Let’s make something perfectly clear, straight off the bat: Air is not a movie about Michael Jordan, it isn’t even a movie about a shoe. It’s a movie about The Shoe: A rubber sole and panels of PU-coated “action” leather emblazoned with a tick. The Nike Air Jordan transcended footwear to become a piece of cultural iconography and singlehandedly ignited the sneakerhead subculture. Every legend needs an origin story.
As the costume designer for the Ben Affleck-directed film and a child of the 80s and 90s, Charlese Antoinette Jones grew up a sneakerhead herself, so this project was a real dream come true for her. “My earliest memories, when it comes to sneakers, is honestly Eastbay magazine; that was how you saw when things were going to be released,” she tells StyleCaster. Eastbay was an athletics retailer that shuttered its doors in 2023 but it transformed the sneaker world with its mail catalogs (remember those?), featuring the latest brand drops. “I had a part-time job as an accounting clerk—my mom got me a job at the company she worked at—and I literally quit that job to work at a sneaker store so I could get a discount. I was getting paid less at the sneaker store. So that shows you like where my priorities were.”
In researching for Air, she got to take a walk down memory lane but in far more detail, sourcing Nike line sheets from 40 years ago and trawling through the archives at fashion libraries. Then, Antoinette presented everything to Affleck in a binder, and “we were both really excited,” she says. “We both had some really awesome, collaborative conversations in the beginning and then we had some really fun fittings … [Affleck] was super on board with my vision, so it wasn’t a hard process at all, it was really fun.”
Apart from the Air Jordan itself, Antoinette surprisingly didn’t use much Nike product in the movie and there was no obligation to. “I really didn’t want to use a lot because I wanted the story to be about the origin story for the Jordan brand and the Jordan shoe,” she explained. “I didn’t want Nike gear to overshadow the film in a way that made people think, ‘Oh, this is an ad for Nike’ … So, the ways in which I use Nike gear in the film were more for story and character where it made sense.”
Especially for Black women, when we go out into the world, we have to put this armor on and really protect ourselves with clothing.
One such outfit is Affleck’s Phil Knight, co-founder and then-CEO of Nike, and one of Antoinette’s personal favorites in the film: a red and blue windbreaker and speed sunglasses during a scene where Knight’s out jogging on the weekend and decides to come into the office. “Phil Knight’s running gear, some of it was comedic relief,” she says. Remember, this was at a time in history when people weren’t wearing athleisure or sneakers outside of actual sports. “Now, we just wear whatever we want. We wear sneakers every day. I’m wearing Air Maxes right now at work but years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
Instead, Antoinette had several, primarily wool-blend, suits custom-made for the male leads. “For Ben, all the suiting and shirting is custom,” she explains. “Chris [Tucker, who plays Howard White], has a beautiful jade suit that we built.” And for Deloris, Michael Jordan’s mother played by Viola Davis, it was all about power dressing during her meetings with Nike but much softer outfitting while she was at home. “When she’s in these meetings, I wanted her to really feel powerful and in charge, because she was the matriarch of the family, she’s the one that ultimately does the negotiations … Especially for Black women, when we go out into the world, we have to put this armor on and really protect ourselves with clothing. That’s a pretty cool juxtaposition, that contrast.”
Despite being the legendary athlete that lends his name to a now-legendary piece of fashion history, Jordan doesn’t appear in the film at all and there’s a reason for that; Affleck told audiences at the film’s premiere at the 2023 South by Southwest Film & TV Festival that “when you are that person, when you become so much more than a hero or an athlete or even an icon, you start to become an idea to people. You touch them and just start to represent hope and excellence and greatness. You are one of a kind. And there is no way I was ever going to ask an audience to believe that anybody other than Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan.”
Indeed, Antoinette reflects that “other brands have tried to mimic [Nike] but not to the level that the Jordan brand achieved, it’s a once in a lifetime and so is Michael because of his accomplishments. As they say in the movie, it’s only a shoe until he steps into it.”
Air is available to stream on Prime Video. Here’s how to watch it for free.
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