We all have a little whisper inside us that tells us what we’re excited about long before we fully realize it. For Michael Mack, that interest is sneakers. His love of shoes was sparked at a young age when his older brother introduced him to sneakers and fashion while they were growing up in Goose Creek, South Carolina. Growing up, Mack became obsessed with how shoes transcended culture and lifestyle. This enthusiasm eventually evolved into a calling that guided his career path. He has put his design skills into practice for brands such as Roberto Cavalli, Under Amour, Pyer Moss and Dr. Martens, while at the same time developing a thorough understanding of the details of the footwear industry. Now Mack is a professor at the acclaimed Savannah College of Art and Design, where he hopes to inspire the next generation of shoe and accessory creatives.
Mack has seen, designed and fallen in love with many different silhouettes in his day, but one he keeps running back to is the Air Jordan 13. Ever since he first saw a pair, he has always seen the model as a dynamic piece of art. The cushiony upper and black cat-inspired holograms are his favorite elements, and he praises the model for the swagger it possesses on the hardwood and on the street. For this episode of Any friendsShortly after Mack launched AMLGM, a collection of custom footwear, Hypebeast spoke to the veteran designer about his compelling career, his favorite Air Jordan 13 details, his favorite designer and more. Consider this the return of the Mack.
Who or what put you in the shoes?
My brother. Being older than me, he had a job and money to buy nice sneakers and made me want to buy some for myself. He always skated in Jordans. I loved that he never really followed mainstream trends and paired a vintage Blackhawks jersey with wide-leg pants and Air Jordan 4s. His style was eclectic.
What silhouettes did you really love growing up?
I really liked Penny Hardaway’s line. I was a big fan of his playing and his kicks. I thought they were all well designed and had great details. I loved the Nike Air Ups he was rocking in the Lil Penny commercial. The “Orlando” colorway of that shoe that was interspersed with white and black uppers is still one of my favorite pairs. I also loved it when he later came out with the Foamposites.
What was sneaker culture like for you growing up in South Carolina?
It wasn’t bad. People didn’t have access to rare shoes back then. Like many other places in America, it was mostly about Nike Air Force 1s and Jordans. international students attending SCAD – that I began to understand the larger scope of “sneaker culture.”
Is that when you started getting serious about collecting?
Yup. Since I had a job at the time, I was able to buy more things and I probably collected about 40 pairs in college. I remember shopping at the local malls like Foot Locker and Athlete’s Foot, sometimes standing outside the store before opening, waiting for Agent Dunks when first come, first served. When I finally moved to New York, that number grew to about 115 pairs.
You loved Pennys, but chose the Air Jordan 13 as your Sole Mates selection. Do you remember the first time you saw this model and what your reaction was?
Yes. I remember a high school friend’s older brother had a pair of Air Jordan 13s in the “Flint” colorway and I was always jealous of him. He would always rock them and hoop them in and I would be a little mad about him running them into the ground.
What about the Air Jordan 13 appeals to you from a design perspective?
That little hologram has always been an iconic element to me, it’s such a nice detail that draws you in. Everyone recognizes the collar hologram, but I also love that the outsoles also have a hologram. The 3M fabric is a nice touch along with the pillow effect cushions. They always reminded me of a really comfy sofa, and they felt really comfortable to ball into too.
You brought the “Red Flint” and “Chinese New Year” colorways here. How about this makeup that catches your eye?
I was struck by this “Red Flint” iteration because it was different. I was so used to seeing Jordans in the standard black and red color scheme, but the gray and white accents were super clean. They almost reminded me of how Jordan moved on the court. It almost seemed like he just floated through the game.
On the other hand, I love how the “Chinese New Year” pair is such an unusual colorway. Air Jordan 13s don’t normally come in full suede, so this was a nice design change, and I love how beige, cream, and strong pink are grouped together. I also feel these fit my fashion background as these materials are often found on items like loafers and handbags [Besides shoes, Mack has experience teaching accessory design]. I’ve also lived and worked in China, so I have fond memories of the culture and Chinese New Year celebrations there. All those experiences come together on this one shoe.
Are there any other Air Jordan 13 colorways you’d like to see return?
The classic “Bred” colorway will always be my favorite Air Jordan 13, so I definitely need to get my hands on that one. And I don’t just want to own them – oddly enough I want to play with them because my best friend had a pair when we used to play rec league and I want to have that experience for myself. If I get that and the all-black pair, I’ll be fine.
Did you always know you wanted to be a sneaker designer?
In college I switched from architecture to industrial design. And then I started enjoying the process of sketching, designing and making things. Then I remembered looking in my closet at the shoeboxes I had piled up there one day, and it just clicked for me at that moment.
I also remember seeing this video of a professor who taught at Parsons dissecting a Jordan shoe and comparing it to one of Stephon Marbury’s Starbury shoes on ESPN’s 20/20 which really intrigued me. I contacted him and flew to New York for a week to sit in the back of his class and gain all the knowledge I could possibly get. That confirmed my decision to continue this career.
Who is your favorite designer?
Yohji Yamamoto. If you look at the way he builds his collections, most of the material is black. He focuses on shape and silhouette. If you can make something look good without color, you’ve done something. You can’t rely on material and color to carry everything and I’ve always tried to incorporate that into my work. I’ve always admired how he looks at the overall silhouette and pays attention to composition and how things are placed. And he just keeps evolving and getting better as he gets older. What he’s done from a fashion perspective and brought that to the upper echelon of sneaker culture is timeless.
What personal qualities have given you staying power in this industry?
I am super easy going and have learned that as long as you are kind and respectful to people you will go far. God has blessed me with the talent to create, but staying humble, consistently performing and having fun are all part of it.
Why are sneakers and their stories important to you?
Sneakers have evolved like that. They are no longer used solely for functionality, but are now products that impact culture. The stories behind sneakers now serve as a vehicle of how people express themselves. The pairing and timeliness of Michael Jordan and Tinker Hatfield, and everything the duo have done for sneaker culture, is a good example of this. The shoe now speaks for the person.