The Evolution of the “Grape” Air Jordan V

By Ian Stonebrook

The Air Jordan V has seen a renaissance as it turns 30, returning in OG styling and collaborative fashion with the help of heritage and Virgil Abloh.

For All-Star Weekend, Abloh deconstructed the AJV with his trademark DIY delivery. Since then, the shoe has returned with Nike Air branding in the famed “Fire Red” rendition that Mike wore when he hit Cleveland for a career-high 69 points. After that, a “Top 3” version followed that paid tribute to the silhouette’s original colorways. This week, the AJV sees a familiar favorite amplified in the form of “Purple Grape” release.

A flip on the OG “Grape” Vs from 1990, the emerald and purple pantone sees the latter hue amplified all over the upper for an even louder look.

Dropping 30 years after the “Grape” Vs first graced the feet of sneakerheads, the fruity theme has come back many a time in many a fashion. From the OGs to the “Purple Grapes” about to hit, see all the retros, flips and Fusions in between in a timeline history of this classic color story.

Air Jordan V Grape OG – 1990

In 1990, the Air Jordan V introduced a more advanced, more aggressive, more technical signature shoe for a meaner and leaner Michael Jordan. Coming off a summer of lifting weights with Tim Grover, the AJV was Tinker Hatfield’s weapon of choice for the retooled MJ.

Never to be worn in game by Michael, the “Grape” Vs were ironically the most playful. Inspired by Mike’s home state Hornets who just began hooping in Charlotte, the team’s purple and emerald hues highlighted the Air Jordan franchise for the first time. Worn on Wheaties boxes by Mike and on the silver screen by Will Smith, the “Grape” Vs defined the vibrant, hip hop flavor of the ‘90s right as the decade started.

Air Jordan V Grape Retro – 2006

It would take 16 years for the “Grape” Vs to receive the retro treatment. Launching in the Fall of 2006, the “Grape” Vs were wanted by all and available to few. Despite being an original colorway, the “Grape” V retro released as a LS or Lifestyle launch, making them more limited in production and allocated to only major markets and esteemed accounts.

Ironically, this second shot at the purple pair proved sour grapes for many as these were truly tough to get. Like many re-releases of the mid-2000s, the “Grape” Vs ditched all Nike Air notation for that of Jumpman logos and Jordan text. Certain retro Jordan releases could be tough to get in the mid-2000s, but the “Grape” Vs truly took the cake.

As streetwear was steering to pop colors and Jordan collectors were tired of wearing black and red every day, the “Grape” Vs suddenly spoke to everyone. The fact that they were an OG colorway gave them credit with way back collectors while the ‘90s nostalgia of the Hornets hues was a must for fashion forward kids. Getting “Grape” Vs in 2006 was a major W that few could claim.

Air Jordan V Fusion Grape – 2010

Marc Dolce is best known for reviving the Penny Hardaway line years after Anfernee’s retirement before heading to adidas to open up the Brooklyn Farm. What he’s less known for is pitching Michael Jordan on the concept of Fusions.

Polarizing, popular and perhaps ahead of its time, the concept of combining Air Jordan uppers with that of Air Force 1 DNA was that of Dolce. Other designers at Jordan Brand ran with the concept, combining many an AJ upper with that of an AF1 sole.

The Air Jordan V Fusion was among the boldest, bringing back the “Grape” colorway. While the Fusions don’t see the range of endorsement as other pairs on this list, they were worn by the late, great Kobe Bryant when visiting Kanye West at a studio session for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Air Jordan V Grape Retro – 2013

By 2013, the Air Jordan V “Grape” was finally back for the second time ever in retro form. After years of rumors of a “Laney/Grape” Pack, the celebrated sneaker everyone wanted but no one could get in 2006 was back on shelves as a general release.

All good, right? Well, mostly yes. While the widespread availability of the “Grapes” was by and large a good thing and no one regrets having a pair now, by 2013 the Hornets hues had more or less been done to death in the world of streetwear and sportswear. Liken it to the return of the Ultra Boost OG or Flyknit Trainers in recent years: yeah, they’re still a classic, but who’s wearing joggers now? The “Grape” Vs in 2013 occupied a similar space. Fans were for the first time over the palette and overdosed on nostalgia by the time these came back even if sneakerheads still loved the shoe.

Blame the snapback craze then, but now most of us wish we still copped a pair.

Air Jordan V Black Grape – 2013

When the “Grape” Vs returned in 2013, they didn’t come alone. Stealing the thunder was the introduction of the “Black Grape” V that same year. Very seldom does a non-OG outshine that of something with history, but it’s exactly what happened with these. Flipping the white leather upper with that of black suede, the “Black Grape” Vs read as a more mature rendition of the nostalgia saturated original, even conjuring comparisons to the then coveted “Aqua” VIIIs.

Though “Black Grape” Vs would be subject to the same outfits and obvious Hornets callouts as their OG brethren, this pair packed a toughness and newness that didn’t feel like a Fresh Prince impersonation every time they were put on. Much like the “Infrared 23” VIs that outshined that of the “Infrared” VIs at 2014 All-Star Weekend, the market had shifted to an odd space where new takes on old favorites were more desirable than that of time-tested originals.

Air Jordan V Pre-Grape – 2015

By the mid 2010s, the Air Jordan archive had been mined and remixed in just about every variation possible. In 2015, Jordan Brand made a concerted effort to dig deeper in their archive to retell stories and release unseen samples.

The story methodology was a hit by way of the Air Jordan 1 “Shattered Backboard” – an unarchived tale that would create a colorway franchise similar in strength to that of the “Grape” lineage. The sample route would be paved by the launch of the “Pre-Grape” Vs, a vault color concept from Tinker Hatfield that would see the OG “Grapes” wearing a blue leather upper rather than that of white.

Incredibly left in color blocking for 1990, this shoe would prove at least interesting come 2015. An image of an OG pair validated the story on a sneaker that could register as a sleeper in years to come.

Question: If a customizer was to age this 2015 release in 2020 to make them look more like the 1990 sample would they suddenly be seen in a new light? Our best guess is they would.

Air Jordan V Grape Fresh Prince – 2018

In 2018, Jordan Brand surprised all pundits with the release of the Air Jordan V “Grape/Fresh Prince” release. A unique homage to the lace less look Will Smith preferred on TV in the ‘90s, the OG “Grapes” returned for the first time with Nike Air branding on the heel but with closed eyelets on the upper.

One could see what JB was doing in regard to storytelling with shutting the eyelets, a risk that’s worth commending. At the same time, most collectors would’ve preferred to take the shoestrings out themselves if they were committed to going full Will.

How will these be viewed in the future? History suggests the “Grape Fresh Prince” Vs will age similar to that of the “Mars Blackmon” IVs, looking good in hindsight and wetting the appetite for a true to original bring back.

Air Jordan V Grape Fresh Prince Gold F&F – 2018

In 2018, the world got a chance to cop a pair of “Grape” Vs in the same styling popularized by Will Smith back in the day. However, during that same year Will Smith himself got something even better.

As a salute to the Fresh Prince, Jordan Brand seeded Will and 22 other lucky recipients a pair of “Grape Fresh Prince Gold” Vs. While that nickname is certainly a mouthful and up for debate, the shoes themselves were an eyeful that break the bank.

Ultra-limited as alluded to above, this flip on the “Grape” Vs featured a golden satin upper for both the boldest and rarest take on the shoe yet. Oddly enough, these pairs featured full lacing which was an odd look considering the spirit of the seeding, but beneficial once PJ Tucker chose to play an NBA game in them.

Air Jordan V Purple Grape – 2020

2020’s Air Jordan V “Purple Grape” proves the latest and greatest chapter in the “Grape” V lineage. Adhering to the same formula as the “Black Grape” Vs from 2013, suede once again scores the upper with an appropriate purple hue this time getting the leading role.

While wavering appetites for nostalgia wrote the narrative on past releases, the Coronavirus pandemic will strangely play a part in how these are remembered.

In 2020, collectors suddenly have more time on their hands to chase sneakers but no place to actually wear them. Suppressed stunting has made for an uptick in creativity with more collectors customizing their new pairs and thinking outside the box on outfits. What place will the “Purple Grapes” hold in this historic lineage for you?

The Air Jordan v “Purple Grape” releases Tuesday, July 7 at 10AM EST via Finish Line, Nike SNKRS and many more retailers. Members, please check your premium content for a detailed and thorough list 

Latest posts

SoleSavy membership

A SoleSavy membership provides you the tools and resources you need to successfully purchase the products you want for retail.

  • Exclusive release information and links
  • Instant links to purchase shoes in your size
  • Access to SoleSavy Courses and Lessons
  • and LOTS more perks!
learn more

Stay in the loop

Sign up to receive emails about feature articles, the latest release info, and exclusive access to SoleSavy memberships.