Melody Ehsani On Her Air Jordan OG Collaboration
The designer goes deep on her second collaboration with Jordan Brand.
Photos: Ja Tecson
In 1998, Jordan Brand took inspiration from not only the greatest basketball player in the world, but also the undeniable skill, style and spirit of the Jumpman women’s community, in order to create the first women’s silhouette — the Air Jordan OG. During that era, while witnessing the women’s game reach new heights, Melody Ehsani was working various retail jobs and figuring out her next move. Little did she know that one day, she’d open up her own stores in L.A. and NYC, where she’d create powerful products, stories and spaces for women.
As of last year, one of those products included an Air Jordan I collaboration, which had M.E. watches, bright colors and the Julie Burns-Walker quote: “If you knew what you had was rare, you would never waste it.” This year, it includes the first-ever Women’s Jordan OG collaboration, bringing the shoe and its roots in basketball to a new generation. Melody chose to make the shoe black and infrared with a cherry detail and inspirational, handwritten messages on the packaging.
The Air Jordan OG SP x Melody Ehsani symbolizes women’s excellence on and off the court. Here, Melody explains her approach to her second Jordan Brand collaboration, from the shoe itself to the tissue paper it comes with.
Going back a lot further than your work with Jordan Brand, how would you describe your journey as a product designer, specifically in the realm of footwear and learning how sneakers and heels are made?
Well, I had dropped out of law school and had just discovered that “product design” was an actual career that a person could have. I started taking night classes at Art Center in Pasadena and interning for a start-up sneaker company. The owner taught me how to design shoes, and I soaked up as much as I could, in terms of trying to learn how they were made.
I stayed there until I wasn’t learning anything anymore, and then decided to move to China to learn the process firsthand. One of my friends from the law world knew a family in the city I wanted to go to. She introduced me, and the family was kind enough to host me. I moved in with them, and the wife accompanied me as my translator. I literally hit the streets, found factories, created relationships, oversaw the entire shoe-making process and came back home with my first collection of women’s sandals and heels after six months.
You’ve spoken about being inspired by basketball and basketball players as you make products and build a brand. What are some of the broader messages that resonate with you from the game?
It’s interesting, because growing up, watching basketball was something that I would do with my dad. I had this childlike admiration for the players that I still have to this day. They were my version of superheroes, because of what they were able to do physically, and the power they had to inspire and bring together all kinds of people.
Growing up in L.A., the Lakers played at the Great Western Forum, and the Forum was the only place in that area that was considered safe, neutral territory. So, it wasn’t so much of a message or a catch phrase for me as it was a vibe. I recognized the power in sports, the impact it had on people and the hard work and dedication the players had to have for their craft.
What was your mindset going into the design of the Women’s Air Jordan OG, your second Jordan Brand collaboration, after having just finished the AJI?
I felt like I was being entrusted with bringing back this hidden gem that had kind of been forgotten about, so at first, I felt a bit of pressure. The shoe only existed for a short period after its release in 1998. I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to reintroduce it design-wise in my typical M.E. fashion, so I went with a more classic approach and focused more on the shoe being an emblem.
What has it been like to see the Air Jordan I continue to grow in popularity, especially in recent years?
It doesn’t surprise me. It’s arguably the most iconic shoe ever made.
What inspires you about the legacy and design of the Women’s Air Jordan OG — the brand’s first and only women’s basketball OG, with a direct tie to basketball?
The legacy speaks for itself. It was an exciting time in history with the inception of the WNBA and all the incredible women who were coming into the game. The shoe is really an emblem of this moment, a first in many regards.
Knowing your skills with combining and pulling colors, how did you land at black/cherry/purple paired with the reflective piping?
I really wanted to reintroduce the shoe in a classic way, to give it its due. I wanted to use the original infrared with black, because MJ. The cherry, to me, has always been representative of the feminine. Historically, it’s been associated with Goddesses of fertility, abundance and protection. I put it on there with a little love note sewn into the interior tongue of the shoe for all the ladies who wear it.
“I really wanted to reintroduce the shoe in a classic way, to give it its due.”
What does it mean for you to use your handwriting on these messages? Can you walk us through some of the messages you want to send to women on the shoe tongue, inside the box and on the tissue paper?
It makes it personal and special, it’s like a dear diary moment for the wearer. I put so much love into what I do, this is just one way I feel like I can spread little messages in a big way. I always used to write on my sneakers!
M.E. Message on tongue: I like to leave love notes inside my shoes. Every shoe I’ve ever made has a note in it. This one talks about the cherry and what it represents. I talk about fertility, but not only in the sense of babies — fertility in one’s life.
Julie Burns-Walker quote: I used this as the main quote on the last Air Jordan I did. I think it’s self-explanatory. If you knew what you had was rare, you would never waste it!
Inner Space / The Real Frontier: I think that your inner world is just as important as your outer one. I’d like to kindly encourage people to explore that frontier, because what’s on the inside is what shows up on the outside.
Close One Eye and Open The Other: This is another reference to going inward, whether through meditation or any other modality. Close your physical eyes and open your inner one.
Can you talk about your concept for the shoe’s photo shoot and how it relates to one of your favorite films?
Yes, growing up as a child born in the ‘80s, when the movie Love and Basketball came out, it had such a big impact on my younger self. It was kind of revolutionary, in the sense that I had never seen a character like Sanaa Lathan’s character EVER! She was who I wanted to be. I loved that she was a basketball player and a tomboy but still feminine. I love how, in the end, she got it all. She got to be in the WNBA and have a kid and get married to her love. I’m sure that looking at the movie now, there are many flaws in it, but back then it was a big deal, and it left a big imprint on me.
Where do you see this shoe in your journey with Jordan Brand and also where you are in your life right now?
This shoe is hopefully part of the entry into my journey with Jordan Brand. I feel lucky to be able to “pass the rock,” so to speak, and continue sharing these stories with the next generation. This fits into the greater part of my life, because all I wish to do is continue bringing people together through stories that uplift us as a society, whether it be through products, podcasts or simply creating space.
The Women’s Air Jordan OG SP x Melody Ehsani is available starting March 14 at the Melody Ehsani stores in Los Angeles and New York City. It’s available starting March 19 on Jordan.com and at select retailers.