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Nike KD VI Designer Leo Chang Talks Meteorology, Pricing, Precision Watches & More

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During the KD 6 Unveiling yesterday at the Seat Pleasant Activity Center, Nike designer Leo Chang played a unique and necessary role by providing the design-anchored insight on the Nike KD VI. After all, he’s the one who was responsible for completing such a heavy task – one that required the incorporating of a laundry list of details while keeping Nike’s innovative spirit at heart. Throughout six models, Leo Chang has brought Durant’s emotional hometown upbringing to life, using his next-level designs as the vessels to the communicate the story. But Leo’s a wordy guy who loves to talk about KD and the shoes, so during the unveiling event, we sat down for an in-depth chat session to explore the shoes, the colorways, the inspiration, and much more.

If you’ve been following our ongoing interviews with Leo (most recently the Nike Elite 2.0 Series and the Nike KD V), it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to you that his ability to convey his ideas is just a reflection of his total immersion in the KD line. Due to the limited time, we only got to point out the firstmost aspects of the Nike KD VI that you, the reader, might be curious to know more about, but as expected, Leo provided all the answers we were looking for – the design function of the asymmetrical tongue, the $130 price-point, and much more. The Nike KD VI is ready to launch soon, with the DC/Pre-Heat hitting tomorrow in limited numbers and globally on July 3rd, so find out more about the KD VI below and stay tuned to Sneaker News for continued exclusive coverage of the Nike KD VI Unveiling in Seat Pleasant, MD.

Many thanks to Leo Chang and Nike Basketball.

Sneaker News: There’s obviously a high level of trust between you and Kevin Durant. But when you went for such a drastic change from the high cut in the KD V to the super-low cut in the KD VI, was there any sort of hesitation or even concern on your part?

Leo Chang: No, I wasn’t worried at all. The KD IV was pretty low, and the Elite V was low, and I thought, all in all, there weren’t any issues and he has some really strong ankles. He has a really good training staff that doesn’t believe in too much ankle-taping unless they really needed it, and I study his foot anatomy. So I wasn’t too worried about that.

SN: As you stated before during the presentation, as long as you’re healthy, a high or a low cut wouldn’t matter. With that said, and considering your role at Nike Basketball, do you see that lower-cut design being a point where the designs will gravitate towards?

LC: We definitely create a range of products, from Lows to Highs, and whatever’s the most protective. Like the LeBron X – it’s really robust and has a very protective upper and the smooth ride underneath. That’s what LeBron needs – something like the Hyperposite. And then there’s the other end of the spectrum in Kobe Bryant, where his shoe is almost like a sock. Pretty much any player or kid can choose exactly what they want.

SN: The design of the shoe is certainly a drastic change from the KD V and Elite. Obviously the Max Air on the heel returned, but let’s talk about the asymmetrical tongue and the skewed lacing system.

LC: That’s actually kind of funny. I read a lot of the comments and people were saying “oh, it looks like a soccer shoe”, and it sorta does, but that wasn’t intentional in any way. That came from the construction idea. You can see that the laces are in fact asymmetrical – the laces here (medial side) are shorter than the laces here (lateral). This portion (pointing to the base of the tongue at the midpoint of the toe-box) is the most flexible portion of the foot, so moving the pressure away from that area also removes a lot of layers; conventional tongues have a lot of layers and materials

and having a lot material stacked in that area is really bad. You can feel it on Retro shoes because the upper just rubs on top of your foot.

A lot of basketball players that play in the shoes – the tongue will just move and shift to the side and create some discomfort. So the idea here (the asymmetrical tongue) is to anchor it down in one spot. It’s one less element of distraction, and what KD’s always talked about is this light and tight fit, and conventional tongues create spaces between the tongue and the shoe. With this asymmetrical construction, the upper really hugs the foot and even this external cable that you lace through allows the upper to hug the foot even more. That’s what really drove this construction.

SN: So the shifting of the tongue and the two-piece upper construction that really takes away that pressure and stress at the toe-box – is that what you deem the standard for all types of players considering Kevin Durant is a five-position player?

LC: If you think about what type of player Kevin is – that’s a huge range. That’s what we try to keep in mind, because with the Kobe, it’s pushed to the limit of the super-lightweight and minimal kind of thing, and even the underfoot may not even be enough for most people. So with the KD upper, we know that we can kinda contain the foot with a really minimal upper with Flywire locking the foot down and get this really close-to-the-foot fit, but we want to make sure that there’s enough under here (the midsole). Just knowing KD and talking to his trainers in the past, just watching him play, and knowing his foot morphology, I know that he can benefit from more stability and a little more rigidity in the midfoot, cushioning on the heel, and in some ways creating the total package.

SN: The herringbone traction is again a major focal point in the KD shoe. Anything you want to elaborate on – except for the fact that the hexagonal pattern coincides with this being the sixth shoe?

LC: Yeah what’s cool about this is the Precision Watch notion – well we’d never put a watch face on the side of the shoe, that’s kinda corny, right? With a lot of these manual watches, you can see all the gears and the internal mechanism below the face, and even on the back face you can see it too. So just looking in and reading up on a lot of these watches, the details are incredible! So on the herringbone traction, you get a classic, simple design, but as you get deeper and deeper, you get so much detail and every little thing is considered.

So that’s the thing I brought to the sole traction – you have this hexagonal pattern, but as you look deeper and deeper, you get this sort of macro to micro sort of read, and what you see actually is his pressure map from when he was at the Nike Sports Research Lab last year. We had him in there doing jump-landings, running, walking, and all that stuff, so that’s his foot pressure map in there. You see the balls of his feet, his big toe, his heel, and so on. When you think signature shoes, that’s his signature – his footprint.

SN: Kevin Durant held a lot of pride in having an affordable line of footwear, which started in the $80 range. But now the KD VI retails for $130, and it can be argued that the $130 figure isn’t exactly an “affordable” number. Is the rising price a reflection of his level of esteem, basic economic progression, or is Nike perhaps clearing out that lower price-point for a new signature athlete?

LC: Oh…what are you trying to hint at? (laughs)

SN: You tell me! We have some good guys in mind.

LC: So I think what happened is that – well for one, we want to make sure that as one of the top 3, he’s getting the best technology and innovation that Nike has to offer, and sometimes that means going up and price. But what we’re cautious of is that he’s still in a

decent, acceptable price range. So looking back at the Hyperdunk, it started at $125 and is $140 now, and we sold a ton of pairs of those. We felt like that $130 was a decent place to be, and he’s still the most accessible in terms of signature shoes. And this isn’t something we touched upon today during the presentation, but for China, we created the KD Trey 5 for him in the same season, so that’s sort of an affordable entry point in his collection.

SN: That KD Trey 5 also has that oversized KD logo anchored at the heel with the intricate herringbone traction on the heel, so the linear quality is there.

LC: I was looking at it more like there was a language I wanted to create, but the KD Trey 5 is not a takedown model. It’s just “based” off the signature model.

SN: So here before us we have a bunch of KD VI colorways – the Seat Pleasant, the NYC 66, the Meteorology, the DC Pre-Heat, and this iD version. Which of these are you drawn to the most?

LC: It would definitely have to be between these two – the Maryland/DC Pre-Heat and the Meteorology. You know, the Weatherman concept was always close to me because that was a fun one that really set his signature line to the stratosphere, and Erick Goto (Nike designer) did an amazing job updating it in a fresh and different way. You’ve seen a bunch of people online do customs of it and use it as a theme on a LeBron and whatever, and we’re cool with it, but we wanted to take it to new places.

And this one (the DC/Pre-Heat) was also fun – Goto did an awesome job with this with the Maryland map underneath and the static-y graphic. It really shows the technology of the shoe in a different way – you see the depth and you can really “see inside”.

SN: It’s like the inner guts of the shoe have been flipped inside-out with the exposed tongue padding, the cable that acts as the lace eyelet, etc.

LC: Yeah, exactly – like when you look at a Precision Watch, you see all the gears and all the mechanisms. It just means that every part of the shoe is considered and entirely thought through.