66 The Label – A Ma Maniére is having itself a year. The retailer and creative hub, part of streetwear vet James Whitner’s The Whitaker Group, spent 2021 focusing on a small but impressive run of sneakers designed to prioritize message over product. And they’re saving their best for last, with a new, luxed-up Jordan 1.
Spring saw the release of their first-ever collaboration with Jordan Brand: an Air Jordan 3, designed as homage to Black women and their impact on their community, which became an immediate candidate for Sneaker of the Year. The big thing, though, was not what was released so much as how it was released: the shoe dropped exclusively in women’s sizing, and the Whitaker Group’s stores created a window in which only women would be able to purchase the shoes before anyone else. Late summer saw Social Status, another of Whitner’s brands, drop Nike Dunks in “Chocolate Milk” and “Strawberry Milk” colorways, both socially-minded references to school lunch programs. The group is closing the year out with a bang, delivering its take on what many would consider the pinnacle of the sneaker world. But to Whitner, the brand’s partnership with Jordan Brand isn’t about shoes. It’s about reframing the way we talk about them, and the place they occupy in their lives.
“It’s not about one specific project,” Whitner explained of the Jordan 1 drop. “It’s about having shared values [with Jordan Brand], and in having shared values asking what are the things we can do to continue the conversation and to push for action in what we want to see in the world.”
Like their prior 2021 releases, the upcoming “Airness” Jordan 1 is accompanied by a short film, narrated by Jordan chairman Larry Miller, that hones in on the idea that Black culture is valued over Black lives—and that, despite this, Black people survive. It is, markedly, not really an ad for a sneaker, at least not in the way the way “short films” made to promote collaborative drops so often are. The idea is to reverse the way these things typically operate. “The shoe exists to tell the story,” Whitner says, “More people will pick up the press for the shoe with the video than the video if it stood alone.”
The film opens and closes with the same image: a rose growing through cracks in a concrete sidewalk. This is the story the shoe sets out to tell, with cracked leather adorning the upper that calls to mind cement, both the real kind and the famous print that adorns a select few iconic Jordan colorways. Rich burgundy accents echo the rose. Lastly, A silky quilted lining ups the luxury factor.
The shoe is the crown jewel of a breakout year for the Whitaker Group and A Ma Maniére in particular. Still, if you ask Whitner, this is just the beginning. He is less concerned with accolades than creating change in the Black community and the world at large, focused less on one good year than the next twenty to come. “I don’t think we’ve seen change yet,” he says, “It’s why we’re doubling down. Some people only want to care when George Floyd happens. But if we’re going to change the face of society, we have to be consistent. We have to continue the conversation and take meaningful action.”
The A Ma Maniére Jordan 1 released at the brand’s retail establishments on November 24th, with a wider drop on SNKRS on December 3rd.