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Air Jordan 3Lab5: Inside the Lab

July 16, 2013by Aaron Kr.
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When thinking back on some of the most iconic materials, patterns and prints in sneaker history, it’s clear that the Air Jordan line is in a category all by itself when it comes to blazing trails and setting trends for years to come. With each new model in the lineage, the Air Jordan series has pushed and evolved footwear design in bold new directions and the rest of the sneaker industry has always taken note and followed suit. Nowadays, you can find design cues that originated with the Air Jordan catalog present on all different types of shoes from just about any brand you can think of.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Nike/Jordan Brand has usually taken these recurring incidents of sneaker plagiarism in stride, content in setting new bars and watching the competition scramble to keep up. After all, in most cases, you can’t claim ownership of a color or a type of leather or a certain pattern,

so like in any industry, there will always be competitors eager to follow the lead of those sitting at the top of the creative food chain.

Now almost 30 years deep, the Air Jordan line has a track record that speaks for itself, but there’s something to be said for getting credit where it’s due. This fall, Jordan Brand will drop some knowledge on the sneaker game by way of a new premium collection that pays homage to the history of the line and the groundbreaking design achievements that were introduced along the way. With 2013 being the “Year of the V”, it makes perfect sense for the Air Jordan 3Lab5 to be the shoe to kick things off. While photos have been floating around for a while, the full story has yet to be told, so go inside “the lab” with Sneaker News Select for everything you wanted to know about the 3Lab5 and the Air Jordan Elements collection.


Beginning with the 3Lab5, Jordan Brand’s latest premium collection is about claiming ownership of the design elements introduced, or in some cases popularized, by the Air Jordan line. Whether it be the Elephant print from the III, the Cement speckle from the IV, or patent leather on the XI, these thoughtful design touches have not only become icons of the Jordan heritage, but have also been “borrowed” by countless other brands since their original Air Jordan debut. The Air Jordan Elements collection pinpoints these design milestones by creating a periodic table of elements based

on each Jordan model’s contribution to the sneaker world. Each element is then assigned a corresponding number. For example, the Elephant (JB chemical compound “El”) featured on the 3Lab5 would be element number 3, because its origin was the Air Jordan III in 1988. The idea is to tell the story of each element by applying it to another classic Air Jordan model and shining a spotlight on its place in sneaker history. Element 3 has been showcased on the Air Jordan V, hence the designation 3Lab5.


The Elements Lab is not about creating Fusion models, it’s about education. The Air Jordan Elements series is a sneaker history lesson of sorts – a reminder to the younger generation as well as the sneaker veterans of where these design landmarks originated. You won’t find a basketball shoe pre-dating the Air Jordan V that had a full reflective tongue and you’ll be even more hard pressed to find one that used a woven upper prior to the release of the Air Jordan XV. Many have followed, but these shoes were the first,

and that creativity and ingenuity that has always been attached to Air Jordan sneakers is being formally recognized here in a way that will make it clear once and for all exactly who was responsible for first bringing such inspired offerings to the table. The Air Jordan line has always strived to up the ante with each annual release, and with that diligence has come a variety of forward-thinking innovations that will now be revisited through this new chemistry-themed premium collection.


Aside from just reinforcing these brand stories, this new series also serves as the most luxury-minded capsule seen from Jordan Brand since the well received (yet presently hibernating) Bin 23 Premio series. The 3Lab5 is what Jordan Brand refers to as an “elevated” product, meaning that special considerations have been made in the construction, materials and packaging to ensure that these releases stand out from the pack in terms of premium execution

and prestige within the Air Jordan hierarchy. Featuring a supple leather lining and all-over elephant print molded upper, the 3Lab5 takes things up a notch from anything we’ve ever seen done on an Air Jordan Retro, and that’s exactly the kind of confident statement that Jordan Brand is aiming for as they celebrate the storied heritage of the brand with this new collection.


The Elements collection will focus on premium execution across the board, and for some models, that may include a complete redesign of the shoe’s construction. We’ve seen large areas of elephant print dominating a Jordan upper before with the various “Flip III” editions, so when it came time to apply all that elephant to the 3Lab5, a fresh take was needed to push the boundaries even

further. Developers Derek Yep, Ben Kirschner and the JB design team came up with a modern new look for the Air Jordan V, using a molded one-piece section that covers the majority of the upper and instantly separates itself from anything that’s ever been seen on the now 23-year old model.


As the most legendary of all Air Jordan design elements, elephant print made for a logical starting point for this new endeavor. No other Air Jordan characteristic has had more cultural impact and influence. We’ve seen elephant print make its way onto countless Jordans and Nikes, as well as a slew of unmistakable facsimiles

used by other brands, but we all know where it started – Tinker Hatfield and the Air Jordan III. Now, the “El” (Elephant) compound in the table of Air Jordan elements will sit proudly amongst its peers as the most potent of them all.


There is no similar shade of blue found on any of the original Air Jordan IIIs or Vs, so what’s its significance to the concept? JB designers approached the project with clear intent to avoid creating something that would be seen as just another mash-up or fusion. The shoes needed to have their own identity rather than just revisiting Bulls color schemes and things of that nature. Several

concepts were thrown around and it was the one featuring Gamma Blue that wound up catching everyone’s eye. The original concept behind that color combo was eventually abandoned, but the Gamma Blue stuck around as a clear-cut favorite of all who saw the early samples.


As you’ve seen, the 3Lab5 features an embossed graphic on the leather behind the tongue displaying the actual Air Jordan periodic element for Elephant:

3 (Air Jordan III)
El (Elephant)
1988 (Release year).

In addition to the element being featured on the shoe, Jordan Brand will be going the extra mile with special packaging that actually lays out the Air Jordan Periodic Table of Elements, so everyone can brush up on their sneaker history with a reminder of just who paved the way for so many longstanding trends and innovations. This concept will also serve as motivation for the designers working on each new yearly Air Jordan model to contribute a new element to the table and take its place among the others in sneaker immortality.


How far through the list of the Air Jordan Elements this collection will go is yet to be determined, but we know for sure that the Elephant V will soon have company on the way. As you may have heard, the follow up to the 3Lab5 will be a 5Lab3 edition of the Air Jordan III. This version will pay tribute to the Reflective element,

derived from the tongue of the Air Jordan V. You can expect a healthy dose of reflective 3M on the upper and who knows what other surprises may be in store. You’ll have to be patient for your chance to get your hands on a pair of those IIIs, but the 3Lab5 will be here before you know it.


Currently scheduled for a September 21st release, the 3Lab5 colorway of the Air Jordan V will carry a $250 pricetag when it hits select retailers in limited quantities.

Stay tuned to Sneaker News for any and all updates along the way, and get ready to catch up on your Air Jordan chemistry.