Sitting in illustrator and designer Reina Koyano’s Los Angeles apartment, her excitement is palpable. She’s blown away that someone’s here to write about her, to interview her, to take pictures of her in her home, which doubles as her workspace.

On my end, I’m letting my eyes wander in her room, as if it were a museum. Both hanging and in the form of figurines are Koyano’s work, images of women draped in dresses, the dresses are interpretations of iconic sneakers, many of which are Jordans.

I was interested to know her story, her passions and how she’s dealing with people beginning to recognize her — and applaud her work.

Rembert: Why’d you pick L.A.? What drew you here?

Reina: I went to school in the Midwest, in Missouri. I was there for four years. And after I finished school I was trying to become a designer for advertising. At first, I wanted to move to New York to pursue that career. I did everything I could, but just couldn’t find anything — or no one wanted me basically. It was tough, because I was an international student. Anyway, I had a friend out here in LA and she told me to come out here just to check it out.

Rembert: And you haven’t left since?

Reina: I kind of fell in love with it. So I just stayed.

Rembert: What was your transition, from doing commercial design stuff to doing art with shoes? Did you always have an affinity for shoes? Or did you just see a pair and the light bulb went off?

Reina: I’ve always been into sneakers, but I still design commercially — I’m a visual designer. This stuff with sneakers — this is what I do in my free time. But what I was really into was pinup art.

Rembert: Interesting.

Reina: I’ve always been fascinated with that style and culture. When I moved out to LA, my interest in sneakers increased but I didn’t really know why. I liked looking at them, I liked wearing them, but I wasn’t obsessed with it. And then I came out here and I went to a sneaker store by Melrose.

Rembert: Yeah.

Reina: The place blew me away. So just meeting people there and hearing other sneakerheads talk about their shoes and why these things mean so much to them. And realizing that there’s so much depth in this culture, and so many ways you can approach a sneaker.

Rembert: What was your first piece?

Reina: It was the Jordan 1s, Chicago. That piece is basically Jordan-themed lingerie, like a costume. It was a cool piece, I was in to it, but after that I started thinking, “Okay, what if it was different shoes?” And then I started learning more about the shoes and how they have stories. And concepts. And that there are great people behind every shoe. Whether it’s a designer or who it’s designed for.

Rembert: One thing I’ve noticed in all the people I’ve interviewed (and people throughout the culture), there seems to be a genuine love and allegiance, not only to basketball but to the brand.

Reina: Jordan Brand will always be an irreplaceable force of sneaker culture. When you look at a pair of Jordans, there’s almost an inherent sense where we just know that it is synonymous to things like power, success, discipline, and integrity to hard work. That just speaks volumes about great design.

Reina (cont): During Michael Jordan’s career in the 80s and 90s, time and time again the world was stunned by the latest pair of Jordans that surfaced on court. Their significance erupted with Michael Jordan’s achievements. Cement 3s, boom. Concord 11s, boom. That type of daring attitude influenced style. Kids back then curated their outfits to emulate their heroes achieving amazing things.

So it was no question that when a 13-year-old boy earned his first pair of Jordans, it symbolized a seal of approval, a pedestal-like piece that elevated whoever was wearing them. Those types of memories won’t fade. Fast forward to today, the legacy of Jordan is very much alive, still influencing people around the world, and inspiring people to take appreciation to new levels – like myself. Greatness that this brand reflects transcends all kinds of borders, from gender, ethnicity to even time. That might be another reason why I love wearing my Jordans.

Rembert: Can you talk a little bit about the Satin shattered backboard colorway, what drew you to it? And how has that design/shoe/colorway influenced your art?

Of the whole women’s Jordan line so far, this is the most exciting one for me. The fact that the ladies will be having first dibs on this colorway is already amazing, but I think this celebration reaches deeper. The original colorway was inspired by Michael Jordan’s uniform when he shattered a glass backboard while dunking in an Italian exhibition game in 1986.

Women are powerful. In recent years, their voices are finally being heard, shattering glass walls and ceilings, astonishing the world. In my piece, I reimagined the sneaker as a powerful female fighter, who is swinging a solid punch straight ahead, shattering a glass wall. If this piece was in motion, the glass pieces will move away slowly, her satin boxing shorts glistening against the spotlight.

Rembert: Wow.

Reina: In my mind, she is fearless and unstoppable. She is focused and stands tall for the children who look up to her. The original colorway is symbolizing Jordan’s legacy, continuously breaking limits and stunning the world.

The Women’s Air Jordan 1 ‘Satin Shattered Backboard’ will be available 5/5 at 10am ET from Jordan.com 

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