MILAN — Basketball fans and hypebeasts are likely to rush to the new Jordan Brand store, which opens here Friday.
Located in the buzzy Via Torino, a few steps from Milan’s iconic Duomo cathedral, the store marks the brand’s first unit in the country as well as the worldwide debut of the label’s new retail concept, “World of Flight.”
A tribute to basketball culture and a shrine to the game, the 3,907-square-foot location carries men’s, women’s and kids’ collections across apparel, footwear and accessories and offers a retail experience hinged on storytelling, community-building and empowered by elevated customization and pickup services and member-only events.
The epicenter of the experience is the Flight Lounge, a space that invites customers to explore and reconnect with the roots of the brand and celebrate its legacy, as it features iconic imagery of Michael Jordan’s career and a display of OG Jordan products.
With its cozy, circular shape, the area is emblematic of the brand’s mission to engage with the local community and encourage them to gather, spend some time IRL and talk about the shared passion for basketball, sneakers and overall streetwear culture.
During a press preview on Thursday, Jordan Brand’s president Craig Williams underscored that the store’s concept is not intended to be just about products, designs and collaborations but also “real conversations that can happen with local consumers, with people that make up this community… We want to be a part of those conversations.”
Orbiting the Flight Lounge are walls displaying the brand’s sneakers — including the iconic Air Jordan 1 sneakers introduced to the public in 1985 — and a Snkrs pick-up window securing an elevated experience for members. Next to it, a customization area will enable customers to personalize products within the AJ1 and Flight Jacket franchises, picking up favorite shoe laces, patches, pins and accessories as well as printing initials on sneakers. A sneaker preservation program will support members through education and services to enable them to extend the life of their Jordans, too.
Across the store, digital screens offer tools to further engage with customers and give previews of upcoming drops, while upon entrance, the store is divided into multiple areas to spotlight different collections. This includes launches exclusive to the store, like the “23 Engineered” line, and special collaborations, such as the one with the Paris Saint-Germain football club or featuring Mia Lee’s bold illustrations. A wall displays special T-shirts printed with photographs of basketball hoops in Milan’s parks by Tom D Morgan and hoodies bearing the geographic coordinates of the store.
Over the years the brand has collaborated with everyone from Supreme and Off-White to A Ma Maniere, Travis Scott and Billie Eilish. Williams didn’t exclude that a future one could spring from Italy, too, but for the moment the company tapped local talents for the store design. For example, it collaborated with Milan-based artist and illustrator Stefano Sumo to deliver a unique visual identity and artworks specifically for the unit.
If the choice of Milan to launch the new store concept might sound off to many fans, Williams listed more than one reason for the move.
“The brand has roots in Italy,” he said, mentioning Michael Jordan’s famously shattering the backboard in 1985 — “and that’s now you know a story that lives forever, right?”
“And the AJ2, the second signature shoes for Jordan, was actually manufactured here. So we feel like Italy is home from a brand perspective,” continued Williams. “The other thing that I think is important about Milan is that it’s a fashion capital of the world. People come here because they are thinking about what’s new, what will be hot a year or two from now. And when we think about the impact that we want to have with consumers, in the industry, in streetwear, and in culture, too, there are a lot of synergies between our aspirations and everything that Milan represents. So it’s quite natural to introduce the World of Flight [concept] here.”
The executive addressed the exponential growth in attention toward basketball the country has been witnessing over the last decade.
“The game of basketball is known the world over, but the culture of basketball is everything that surrounds the game. It’s the things that happen both on the court and off the court. It’s the attitude or the confidence… those things aren’t transferable to other sports. Those things include elements of art, of fashion, music, all of those things… And while Milan may not be the birthplace of basketball, it is a very important epicenter, though, of basketball culture because it moves communities literally around the world,” said Williams.
Sandra Idehen, Jordan Brand’s vice president and general manager, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, confirmed the company has “seen incredible performance in Italy.” Zooming out to all Europe, she also mentioned an outstanding performance in France and “fantastic growth” in the U.K.
Commenting on the full area under her scope, she added “there’s growth in all of those pockets… I think basketball is doing incredibly well in our region. If you think of the NBA, for example, three of the top five players actually originating from our region, right?”
Asked if a bigger rollout of the World of Flight format is in the pipeline, both Williams and Idehen reiterated that the focus is fully on Milan for now. “World of Flight is a new design expression for us. This is the very first one and we’re excited about it and we’re going to learn a lot based on the opening and based on consumers’ interaction over the next several months, several years even,” said Williams, while Idehen echoed “we’ve brought so many new experiences here that we want to make sure we can learn and understand.”
As reported, Jordan Brand already operates stores in Asia and is expected to open its first units in the U.S. next year. An opening in Manila in November 2020 has been a home run, but the retail footprint also includes South Korea, where Jordan opened a store in Hongdae in 2017, and another in Gangnam-gu in 2020.
“We have a store in Dubai Mall, as well,” said Idehen. “The incredible thing is that streetwear culture and basketball culture are present across the world. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s small, but you will always find it and the most important thing is that when you find those communities, that consumers have such a deep bond to our brand.”
This level of loyalty has been pushing the label’s performance to record levels. The brand posted sales of $4.7 billion in fiscal 2021 alone, an increase of 31 percent over the prior fiscal year. That marked its biggest year ever with double-digit growth in every region.
“There is an aspect of the brand that we believe is identifiable with consumers,” said Williams when asked to comment on the brand’s momentum. “What Michael did is [taking] flight to another level. He pushed himself to reach the highest of heights and regardless of whether you’re a basketball player or just a person that wants to bring out the best in yourself, those attributes of the brand are easily recognized. We believe that relevancy in today’s world is as powerful, if it not more, than when Michael laced up the Air Jordan 1.”
More pragmatically, Williams credited his team’s work in pushing the brand beyond just footwear. “Apparel is growing 60 percent this past year, the women’s business has tripled as of 2022, and international markets are also growing very aggressively, alongside a very healthy growth in North America and the U.S. So we believe that all of those things combined put us in a really good position to carry that momentum into 2023,” said the executive, who assumed the role in January 2019.
“The women’s business is a focus for us globally… Obviously we are starting from a smaller base, but we want to make sure we’re being very intentional in the new spaces we build and everything we do,” confirmed Idehen. Cue to the female mannequin in a velour tracksuit at the entrance of the Milan store, strategically positioned to “make sure this is a space that’s welcoming for her as well.”
Williams said the company will continue to invest in the category as he believes “that we’re only scratching the surface,” and noted that the assortment in Milan is one of the best worldwide.
On top of this, the executive also sees potential in the full-family offering, signaled at the store by the showcases for men’s, women’s and kids’ sneakers together.
The store is owned and operated by Percassi Group, known for its beauty brand Kiko Milano and its role in bringing the likes of Victoria’s Secret and Starbucks to the Italian market. Incidentally, the space next to the Jordan Brand store is also operated by the company, which recently opened a Starbucks unit there — and it should come in handy for all those sneakerheads queuing up waiting to get inside the Jordan Brand store this winter.