To the casual observer, the new Women’s Air Jordan OG sneaker, a collaboration between Los Angeles designer Melody Ehsani and Jordan Brand, may stand out for its reflective 3M piping and enlarged cherry emblem.
For Ehsani, the latest version of the shoe, which is being released during Women’s History Month, comes with a long history.
The sneaker was released in 1998 as the first Jordan created specifically for female athletes. It arrived just two years after the formation of the Women’s National Basketball Assn., which came 50 years after the start of the National Basketball Assn.
A reissue of the original shoes with minor updates dropped in January and sold out quickly among a new generation of sneaker lovers. Another version called Barely Rose was released in a light pink colorway in February. Ehsani’s version of the shoe represents the first collaboration with an outside designer.
Ehsani, who played basketball throughout her youth and later interned for the NBA, remembers the effect the original shoes had when they first hit the market.
“It was sort of like a hidden gem [feeling] that they had,” said the L.A. native, who opened her first women’s streetwear store on Fairfax Avenue. “It was on the market for a very short period of time, or so it seemed. So when [Jordan Brand] asked me to bring it back, I kind of felt a little bit of pressure, but it was an honor.”
According to a representative from Ehsani’s team, the shoes, which will retail for $150, and other goods will be available online at melodyehsani.com starting at 9 a.m. PST on Saturday. And the sneakers will be available globally on March 19 at select stores, on Nike’s website and on the SNKRS app.
Aleali May, the first woman to design a unisex sneaker for Jordan, owned the original version of the 1998 shoe in grade school. She said it was the right time to reintroduce the sneaker.
“This is the only silhouette [for women] that we have in the vault,” May said. “I think right now more than ever, at a time where streetwear is being highlighted at its highest peak, it’s important to teach girls who don’t know much about Jordan Brand and bring back a silhouette that a lot of women appreciate. … I feel like anytime after now would be a little too late.
“I basically trust anything she’ll make. It’s always going to be with a message,” May said of Ehsani. “It’s always going to be made with love. It’s always going to be considerate of other women, and it’s always very powerful. And again, she’s the OG so I’m like, ‘I don’t think you can ever miss.’”
The shoe release comes two months after the WNBA agreed to a salary increase for players as well as maternity and family planning benefits.
The Women’s Air Jordan OG sneaker also marks Ehsani’s second collaboration with Jordan Brand. Her first was a multicolored Air Jordan 1 Mid — part of the Fearless Ones collection — that featured a gold watch on the shoelace. The resale value of those sneakers is about $800 on e-commerce site StockX.
Ehsani posted a video teaser of a light pink shoe box to announce her latest Jordan sneaker on Instagram. Her post was quickly flooded with inquiries about how to purchase the sneaker sight unseen.
Known for her use of bold colors and prints, Ehsani gained popularity through her jewelry designs, which have been worn by Erykah Badu and Beyoncé. The designer’s first major shoe collaboration was with Reebok in 2012. She designed several styles for the brand ranging from a full cheetah print low-top to a colorful pump.
For her latest Jordan collaboration, though, she decided to tone it down.
“I didn’t want it to be about me,” she said. “I just wanted it to be about the reintroduction of the shoe, so I wanted to do it in the most classic, iconic way possible.”
Ehsani updated the Jordan with a black base and added red trim. The colors pay homage to NBA legend Michael Jordan and WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes, with whom Ehsani collaborated on a T-shirt as part of the release.
A portion of proceeds from each sale will go toward Swoopes’ nonprofit organization btor.22, which supports African American youth through heritage discovery, mentorship and basketball.
To add a feminine touch, Ehsani put an enlarged cherry on the top of the shoe. To her, the cherry represents abundance, protection and fertility in life, and that message is written on the tongue of the sneaker.
“I feel like in many ways that this is a time of fertility,” Ehsani said. “A lot of people have been interpreting that in terms of babies, but I more so see it in terms of fertility in life. It’s just such a fertile ground for people to step up and make a difference and be themselves and take things into their own hands, especially women, because it’s 2020. And we still haven’t experienced equality in a big way. So I just thought of it as a good emblem to empower and remind [women] that it’s our time.”
It’s rare for Jordan Brand to allow designers to create their own shoe box, so Ehsani was striving to make hers a memorable one. Along the interior of the box, she included inspirational quotes. “To me, they are little messages that may potentially wake someone up, or give someone hope, or give them memory of who they are,” she said.
The shoe release also coincides with the 20-year anniversary of one of Ehsani’s favorite movies, “Love & Basketball.” The 2000 film, starring Sanaa Lathan, was one of the first feature films to depict a female basketball player. A lover of the sport, Ehsani said she felt connected to Lathan’s character, Monica, who in the end made it to the WNBA, married her childhood sweetheart and had a family.
“She got all the things, not maybe in the order that she thought she would have wanted,” Ehsani said, “but I thought that was really important culturally for young girls like me to see, like, ‘Oh, that’s something that does exist.’”
The campaign photos for the sneakers are also reminiscent of the film and include a female model playing a game of one-on-one while wearing a black sweatsuit embellished with cherries.
Also, as part of the release, there will be jewelry with cherry emblems and a T-shirt that reads, “See Monica school Quincy,” in reference to Lathan’s co-star and love interest.
While the Jordan collaboration is in commemoration of Women’s History Month, Ehsani said she makes a point to celebrate women at all times through events including her monthly series, which has included panel discussions with speakers such as Serena Williams, Lauryn Hill and Melina Matsoukas.
With Fairfax High School close to her store, Ehsani also opens her doors for girls to hang out and build community. That’s something she experienced playing basketball for most of her youth. (However, Ehsani said she wasn’t good enough to play basketball professionally.)
The opportunity to work with Jordan Brand on this level has been a chance to bring her basketball dreams full circle. “It’s crazy how after I [went] toward design, how all of this stuff sort of came back in a way that I’m doing basketball shoes,” she said. “I am working with the NBA, and even funnier, I married a man who has season tickets.” Last fall, she married Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, a die-hard basketball fan.
Ehsani is experiencing her own version of “Love and Basketball.” She said she’s also learning to balance her professional and personal life.
“It’s interesting because this is the first relationship that I’ve had where I’ve lived with somebody,” she said. “And I think it’s challenging. There’s a lot of things that people don’t talk about. When you’re sharing a space, more than anything, you learn a lot about yourself. And it’s like having this mirror around you all the time. So it’s an investment, but then on the other hand, it’s also really beautiful because you have this person that’s in your corner that’s just sort of like, ‘What can I do to make you better? How can I support you better?’ … I’ve never experienced that before.”