signature sneakers. But for a generation of sneakerheads that is getting increasingly younger as the culture continues to fluctuate, this shoe is much more important.

The shoes sell themselves with hype alone. Kids will go crazy for them regardless, as is often the case these days. Abloh’s name just holds that much weight. Plenty of shoes fly off of shelves simply due to a celebrity cosign or their limited nature, which is fine. It’s an unavoidable part of the sneaker ecosystem. But for the younger sneaker fan especially, the shoe serves as a unique way for Abloh to help preserve the history behind the product. So many OG collectors resort to gatekeeping and judging others for not knowing MJ’s statistical averages in 1990 or the original Pantone of a sneaker’s upper. The Off-White frontman is doing the opposite.

Off-White x Air Jordan 5 CT8480-001 (Lateral)

Abloh is certainly a detail-oriented designer. Small inclusions on his projects like a red zip tie or an orange tab added to a Swoosh are evidence of this. He’s also said the Jumpman was his Superman logo when he was growing up. Jordans clearly mean a lot to him. So, it’s no surprise that upon further inspection the details on his upcoming Air Jordan V are more calculated than they might seem. For one, the overall shape of the model appears true to the 1990 model that Jordan was actually wearing on court. Details like Cement Print shark teeth inspired by World War II fighter jets on the midsole, a reflective tongue stamped with a bright red Jumpman, and white “23” on the lateral heel are reminiscent of the “Metallic” V worn by Jordan. OG Nike Air branding is present on the outsole, insole, and embroidered on the heel—accents not commonly featured on today’s retro Vs. The icy midsole has even been pre-yellowed to resemble the oxidation that you would see on a pair of Vs from 1990 if you took them out of the box in 2020 (if they weren’t crumbled into dust yet).

These are all things that need to be commended. Don’t just buy the sneaker because it’s the “cool” thing to have. Half the fun of sneakers is the stories behind them. Look up Tinker Hatfield’s inspiration for the shoe if you don’t know already. Go watch highlights of Jordan getting buckets with the Chicago Bulls with a pair laced on his feet. The extra white laces, Abloh included them because that’s how MJ rocked his pair of “Metallic” Vs three decades ago when he debuted them in the NBA Playoffs. These are all calculated choices. 

Michael Jordan Air Jordan 5

Of course, this is an Off-White collaboration we are talking about, so there is plenty of Abloh’s signature touches as well. A black zip tie juts off of the aptly branded “SHOELACES,” the recognizable Off-White stamp covers a portion of the medial side panel, and circles have been cut in random areas across the synthetic grey upper that can be punched out if the wearer desires--a detail that falls in line with many of Off-White’s upcoming apparel offerings shown on the runway in Paris. Perhaps the best thing Abloh did is give the V a deconstructed look, stripping the lining, making the silhouette less bulky, and thereby more wearable in a fashion landscape where chunky basketball sneakers from yesteryear aren’t as quickly adopted in the lifestyle space like they were just a handful of years ago.

For many kids, Abloh might be their Jordan when it comes to sneakers. This new take on an old classic is different enough that it gives the current generation something new they can look back on with the fondness that someone around in the ‘90s has for the original V. But Abloh still kept it true to its roots, which is important to purists and instrumental in a younger fanbase learning their history if they take that extra step to do so. Sure, the shoe will probably be on “Best of” lists and get you compliments from your peers, but learning the story behind it will make it that much better and makes it that much more important of a release in 2020.