“Air” has been a labor of love for many people, evidenced not least by Ben Affleck’s willingness to wear jackets and 80s athleisure clothing as Nike boss Phil Knight. But all the clothing, arranged by the costume designer Charles Antoinette Jones, gives audiences an insight into the era in which Nike marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) seeks a new kind of partnership with young phenomenon Michael Jordan. The suits also help pinpoint Nike’s relative position in the industry to Converse and Adidas, marking Vaccaro and his team as underdogs.
“I wanted (Nike) to feel back,” Jones told IndieWire. “I wanted them to feel definitely in step with the times, as if they weren’t quite up to date with fashion yet. I really wanted the Portland offices to reflect that time before we had the internet, before trends were as widely dispersed globally as they are now, and there were more regional fashion styles.”
Denoting geography through fashion was especially important, given that the film was shot in Los Angeles; it mainly depends on how the different sneaker companies are in line (or not) with the fashions of the 80s which gives an idea of their place in the world and within the hierarchy of sneaker companies.
“I’m really proud to be able to distinguish between Portland and Germany, where the Adidas offices are, and Converse, because it’s all (done) through fit, for the most part,” Jones said. “Even though everyone is in a suit, I’m proud of how different worlds, different geographic styles and different vibes are. We shot everything in Los Angeles, but it feels global in this great way.
Nike’s Portland headquarters feels decidedly less like a hipster downtown and more like the last stop along the Oregon Trail, which makes Sonny’s prospects of signing an NBA star seem like much more of an uphill climb. Nike’s underdog office ethic also helps Phil Knight’s idiosyncrasies stand out even more, sartorially and otherwise.
“It was a time when people didn’t wear sportswear a lot,” Jones said. “There is very little sportswear in the film. But we had the opportunity, because Phil goes racing, and Phil as the leader of the company is much more forward-thinking, so that’s why I was able to put that (purple suit) in the movie.
Jones seized upon the idea that Knight would be constantly testing new Nike merchandise, from the blue-black-red windbreaker that marks the nadir of his optimism in the Jordan deal to the hot pink running shorts and tee that Jones has built for Knight to wear to the office on the weekend to offer moral support to Sonny. But a lot of things in the film arose from Jones’ research into the real Nike of that era.
“The suit is based on a ’60 Minutes’ news segment where he’s actually running the segment in something very similar, with those crazy Oakley goggles on,” Jones said. “I looked at as many photographs as I could and figured out, based on the photos over time, what[each character’s]style was and I built wardrobes and made them very distinct characters.”
The search also led Jones to a wonderful fashion progression for Dolores Jordan (Viola Davis). She’s also suited for each of the three sneaker pulls, but each suit betrays how comfortable she is (or isn’t) with each deal. “In these encounters, she (wearing her clothes) she really is like armor. She is dressed in darker colors. Then, at the Nike meet, she’s wearing a lighter color and it’s a little more relaxed ensemble,” Jones said. “It was based on real research, but it also worked for our story. So it was like a happy accident.
But Jones appreciates the other looks she’s created for Davis, the casual outfits that say something about her life experience and the belief she brings to looking after her son’s best interests. For the weekend when Sonny ambushes the Jordans at their home, Jones chose a used T-shirt that still gives an idea of just how terrific Dolores is.
“Back then, when you were traveling, it was a big deal and you had a special shirt and that was going to be your weekend shirt. She and she is a Christian woman, so she would wear a denim skirt of a certain length, a modest length, the Pro-Keds. These are things I remember as a Black woman that my mom and grandmother and aunts wore in the 80s, so it was really fun to create and feel natural for that environment and moment,” Jones said. .
But the real power move in the film’s costumes is in the choices that Jones deliberately didn’t make until the very end. “There is a minimal amount of red in the film. I don’t really start implementing red until you see the shoe,” Jones said. “After seeing the shoe, Sonny is wearing a polo shirt with a red stripe across it, and that was totally intentional. vibrant in the film because I wanted (the sneaker) to be the focal point.”
Choosing to forego red until the creation of Air Jordan speaks without words how the innovation of the Nike-Jordan partnership has changed the world in small, tangible ways. Whether it’s sneaker trends or the power dynamic between athletes and brands, “Air” doesn’t just tell us why Michael Jordan matters; it shows the difference he has made.