The retro industry is built on nostalgia, and that nostalgia is inextricably tied to the details: the colors, the material, the height of the upper and pull tabs. What may seem like minor changes to some can completely turn others off to a retro release. Indeed, how is someone supposed to "Be Like Mike" when their reissued kicks look different?
Eventually, Jordan Brand took note of fans' complaints and in the spring of 2015 launched the "Remastered" program, dedicated to releasing retro models as similar to the originals as possible. While sneakerheads were excited about their favorite Jordans coming back with all of the nuances, they were less than enthusiastic about the prices. Jordans that previously retailed for between $160 and $180 were now going for between $190 and $220, causing some pairs to end up on sale racks, a place Jordans in OG colorways are seldom seen. Luckily, Jordan Brand didn't let this discourage it, and years later, the Remastered program is still going strong.
The "Black Infrared" Jordan 6 made its return for the first time since 1991 during NBA All-Star Weekend with all of the original specs—an iconic colorway on an equally iconic sneaker. That isn't all the brand has done well of late, as we take a look back at recent releases that aimed to correct the wayward designs of beloved retros from the pre-Remastered era.
The 2007 release of the Jordan 8 "Aqua" marked the first unveiling of the colorway since it initially dropped in 1993. Although many fans were eager to get their hands on a pair for the first time in over a decade, those old enough to remember the original may have been disappointed by the changes.
The '07 pair featured a yellow circle, instead of gold, around the logo on the tongue (the 8's calling card). The shade of gray used throughout was basically a matte black where once it was dark gray. Shiny speckles that covered the purple areas of the midsole on the '93 version were no more. And while the Aqua 8 was known for the colorful motif on the outsole and insole, the '07 pair replaced the graffiti-patterned insole with a simple design featuring a Jumpman logo. In essence, it seemed as if Jordan Brand wanted to suck the fun out of one of its most cartoonish (see: Bugs Bunny has his own colorway of the 8) sneakers.
Luckily for purists, in 2015 the Aqua 8 returned with the gold circle, a gray akin to the original, a colorful insole and even more speckles than before, making it a shoe any sneakerhead (or Looney Tune) would be proud to rock again.
The "Black Cement" Jordan 3s are considered by many to be the greatest Jordans of all time, and in 2011 they returned, via an individual release (the "Countdown Pack" of 2008 included a pair), for the first time since '01. But subtle distinctions made, in part, to mark Jordan Brand's independence from Nike altered a classic. A "Jumpman AIR" logo was embroidered on the back tab of the shoe, while "JORDAN" is featured on the outsole where "NIKE" once was.
The colors on the 2011 stray from the original as well. A "varsity red" replaced "fire red" on the tongue. Black was subbed in for the original dark gray in the cracks of the elephant print, and the insole morphed into gray from the red found on the '01 model.
All was rectified last year, however, with an All-Star Weekend release of the Black Cement Jordan 3 that came as close to the 1988 original as we've seen.
The 2011 release of the Jordan 11 "Concord" laid the groundwork for a generational controversy that stirred for seven years. The debate centered on the height of the patent leather, which was lower on the upper of the 2011 model than on the original.
In 2018, when Jordan Brand brought back the Concord 11 with the gleaming black leather back at its original height, some fans were displeased. Many who were too young to remember the 1996 version expected something similar to the '11 pair. Nevertheless, it was nice to see that detail executed as it was originally intended.
The '18 Concord 11 is actually more historically accurate in one sense, utilizing the number "45" on the ankle (indicative of the jersey Jordan wore at the time of the shoe's original release) instead of the "23" the '96 and '11 versions had.
Almost 13 years had passed since the two most popular Jordan 4 colorways (black/red and "White Cement") had been made available outside of packs. And while many were pleased with how the "Bred" pair came out for the 2012 rerelease, the public's response to the White Cement pair would be best described as hardly satisfied. The leather was stiff and dry, almost plastic-like in texture. Instead of the Nike logo, the shoe featured a Jumpman on the insole, outsole and heel tab.
Most upsetting, the shade of gray used throughout the upper and midsole on the White Cement version was significantly darker than on the original and '99 pairs.
Sneakerheads revel in how minimal most original Jordan colorways are; typically involving a combination of white, black, red and occasionally another color (cement gray in this instance). When dealing with such a limited color palette, changing a single shade can dramatically affect the look of the sneaker. Simply put, it threw everything off.
Thankfully, in 2016 the White Cement 4 returned with a higher-quality, supple leather, original branding and the hue of gray birthed in 1989.
The 2013 Jordan 1 "Banned" was close to perfect. For years, iterations of MJ's first shoe were released with different branding and materials. Then, the 2013 silhouette arrived just one detail away from the original: polyurethane.
A chemical used to hide flaws in leather, polyurethane can also transform the color of a shoe's dye. Given the coating, the leather on the 2013 pair takes on a smooth appearance and the red is slightly brighter than it should be.
Three years later, the shoe resurfaced, sans polyurethane coating, making it Jordan Brand's closest approximation to the original.
The black/red Jordan 6 has a strange history, one so curious that Nike SNKRS used its "Inside The Vault" series to chronicle the six variations in which the shoe has been released.
While each of the five releases since 1991 differs from the original, the 2014 edition was the most disheartening for Jordan fans. The reflective component of the upper was presented in the same manner as the original, but that's where the similarities end. The '14 model featured Jumpman Air branding on the heel as well as a Jumpman on the lace lock and insole, as opposed to Nike Air. Further, the Durabuck material used for the upper felt more synthetic (i.e., cheaper), and the puffy, pod-like shapes at the ankles were much smaller. Worst of all, the shade of red (referred to as "Infrared 23" on the SNKRS app) was brighter than any red incorporated into previous versions and closer to fluorescent pink.
Earlier this year, though, fans were treated to the return of the 6 with Nike Air branding, reflective details and a proper shade of infrared that mirrors the shoe's debut.
With rumors that the Jordan 1 will be returning in its original form (i.e., same shape, height and colors as in 1985), Jordan Brand's streak of releasing historically accurate retros appears to be alive and well. While there was some doubt as to whether the Remastered program's price hike would alienate consumers, the "instant" sellouts of most of the sneakers above prove that connoisseurs are willing to pay a premium if that means their favorite Jordans are brought back in all their glory.
Anteneh Gebre is a freelance writer covering fashion and sneakers. His work can be seen at Grailed.com.