Words: Ben Roazen

When the first emperor of China passed away in 210 B.C., he was buried with an army of over 8,000 sculpted figures, 150 chariots and 570 horses to protect him in the afterlife. The massive force was carved out of reddish earthenware, and each life-size soldier was crafted with unique facial expressions, real weapons and ranks. The massive necropolis in Xi’an, China was unseen for centuries, until it was unearthed in 1974. This funereal force has come to be known as the Terracotta Army.

Over two millennia later, the original Air Jordan XIII drew inspiration from MJ’s nickname — “The Black Cat” — and channeled the stealth and predatory nature of the black panther. The sneaker’s patented Zoom Air technology and carbon-fiber plate gave players the dexterity and tenacity of a jungle cat. The holographic hit on the outside of the shoe evokes a feline’s emerald eye, and the padded outsole resembled a panther’s paw.

An ancient monument and a pair of stealthy sneakers might seem worlds apart, but not to Edison Chen, designer and founder of CLOT, whose core design philosophy includes bridging Eastern and Western design. During a trip to China, he saw the Terracotta Army for the first time and was blown away by the combination of aging and preservation. The next week, he and Jordan Brand agreed to collaborate on his favorite Jordan, the Air Jordan 13 Low, with the goal of making it look like it was worn by a Terracotta Warrior.

Edison briefed Jordan NRG design on what inspired him about the Terracotta Army. The resulting shoe blends several earthy shades, including Terra Blush, Sepia Stone and Canteen. While the original AJ13 is shiny and technical, the CLOT version uses an organic suede that takes on a dusty, washed-out appearance with every wear — made to resemble the oxidized patina of the excavated Terracotta earthenware. During the design process, both Edison and Jordan NRG design developed the retooled stitching and padding on the exterior to resemble the plated armour worn by the Terracotta Army, with dots on each tile in twos and threes (as a nod to MJ).

Gone is the green cat’s-eye on the shoe’s heel; in its place is a golden CLOT logo that matches the golden Jumpman on the tongue. Each pair comes with an illustrated image of a Terracotta warrior wearing the sneakers with a full set of armour. The collaboration also consists of Jordan Brand x CLOT apparel.

Below, CLOT founder Edison Chen explains how the collaboration came together and how the Terracotta Army inspired the shoe.

Why did you want to design an AJ13 Low for this collaboration with Jordan Brand?

It’s a personal thing for me. I used to play a lot of basketball in Hong Kong, and at the height of my so-called high school basketball career, I was wearing the AJ13. I probably went through three or four pairs, and I still have them. When I was a kid, I used to draw Air Jordan jerseys in class. When I was approached by the Jordan team, they asked me which shoe I wanted to do. I immediately said the 13.

What are your memories from growing up and watching MJ play in the AJ13s?

He had an amazing year wearing the AJ13s. It’s a really personal thing for me and more about encapsulating his entire legacy — just watching his demeanor, having him as a role model, seeing the way he talked in interviews and seeing the way he dressed. I was introduced to a lot of different facets of culture by being a Michael Jordan fan.

Growing up in both Canada and China, how did you get Jordans?

When I was a kid, one of the first things I asked for when I started being able to dress myself was Jordans. When I was living in Vancouver with my mother, they weren’t so easy to get. There wasn’t eBay; you went to the store to get ’em, and if they didn’t have ’em, they either wouldn’t or you’d have to wait.

I remember waiting a long time for my first pair of Jordans. When I was about 11 or 12, I moved to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, they have this crazy street, Fa Yuen Street. It’s like basketball heaven. They had jerseys, sneakers — everything basketball-related. I got all of my Jordans from this area in Hong Kong, in Mong Kok. That sparked the sneaker-lover in me, even though I didn’t really understand that it was also a Michael Jordan thing, at the time.

What was the process of working on the shoe with the Jordan NRG design team like?

It felt like it was made to happen. Nowadays, I spend most of my time in America, in Los Angeles. When I go to China, I try to see new things and landmarks. I had always wanted to see the Terracotta Warriors. After a music festival, around a year and a half ago, I spent an extra two days there to see these masterpieces with my whole team.

Maybe a week or two after that, I was approached with the opportunity to make an Air Jordan. I chose the 13 without having any ideas for the design yet. I sat with the shoe, and I started thinking that the embellished side panel could incorporate the Terracotta Warrior aesthetic. It has a double-meaning for me, because it’s part of the heritage of our people, and it’s a treasure of Chinese history.

Creatively figuring out how to make that idea a reality with the Jordan team took a little bit of time. We went through a bunch of samples and color samples. In the end, the shoe we came up with is true to the Terracotta Warrior, especially if you theoretically saw one wearing this shoe. It would look almost seamless. That’s why there are all these different colors of patina, because over time, after these statues got excavated, they started changing color. The color that the statues have been for the longest time is the color we used on the Air Jordan XIII Low “Terracotta Blush.”

What are the other ways you wanted to execute the Terracotta idea on the shoe?

Basically, we took the panel that’s usually reflective and sewn onto the side of the shoe and incorporated it to look like the Terracotta Warriors’ armour. They have these armour pieces with threads that they’re wearing, even though they are essentially sculptures. We incorporated those ideas into the side panel and added the two and three dots to represent MJ. We then kept the pattern of what it would look like if the warriors were actually wearing the silk with everything sewn together.

The other side of the shoe was actually delivered in a different way. It gives the shoe more depth and makes it look more 3D than it already is. We really wanted to make the shoe look as if the sculpture would have worn it on-foot, with the same kind of craftsmanship, so we changed the panels to have them criss-cross with each other from side to side.

What else about the meaning and history of the Terracotta Warriors inspired you?

There are so many different layers to the story, and it progressed as we designed the shoe. First, they are rare finds, which conceptually ties back into the aesthetic of the shoe. These sculptures have been excavated and preserved over time. It’s like what’s happening in the shoe game right now. Shoes are so highly sought after that people pay five times the price, like the art market. Some art houses actually auction shoes now.

We also thought about tying in the idea of basketball players being warriors, more generally, and working together to protect one thing — the basket. The Terracotta Warriors were protecting their king, so it feels similar. The apparel that we made is more uniform-like to show the same gesture of protecting.

CLOT is known for incredible collaborations. How do you generally approach a collaboration like this, given that legacy?

It’s really the vibe in the air at that moment. I get inspired in so many different ways; I don’t necessarily have to take a vacation. Some people have a formula to it, but really, life just inspires me. It might sound cliché and weird. There are a lot of times when our work is very Chinese. Then there are times when we’re more focused on a particular design direction. There isn’t one way of approaching it, except for just trying to make something dope that’s current and different than what you can usually get in the market.

Out of curiosity, does the CLOT sneaker graveyard still exist?

It’s being moved to Los Angeles at the moment. We’re putting it into a different graveyard.

For me, one of the best things about the graveyard is being able to remember an era. People might say they know about the ‘90s through their shoes and clothes. I have some shoes that have basically disappeared after their releases; maybe they just got discontinued. Some of these shoes have inspired my future collaborations. One little detail can spark a whole cascade of inspiration.

The Jordan Brand x CLOT collection was first launched on December 8 at Innersect Shanghai, China. It will be available at all JUICE stores in Asia starting December 13, followed by JUICE Los Angeles and a JUICE NYC pop-up on December 15. The Air Jordan XIII Low “Terracotta Blush” will be available on SNKRS globally starting December 22.