Words: Jian Deleon

Photography: Kenneth Cappello

Nearly 15 years ago, Edison Chen and Kevin Poon’s CLOT released a limited-edition book, titled Soleciety, commemorating Nike’s dedication to the Chinese market. That project, with its range of illustrious contributors, painted a picture of sneaker culture more than a decade ago. Within its pages, Edison shared his love of the Air Jordan XIII Low and his goal of doing a CLOT x Jordan Brand collaboration one day.

That was 2006, the same year that CLOT and Nike did an initial collaboration, the Air Max 1 “Kiss of Death”. Inspired by Chinese acupuncture, it was the first in a series of sneakers that explored Chinese culture and history. Unsurprisingly, the footprint of the Air Max 1 also adorned the cover of Soleciety.

There have been multiple CLOT x Nike collaborations since, and finally, in 2018, the first Jordan Brand collaboration came to be — with the Air Jordan XIII Low, of course. It’s a shoe that Edison remembers fondly from his high school basketball days in Hong Kong. Looking back at the trajectory of Soleciety and the CLOT collaborations that followed, including Edison’s Air Jordan I in 2019, the attributes of consistency and endurance are paramount.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the similarities between CLOT’s circular logo and the Chinese symbol for longevity. On the verge of releasing CLOT’s new collaboration with Jordan Brand, Edison Chen’s latest sneaker is actually two sneakers: the Air Jordan XIV and the Air Jordan XXXV. Building on a desire to tell Chinese stories, and a design approach that honors the past while considering the future, here’s how Edison rose to the occasion.

How have you seen China’s sneaker and streetwear scenes evolve in the past few years?

China is advancing in lifestyle and culture at an exponential rate. 10 years ago, you might have said that China was 20 years behind. Now, it’s hard to tell if they’ve caught up or are far ahead. They have art shows and a more social lifestyle. I think they’re getting much smarter and forming their own identity.

The previous consumer was more of a follower, and now, they’re sponging. When you sponge, you take in everything, and then you have to clear the sponge. It’s almost at the point when they’re about to squeeze, and all these new ideas are going to come out.

In 2006, you were quoted in the CLOT Soleciety book, saying that your dream would be to do a Jordan collaboration. How wild is it that you were actually given the opportunity?

Even 10 years ago, it never crossed my mind that I would actually be able to do a Jordan. This is a childhood dream. I didn’t want to give myself too much hope, even though I had worked with Nike. I understand that they’re one family but two different teams.

Working with MJ and his legendary shoes is still something that we don’t take lightly. For every shoe, we calculate how we can not only create an ode to the original silhouette but also bring it a step further — not necessarily in construction, but from an aesthetic or uniquely Asian perspective.

(Left) Air Jordan XIV x CLOT; (Right) Air Jordan XXXV x CLOT

Now that you’ve done the “Terracotta” and “Bred” CLOT Air Jordan XIII Lows, and your own “Fearless Ones” Air Jordan I Mid, these two new shoes could be seen as your collaborative three-peat. Did you feel more pressure designing two kicks at once?

A couple of days ago, I had a conversation with my cousin, who I hadn’t spoken to in 15 years. He asked, “How does it feel that we used to draw Jordan shoes on paper, and now you’re making Jordans?” I replied, “Bro, it’s still so unreal to me. I sometimes can’t even believe it.”

Being able to work on different shoes has been a challenge, to be honest with you. Some silhouettes are more challenging than others. I actually enjoy working on those ones more. We really need to tell a story that’s fulfilling, not only to us but to the person who picks up the shoe. Hopefully, they will not only think it’s a dope shoe, but they will get something new from it.

You could’ve gone in a totally different direction, but you stayed consistent and expanded the original Terracotta Warrior concept. Why did it make sense to stay the course?

There are a lot of narratives that we tell in our shoes. There’s a silk one that we’ve used throughout the years, which we’re taking a little rest from. For our first foray with Jordan, we chose the Terracotta Warrior, and the reason was twofold. First, I actually went to see the Terracotta Army around the time Jordan Brand suggested we do a shoe. Second, MJ has explained that basketball is a team sport, and although there are superstars who lead teams, they still need the defenders and nitty-gritty guys to win a championship. So, in theory, MJ is the general, and his teammates are the warriors. That embodies the way I grew up idolizing Michael Jordan.

Aesthetically, the XIII has panels and overlays that allowed us to really highlight the Terracotta Warrior, especially with that armor piece. While studying other renditions of the XIV, the Terracotta Warrior started coming back to me. Certain panels reminded me of a continuation of the XIII, especially the overlay on the uppers.

What we want to do with Jordan Brand is keep coming back to the Terracotta Warrior story, yet have each shoe represent a different stage of patina. So if CLOT did an AJI, it would be black and purple, like a freshly painted warrior. If we did a XVI, it would be almost fully beige with a little bit of tone. That creates a bridge or a link between the past and future, to show people that both are equally important in our creative inspiration.

How does that story come forth in the XXXV, which also happens to be your first performance sneaker with Jordan?

For the XXXV, the color tones are still inspired by Terracotta Warriors, but we added a different side of Chinese heritage with the jade. The reason why we didn’t go as hard as we could have, is because we felt like this on-court shoe has to be sleeker. It should be harmonious with the player, the uniform and the hardwood. I didn’t want to add too many things to it; I wanted to stay true to the XXXV, especially with its ultra-new design.

Aesthetically, this shoe has its own identity, and I think that the Eclipse Plate 2.0, which references jade, is actually really beautiful. I love it, and then I saw them on the court the other day, and they looked even more beautiful.

Something that’s distinctly Chinese in the approach is this old world-meets-new world design. Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong all have places where there’s a balance of preserving tradition with modern creature comforts. Is that something that influences your approach?

Yeah, and if you’re talking about Chinese culture and heritage, it’s thousands of years, not just fifty years ago. Being able to call out the old and put it into the new is something CLOT has been doing. We have a phrase for it: “The retro throwback of now.” It’s a conundrum, asking what someone’s throwback will be 20 years from now. It’s about seeing how the future can affect the present.

It’s something we started in 2012, with the Nike Tennis Classic “Museum Edition.” Our creative process for the XXXV was very much like that shoe, but we obviously delivered it very differently. Right now, China is accelerating at an unheard-of pace. New buildings are springing up and all these other things. I think that energy has inadvertently shown up in our design work because we are part of that community. We’ve meshed that into our DNA.

Your collaborations don’t just connect with China, but also with people of Chinese descent and Asians all around the world. How does it feel to be speaking to and representing Asian culture globally, through the lens of sneakers?

It’s a little strange. I came up as a sneakerhead before I knew what a “sneakerhead” was. In the late ‘90s, I started to idolize Hiroshi Fujiwara, who I would say was the voice representing Asians in that first wave of mainstream sneaker culture. Now that CLOT and I are in that position, it’s almost unreal to us. We still feel like students and fans, but here we are.

I think it’s a testament to young creatives who never think it would happen to them. CLOT is nearing our 20-year anniversary. We went through bad times, but we persevered, stuck through it and stayed true to who we are. But now, how do we stay true, represent to the fullest and open doors for the next generation?

That’s the cycle. I always give mad props to Hiroshi Fujiwara, because he showed me the way, and he opened doors for me. And here I am, hopefully living up to the position, but at the same time, looking towards the future and allowing new creatives to follow in our footsteps.

The Air Jordan XIV Low and XXXV x CLOT will be available starting February 8 at juicestoreusa.com, juicestore.tw, on the JUICE app and at special JUICE pop-up locations in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Taichung and Taipei. A wider launch follows on February 11 at these retailers.

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