Given her own personal tie-in to the subject matter, it was easy for costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones to stay true to her source material when overseeing the costumes for the upcoming film “Air.”
A child of the ‘80s and ‘90s and a lifelong fan of NBA star Michael Jordan and the Jordan brand, working on the film was a natural fit for Jones, who worked with a researcher to comb through a large library of documentaries, videos and images of the real-life characters she was helping to portray.
“I love designing period pieces and I love stories that tell the story behind something that blew up and became this cultural canon,” she said. “I love being able to tell stories where people can see behind the scenes of the design process.”
“Air,” which hits theaters on Wednesday, takes place in 1984 as Nike’s fledgling basketball division led by sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro embarks on the risky strategy of signing then-rookie Jordan and creating a brand around the athlete, which ultimately became a history-making deal that revolutionized the sports world.
The Amazon Studios film stars Matt Damon as Vaccaro, Ben Affleck as Nike cofounder and former chief executive officer Phil Knight and Viola Davis as Jordan’s mother Deloris, among others. Affleck also directed the film.
Jones explained that in addition to looking through documentaries and images of the real-life characters, she looked through Nike, Sears and JCPenney catalogues from the early ’80s to help create the film’s costumes. She looked to eBay to help source Nike sneakers that were produced by 1984 and was able to supply the characters with styles like the Nike Waffle, Nike Blazer and Nike Air Pegasus 83.
“What the characters actually wear in the film is pretty limited in terms of there’s way more variety in Nike sneakers and Jordans now,” Jones said. “There were no Jordans back then, so no one was in Jordan anything in the film. There weren’t that many styles of sneakers during that time so it’s very limited. Even the colorways were really limited and we’re lucky that Nike still produces some of those styles, so we were able to buy them present day and repainted them.”
When it came to the clothing, Jones also replicated many of the real-life characters’ actual outfits, particularly for Affleck’s character, who had the most diverse costumes in the film. Affleck is seen in the film wearing several suits that Jones created from deadstock fabric and a red and blue tracksuit paired with Oakley sunglasses, a reference to an exact outfit Knight wore in documentary footage.
Jones also recreated the cream suit and jade brooch Davis wore during the Jordans’ meeting with Nike in Oregon based on images she found from the actual meeting. She explained it was key to recreate that outfit given the importance of the meeting. The meeting came after the family had also met with Adidas and Converse, who were also trying to sign Jordan.
“I recreated that one suit, but the rest of her costumes were creative liberties just based on research of her and Black women during that time in the South and what they were wearing. She was also an executive at a bank, so she would always go to a meeting in suiting,” Jones said. “The Nike [meeting], she didn’t dress up as much. I just wanted it to be a departure from the other meetings because the other meetings they cared a lot more about.”
Jones stuck with a more casual wardrobe of polo shirts and khakis for Damon’s character, as she described the real-life Vaccaro as being “more comfortable at a basketball game than at the office.”
“Matt’s costumes are really great because they aren’t as put together,” she said. “He’s a schleppy guy, but he’s a passionate guy. I just felt like that was a beautiful juxtaposition for him — how he puts everything into his work and his belief in these players and these kids, but he doesn’t really care necessarily about how he looks.”
Overall, Jones thinks because of the film’s subject matter, audiences will appreciate her approach to the costumes.
“In something like this, I think it’s important to recreate some of the looks so people can have a callback and when they start doing their own research they can be like, ‘Oh this is cool,’” she said. “I’m a fan of movies and I like doing that as well.”