With the upcoming release of the ‘What The’ Air Jordan 5, we take a look back at the many uses of the colourway.
Nike and Jordan Brand have used the ‘What The’ colourways for many of their most iconic silhouettes. But what is the idea behind the infamous colourway?. We’ve seen the vibrant pattern consisting of past sneaker designs feature across basketball, skateboarding and even soccer silhouettes.
Some think the sneaker looks ugly with the inconsistent design aspects whilst others love the boldness that comes with owning a ‘What The’ shoe. The resale value of some of these pairs hits the thousands. The What The Dunk being the best example of this.
I take a deep-dive into where the colourway originated from and broke down my favourite pairs from the interesting colourways.
So, how did the ‘What The’ movement start?
The colourway began back in 2007 with the now legendary skateboarding silhouette, the Nike Dunk. An interesting mash-up of previously released Dunk colourways thrown together. The more you look at the Nike Dunk ‘What The’ you begin to spot different aspects of the sneaker you recognise from other silhouettes. Jeff Staples Pigeon comes embroidered on one shoe, whilst the other has the ‘Ray Gun’ Alien on it. The left and right shoe in no way go together, but somehow they perfectly complement each other.
It would be some five years later before the concept returned, but this time to the court. Legend of the game Kobe Bryant was the player to have his signature sure receive the ‘What The’ treatment. Bryant started a trend as this insane colourway would go on to be utilised on many of the leagues best players signature shoes. Over the next few years, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durrant and Lebron James would consistently use the crazy colour schemes for their PE sneakers. That was until Nike brought back the colourway that looked destined to stay in the NBA to the skate scene.
The move back to lifestyle sneakers
Nike re-done the What The Dunk, this time taking over the high version of the sneaker. They named the silhouette the What The Doernbecher and made just eleven pairs that were auctioned off for charity. The sneaker consisted of elements from thirteen previous Nike x Doernbecher releases. This release brought the colourway back into the sneaker scene, but away from sports. Nike would look to capitalise on this and bring the mash-up approach to some of their lifestyle silhouettes.
The list of lifestyle sneakers Nike decided to convert into ‘What The’ silhouettes is astonishing. Air Max 95s, Air Force 1s, Uptempos, if you think of a Nike sneaker you love, chances are it’s had the ‘What The’ makeover. Jordan Brand even got in on the action, with the Air Jordan 4 and Air Jordan 5 both receiving the treatment in recent years.
Not satisfied dominating both the basketball scene and remaking everybody’s favourite Nike and Air Jordan silhouettes, the sportswear powerhouse even turned their attention to football (soccer). The ‘What The’ Mercurial incorporated eighteen different Nike boots to create the eye-catching colourway.
A colourway that started off as so niche and out-of-this-world, has now been used so many times we’ve lost count. To some, the colourway may be overused. Others, however, still love to see the unique medley of past sneakers coming together to create a one of a kind shoe.
I take a look at some of the best ‘What The’ silhouettes we have been seen over the last thirteen years, as well as the upcoming ‘What The’ Air Jordan 5.
‘What The’ Dunk (2007)
As mentioned above, the ‘What The’ Dunk was the sneaker that started it all. A Dunk that borrowed components from thirty-one different Dunk sneakers, the shoe was intentionally outrageous. The intention behind the ridiculous looking shoe was to be the ‘Dunk to end all Dunks’.
Nike only ever offered a minimal amount of pairs to the public for purchase, meaning they were practically impossible to get a hold of them. Public outings by renowned sneakerhead Wale only made the shoe more desirable. If you were hoping to pick up the ‘What The’ Dunk’s after reading this article, be prepared to pay anywhere between £6000 and £7000.
‘What The’ Doernbecher (2015)
The Doernbecher ‘What The’ Dunk was to celebrate the 11th year of the partnership between Nike and the children’s hospital. The sneaker drew inspiration from the thirteen other silhouettes that released from the collaboration. Nike only made eleven pairs and auctioned them on eBay with all the proceeds going directly to the Doernbecher Hospital.
The shoes came with a pair of scrubs from the staff at the children’s hospital, and the shoebox was made from recycled skateboards—a genuine collector’s item.
The sneakers eventually raised over $130,000 for the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital based in Oregon. A great ‘What The’ story.
‘What The’ Air Max 95 Greedy (2015)
On the year of its 20th anniversary, we saw the Air Max 95 receive the ‘What The’ treatment. Also dubbed the Greedy due to its variation of colourways, we saw the sneaker sample four of its OG designs to create this exciting take.
The overall design is less in your face than previous ‘What The’ models, featuring mostly black and grey panelling which is an iconic look for the AM95. Instead, pops of colours from the Neon and Safety Orange pack feature, alongside the Aqua/Grape and Hot Red aesthetics. The resulting sneaker is a lot more wearable than the previous ‘What The’ silhouettes.
You can pick up the Greedy Air Max 95 for around the £300/£400 mark today.
‘What The’ 90s Air More Uptempo (2018)
The Air More Uptempo is a sneaker which divides opinion continuously. Some love the retro sneaker whilst others hate it. Nike looked to capitalise on its 90s roots with this version of the ‘What The’. They covered the classic 1996 silhouette in traditional 90s colours. A mix of orange, teals and purples gracing the shoe.
Nike also added those instantly recognisable scribble marks throughout the upper that look straight out of an OG TV show. This sneaker would not have looked out of place on the set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
‘What The’ Air Force 1: NYC and LA edition (2019)
In 2019 Nike decided to re-do their most legendary sneaker and give it the mismatched treatment. Two pairs would release as part of the ‘City of Athletes’ pack, representing NYC and LA.
The West Coast version would honour the sports teams of LA as well as their graffiti scene. Los Angeles embroidered in script on the heels of the sneaker. The fonts link to LA is due to the incredible work by legendary Cali graffiti artist and tattooist Mr Cartoon over the years.
The East Coast silhouette shared the same concept, with the Big Apple’s sports teams being the main focus. You will find the legendary Yankees pinstripes feature, whilst the Giants, Jets, and Knicks team colours also feature. New York comes plastered across the heel of the sneaker in a traditional graffiti style which you would typically find on the subway.
‘What The’ Air Jordan 4
On the 30th anniversary of the Air Jordan 4, Jordan Brand adopted the ‘What The’ concept and dressed MJ’s legendary silhouette in the colourway.
The mash-up was from four of the sneakers most iconic colourways, the White Cement, Military Blue, Fire Red, and Black Cement. Michael Jordan would wear these four colourways frequently and have all hit grail status amongst sneakerheads. To see the four thrown together for one silhouette was special. The shoe released in a full size run so everybody from kids to adults could flex in the ‘What The’ 4’s.
Probably the most wearable of the entire ‘What The’ pack, pairs now go for around the £300 mark in adult sizes.
‘What The’ Air Jordan 5
Next week we see the return of the ‘What The’ design, this time taking over the Air Jordan 5. The AJ5 is having a moment within the sneaker industry this year. Virgil Abloh’s Off-White releasing two unbelievable versions of the shoe. Nike and Jordan Brand look to capitalise on its current popularity by releasing this eye-catching version of the shoe.
The sneaker borrows design aspects from several previous silhouettes. The Tokyo, Shanghai, Raging Bull, Bel-Air, Laser, Green Bean, Army Olive and Quai 54 colourways all feature. With one shoe red and the other yellow, the heel of each comes embroidered with the emblem from the Tokyo and Shanghai AJ5s. The sock liners borrow the graphic patterns from the Bel-Air and Laser silhouette.
Throwing all of these legendary colourways into one sneaker was guaranteed to turn heads. Expect the What The Air Jordan 5 to be an instant sell-out.
‘What The’ comes next for Nike
Nike is showing no signs of slowing with the ‘What The’ colourways. You can make the argument that the design is oversaturated at this stage. But then they create something so unique like the upcoming AJ5, and that debate suddenly becomes redundant.
I have no problem with them continuing to use the ‘What The’ treatment as long as we continue to see new silhouettes in completely different mash-ups. Perhaps a crossover between silhouettes is next. All I know is I’ll be waiting to see what direction they take it in.
A ‘What The’ Dunk x Air Force 1 anybody?