Dave White talks Jordans and The Last Dance
Netflix’s 10-part series The Last Dance has become one of the most in-demand documentaries in the world, even surpassing Tiger King. As the nostalgia surrounding Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teammates has gained even more traction during lockdown, it couldn’t be a better time to catch up with artist Dave White to discuss collaborating with the iconic Jordan Brand and his sought-after Dave White x Air Jordan 1s.
What started your sneaker obsession?
DW: I have always been drawn to them, as a kid the colours and textures just grabbed me. In high school in the 1980s, the whole ‘football casual’ movement started. Fans would really make an effort to look dapper in the latest fashions and footwear on the terraces at games. Even back then, the rarer your sneakers, the more kudos you had. For me, Nike was the upstart and its shoes were just so unique and rebellious. My brand choice was made back then and that’s where it all started.
How did your Jordan collaboration happen?
DW: I started painting sneakers in 2002, just from the sheer love of the designs. My website launched and word quickly got out. My relationship with Nike started in 2003 with an influencer-only T-shirt based on one of my paintings. I was then lucky enough to work on some sneaker projects with Nike before I was contacted by Jordan Brand to discuss if we could work together a few years later. I can still remember that phone call.
How did you decide on your design?
DW: Once everything was in place to officially work together, the model to be used was a Jordan I. I was asked to design two pairs. One pair was the official global release and the other a super-limited version, of only 23 pairs. I worked with an amazing designer at Jordan Brand, Dave Frank, who made it all come to life.
When the official blank template of the shoe came through via email it was a crazy moment. I had total freedom in my design choices, which was incredible. For the official global release pair of AJI WRBs, I wanted to make something that used and referenced Jordan’s time at the Bulls, using white, red and black as the base colours and materials like the cement print to reference his greatest models.
Movement and dynamism have always been a massive part of my work, so the idea was to use 3M as the material, then have the black paint and stars look like they are exploding backwards. Once a camera flash hits them, they look like they are animated. The removal of the swoosh was crazy controversial as it had never been done before, but it went through and ended up being the release.
With the AJI Gold versions, I wanted to make something a champion would turn up in, something that looked like you’d already won, and had a reference to the US flag. The 23 pairs were auctioned on sneaker site Sole Collector and made a ton of money for Jordan’s amazing ‘Wings for the Future’ Charity.
How does designing your own Jordans rank in your achievements?
DW: I have them in a display case in my office. Every morning I see them and still can't believe that they happened. From painting images of sneakers to having your name on your own Jordans, it will always be a ‘pinch yourself’ moment, a dream come true!
What was the biggest challenge in transferring from canvases to sneakers?
DW: Creating something that was worthy of their status and making something unique that referenced my work, hadn’t been seen before and had a story, was the challenge.
Can we expect any more sneaker collaborations? Some DW Yeezys?
DW: I am an incredibly loyal person and am eternally grateful for any brand or company that likes what I do and wants to collaborate. However, I am not a ‘take the money and run’ person and very rarely work on projects and collabs. It has to be the right match and I have to personally enjoy and respect their ethos and products. There have been many offers to work with other companies, but my loyalty lies with Nike and Jordan. We tend to work together when the time is right organically and I love that. It makes every project special and unique. In 2022 I have a very special anniversary as it’s 20 years since I made the first sneaker canvas. So, who knows maybe something will happen then?
Why are we still fascinated with Michael Jordan?
DW: To be remembered as the greatest of all time, in anything in life, takes an incredible talent and extreme amount of hard work. That unique magic that cannot be forced, cannot be imitated and cannot be disputed, is so rare. The Last Dance completely reminds us that Michael Jordan will always be remembered as the greatest player to have played the game, as a gentleman from the start and a legend. It has been awe-inspiring and such a privilege to watch – what an amazing job the filmmakers have done.