The Shifting Stigma Behind the Air Jordan 1 Mid

By: Vincent Plana

There are few sneakers in existence that are as important and as widely celebrated as the Air Jordan 1. Since its release in 1985, it’s received countless colourways and collaborations. Fast forward to the present day and the statement remains true. In 2019, there were 22 iterations of the Air Jordan 1 High.  In fact, the Air Jordan 1 has received so many releases that some, arguably, call it oversaturated.

Regardless, the sneaker, in its original high-top form, has managed to pierce through both the sneaker world and the mainstream fashion world. It’s acknowledged by many for being the driving force behind sneaker culture and is recognized by both the diehard fan and the untrained eye. The same, however, can’t fully be said for the shoe’s descendant, the Air Jordan 1 Mid. 

It stands to reason that, until recently, the Jordan 1 Mid was considered a black sheep in the lineage of the Jordan 1 family.

It first released nearly 20 years ago, presenting a similar silhouette to its predecessor but with a cut that was several inches shorter. The sneaker has a significantly lower price point than its counterpart ($110 USD) and in most cases, receives a much wider range of distribution. From the mid’s first breath, it’s evident that the goal was making a model that was similar to the retro high but available to a drastically larger audience.

In the early 2000s, the sneaker saw reasonable success. In 2003, it released in three colourways with the patent leather treatment. There were also two key factors that likely played a part in the silhouette’s success. Shoeboxes didn’t say whether the model was a mid or a high — this only became commonplace several years later. Second, Retro Highs were so few and far between that a mid, for a while, was simply the most accessible option. 

Despite early popularity, however, the shoe was far from accepted within the sneaker community. In the eyes of Jordan purists, simply straying away from the original silhouette was considered sacrilege. The argument sometimes boils down to the mid simply “not being the same” or “not looking nearly as good” as the retro high. Another issue is that the model will often feature lower-quality materials — a byproduct of carrying a lower price point. 

The mid also doesn’t carry the same cultural weight as its original counterpart — and honestly, how could it?

Its predecessor was donned by perhaps the greatest basketball player in history, as backed by an infamous and auspicious marketing campaign. Those are high standards to live up to and bluntly put, it’s nowhere close to a fair fight. 

Despite that, the Air Jordan 1 Mid has weathered the storm, becoming a “slept-on” staple in the world of sneakers.

While the silhouette has its share of uncanny variations, Jordan has often used the mid as a vessel for revisiting its most popular colourways. Most recently, the shoe has seen adaptations of the famed bred toe colourway, the royal, and a reverse bred colourway. 

An additional reason behind the rise of the mid silhouette is its availability compared to its original counterpart. Jordan 1 High releases almost always sell out in a short period of time. For consumers that aren’t able to score at retail and aren’t looking to pay resale prices, the mid is the next best option, especially when it’s more accessible and accompanied by attractive colourways. 

Another driving force that spiked its popularity was a slew of fantastic collaborations. And when you don’t have the infamous marketing that the retro high had, these are the next best thing. The mid stood at the forefront of the Jordan brand’s Fearless Ones collection, which released in late 2019. In fact, it received five collaborations with different artists, while the Jordan 1 High received none. 

It was the opportunity that the silhouette needed to be taken in directions that hadn’t been seen before. It also gave the designers the freedom to explore with premium materials and vibrant ideas that are often reserved for bespoke collaborations. 

Los Angeles-based designer Melody Ehsani wanted to share a message of “self-expression, female empowerment, and paradox.” She did so through an eccentric take of the mid with contrasting colours on each foot and a clear-blue sole. The shoe’s design reaches another level with the addition of a gold watch dubrae and a hand-lettered quote on the midsole. 

Blue the Great, another LA-based artist, mixed vibrant primary colours for a bright, playful take on the model. His choice of materials takes a different approach, however, mixing suede and corduroy on top of a sail midsole. 

And of course, it’s impossible to ignore the meticulous concept of CLOT founder Edison Chen, who only seems to be spiralling in popularity. Chen has been at the helm of many beloved collaborations. Not to mention, aside from this release, his wear away designs on Nike sneakers have been scarcely reserved for the likes of several Air Force 1s. 

Chen’s Chinese-inspired design includes a nylon upper, a fadeaway swoosh, and a Chinese token dubrae that spells out Jordan. Similar to his recent collaborations, removing the nylon exterior reveals a stunning design underneath, this time in gold, black, and white. 

Another colossal release that took place was the Air Jordan 1 Mid Milan in February.

Nike cites that its ties to Italian fashion draw as far back as 1986 with the release of the Air Jordan II. Everything about this shoe is a thoughtful tribute to the fashion capital. Milan’s architecture is represented through the marble, wave, and ripple textures on the materials; the pastel colours, rendered onto leather, suede, and canvas evoke a stark affinity to the city’s design. 

And it was only fitting that before releasing worldwide, the sneaker pre-released at One Block Down, an Italian retailer with brick and mortar locations in Milan and Rome. 

It may be thanks to the influence of heavyweight designers and artists, as well as adaptations of popular colourways, but the mentality surrounding the Jordan 1 Mid appears to have changed, and certainly for the better. The stigma against the silhouette seems to be that of the older generation.

The bottom line is that the demand for an Air Jordan 1 applies to any cut, whether it’s the high, mid, or the low. 

It’s worth noting that the Jordan 1 Low has also seen a surge in popularity, thanks to a very similar strategy. With colourways much like the royal toe, the shattered backboard, and a “gym red” that draws heavy resemblance to the New Beginnings, there’s no shortage of fantastic options at the general release level. 

Not to mention, the summer-ready silhouette has seen its own share of collaborations. In 2019, the model was reimagined with a tear-away upper through the eyes of Lance Mountain, and it was given the flipped swoosh treatment from rap icon Travis Scott.

A Paris-version of the Air Jordan 1 Low was also released alongside the Mid Milan. Similarly, this premium model paid homage to Paris, drawing cues from blue skies contrasted against the city’s sandstone architecture.

The question stands, however, is there truly enough demand for the budget-friendly silhouette, especially considering a constant stream of releases? Or is the interest an afterthought of popular collaborations, combined with what seems to be wave after wave of resellers popping up every day. 

More time and more releases are needed to draw a definitive answer, and as it stands with every product, they won’t all be a slam dunk. Yet while the mid and low may never fully leave the shadow of their original counterpart, their growth and progress can’t be ignored, turning into smaller, but fierce contenders. 

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