Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 27 September 2020

Why people are so excited about the Dh8,079 Dior Air Jordans: the future of luxury?

These limited-edition sneakers were hard to buy, and could be the start of a new era in the high-end market

Models wearing the Air Dior capsule collection. Courtesy Dior
Models wearing the Air Dior capsule collection. Courtesy Dior

When Kim Jones, creative director of Dior Men’s, offered a glimpse of a collaboration between Dior and Nike on the autumn 2020 runway, the sneakerhead world went into meltdown.

The real talking point of the capsule collection of ready-to-wear, hats and silks was – and still is – the sneaker.

Called the Air Jordan 1 OG Dior, it marks the first tie-up between Dior and the Jordan brand. But naturally, this being Dior, it is fashioned from the finest calf skin, in a palette of elegant grey and white, with the Nike swoosh now rendered in Dior monogram.

On the Dior site, Jones explains why this project happened. “I love mixing together different worlds, different ideas – Jordan Brand and Dior are both emblematic of absolute excellence in their fields. To bring them together in this special collaboration is to propose something exciting and truly new.”

The limited edition Air Jordan 1 OG Dior being made. Courtesy Dior
The limited edition Air Jordan 1 OG Dior being made. Courtesy Dior

In short, this is not just another high-end sneaker, which luxury brands have been making for some time now. It is produced as a limited-edition and is extremely hard to get hold of. And in launching a reconfigured Air Jordan, a perennial favourite among trainer collectors, Jones ensured the entire sneakerhead universe would be clamouring at Dior's door.

Initially slated to launch in March, the release of the sneaker was repeatedly pushed back, first due to the pandemic and then because of anti-racism riots (which rendered the release of a high-end sneaker tone deaf). But on Thursday, June 25, the sneakers finally went on sale.

The customer, too, benefits from small runs, preferably numbered, guaranteeing both provenance and potential resale value

Like the Louis Vuitton and Supreme collaboration in 2017 (also masterminded by Jones, then menswear designer at the French maison), this wasn’t simply a matter of stock hitting shelves. Instead, would-be customers had to register their details via a Dior micro-site built just for the occasion, nominate their nearest Dior Boutique, and then select one – yes just one – pair, priced at a not insignificant $2,200 (Dh8,079) for the high-top version, and $2,000 (Dh7,345) for the low. Finally, the desired size had to be stated.

Available on a strictly first-come first-served basis, once registered, customers then had to wait, as registration itself was no guarantee of reserving a pair. Despite going live in the dead of night (2am UAE time), within hours the site was closed again, and reports are surfacing that up to a million people tried to register.

The "winners" of the online raffle, those chosen to be able to buy a pair, will be notified on Wednesday, July 1, and will be sent a unique QR code that must be presented, with matching photo ID, to the pre-nominated boutique, where the requested pair will be waiting.

A pair of limited edition Air Jordan 1 OG Dior sneakers being made. Courtesy Dior
A pair of limited edition Air Jordan 1 OG Dior sneakers being made. Courtesy Dior

Like the Vuitton / Supreme collaboration before it, where pieces turned up online at vastly inflated prices, we can assume a lively resale market for these sneakers will spring up on Thursday July 2.

So frenzied is interest, that before Wednesday's release, a pair of the Jordan OG 1 Dior sneakers was already on the specialist resale site StockX for $25,000 (Dh91,800), suggesting either an influencer was selling a pair gifted to them, or someone was feeling extremely confident about the raffle.

Meanwhile, three years after selling out, Farfetch is now offering a second-hand bag from the Vuitton and Supreme collection for almost Dh77,000.

I was once jokingly told by a Kuwaiti socialite that in the three years since requesting a Birkin, she had had three children, but was still waiting for her bag

This robust resale market suits the brands, of course, and though they may not profit from it, the kudos it offers in terms of mystique is priceless.

Likewise, the sparcity of details given out about the shoes: even on the micro site, there was no mention of how many pairs would be available, and to date the only clue has been via online posts by Jean Carlos, a self titled "sample specialist/collector", of a pair (presumably gifted to him for precisely this purpose) numbered 2058/8,500, suggesting the run, of the high tops at least, may be limited to just 8,500 pairs.

Why such a small number? In the words of James Jebbia, founder of Supreme and the man who single-handedly invented the concept of the limited-edition drop: “If we can sell 600, I make 400.” An expert at whipping up interest, Jebbia knows how to build expectation, to the point where his collections sell out in under a minute. The brand's skull pile bomber jacket series was gone in a record five seconds.

While many brands use the tried and tested method of withholding availability to drive up demand, the true master in the high-end arena is Hermes. For its coveted Birkin bag, a customer is invited to "express an interest" in obtaining one, and if they are lucky, will be contacted a few years down the line and informed that their bag is ready.

Anecdotally, I was once jokingly told by a Kuwaiti socialite that in the three years since requesting a Birkin, she had had three children, but was still waiting for her bag. True or not, it demonstrates that customers are willing to wait, perhaps for years, for the right items.

This is why, when Dior womenswear creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri released the “Je suis feministe” T-Shirt, production was limited to 40,000, despite being able to sell many times that number.

This is why Balenciaga can sell out $800 hoodies, scrawled with slogans such as "May the bridges I burn light the way". Produce 100,000, and everyone has the opportunity to buy one. Produce only 5,000 and watch your audience self-combust.

Luxury x Streetwear: can it be a sustainable partnership?

What marks this collaboration between Nike and Dior out, is Dior sits at the very top of the luxury pyramid, and so, has a lot at stake. Although Jones is undoubtedly the driving force, his decision to pair up with Jordan and Stussy (another streetwear brand) marks a major shift for the house, as he pushes into the new territory of streetwear affiliations.

For Louis Vuitton, a streetwear collaboration feels almost natural. With its wider market appeal (Vuitton is still the highest-selling luxury brand), reaching out to a younger, more "street" clientele is a savvy move, and is why Off-White designer Virgil Abloh was hand-picked to take over from Jones when he departed for Dior in 2018.

Vuitton's great strength is its visibility, making it perfectly suited to high-profile collaborations. For a house such as Dior, known for its discreet quality, it becomes a much more nuanced step.

But are these numbered, strictly controlled releases the new road map for luxury? Will we see more and more collaborations that create a small number of pieces that are offered out to a tiny percentage of customers? By partnering with a famous name, high-end brands can fast track into a new market, while, in return, the other partner gains from its association with a luxury house.

The customer, too, benefits from small runs, preferably numbered, guaranteeing both provenance and potential resale value.

For years, luxury brands have known that discreetly emailing a client about a new launch, works. What they are now learning is that the younger audience has been raised on a diet of unannounced, limited-edition 1am product drops by the likes of Supreme and Kanye West. They don't only expect it, but prefer it for the thrill it offers.

In this Dior and Jordan lottery-style sale, where winner takes all, it seems everyone is benefiting. The sneaker resale market (valued in 2017 at an estimated $62.5 billion by Statista) now has new products to lust over, while Nike gets a boost to its already vast empire.

Dior will impact on a new, feverish audience, while Air Jordan, the brand of basketball legend Michael Jordan, will be left flying high. All that remains to be seen, is if the rest of the luxury world has the courage to follow.

Dior was contacted about this story, and as per company guidelines, declined to comment.

Updated: July 1, 2020 04:29 PM

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