Peter Moore, who helped revolutionize sneaker culture in the mid-1980s with his design of the remarkably popular Nike Air Jordan, died April 29 in Portland, Oregon. He was 78.
His wife, Christina, confirmed the death, in a hospital. She was not sure of the cause, she said, but noted that he had Parkinson’s disease and Ménière’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear.
Moore was part of a small group of Nike executives who began working with Michael Jordan shortly after he was chosen third overall in the 1984 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls out of the University of North Carolina. Their signature creation was the Air Jordan 1, a basketball sneaker that became a sales phenomenon soon after its release in 1985. Since then, there has been a new iteration every year (it’s up to XXXVI), even after Jordan’s retirement in 2003, and the shoe has become a valuable collectible.
“It represents a watershed moment, bringing sneaker culture and sneaker interest to a broader audience,” Elizabeth Semmelhack, creative director at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto and curator of the 2013 exhibition “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture,” said by phone.
Moore designed the shoe with input from Jordan, who craved one that would be exciting and low to the ground so that he could feel the floor. One of its major features was a pocket of compressed air in its sole, to cushion impact.
But its colors — along with the Nike swoosh — were what truly made the shoe stand out.
“The idea was to break the color barrier in footwear,” Moore wrote in his book “Peter Moore: A Portfolio” (1995). “Prior to that, 99% of shoes were white or black, so I decided to design a shoe that would really take color well. And the colors were red, black and white.
“I didn’t pick those colors. That’s the colors of the Chicago franchise.”
According to Moore, Jordan was not happy with the red, black and white combination, calling it “the devil’s colors” because it was the color scheme worn by teams at longtime UNC rival North Carolina State. He preferred the Carolina blue of his college uniform.
But the three colors stuck, and Nike widely advertised the sneaker throughout Jordan’s rookie season, when he averaged 28.2 points a game and was voted rookie of the year. The shoe, made of premium leather, was released to stores in March 1985 in two variations — red, black and white (the “Game Shoe”), and red and black (“The Outlaw”) — and sold for $65 (the equivalent of about $175 today; Air Jordans are now listed at $185 on the Nike website).
Sales of the sneaker that first year totaled $126 million, far beyond Nike’s expectations, David Falk, Jordan’s agent, said in a phone interview.
The shoes were adorned with a logo that was also created by Moore: a winged basketball with the words “Air Jordan” arcing over it. The idea for the logo came to Moore in a meeting in 1984 in Washington with Falk and Rob Strasser, Nike’s vice president and director of marketing.
When Falk suggested the name Air Jordan, to reflect the way Jordan seemed to soar and hang in the air, Moore made some rough sketches. He then made refinements during the flight back to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, after spotting a child passenger with a set of captain’s wings on his shirt.
“The flight attendant had just given it to him, so I said, ‘Can I have a pair of those wings?’” he told Slam magazine in 2018. “She gave me the wings, and I sat down and started drawing the wings. I put a basketball in the middle of them.”
Moore also designed the Air Jordan 2, with Bruce Kilgore; the Nike Dunk basketball shoe, which later became popular among skateboarders; and the Jumpman logo, which he created in 1987 as a more sophisticated successor to the winged basketball. The Jumpman, a dramatic Jordan silhouette adapted from a Life magazine photograph, shows Jordan in flight, his legs wide apart, a ball in his left hand.
Jumpman remains a symbol of the Jordan Brand of footwear and apparel, which accounted for $4.7 billion of Nike’s $44.5 billion in revenues in its 2021 fiscal year.
Peter Colin Moore was born Feb. 21, 1944, in Cleveland. His father, Raymond, was a career Navy officer. His mother, Mary (Jameson) Moore, was a homemaker.
After graduating from the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design in 1969, he worked for a design studio, which he eventually acquired. He moved to Portland in 1972 and spent a year there as creative director of the paper company Georgia-Pacific. He then opened a design studio in the city and landed Nike as a client several years later. He joined the company as creative director in 1983.
After four years at Nike, Moore teamed up with Strasser and his wife, Julie, in their consulting business, Sports Inc., which did extensive work with German-based company Adidas. Adidas acquired their company in 1993, renaming it Adidas America. The company’s goal was to resuscitate the Adidas footwear and apparel brand, which in recent years had fallen behind Nike, Reebok and other companies in North America.
“Rob and Peter played off each other’s strengths,” Strasser said in a phone interview. “They were very tight and had everything in common when it came to understanding sports brands. They knew what made Nike tick and what made Adidas tick.”
When Strasser died in October 1993, Moore was promoted from creative director to president, but he stepped down in about 1995 and went back to being creative director.
Among his achievements with Adidas, as a consultant and then as an executive, were the introduction of the EQT line of sneakers and sportswear, which was lauded for returning Adidas to its roots, and the creation of a new corporate logo that took the familiar three stripes that had adorned the sides of Adidas sneakers and redeployed them into the shape of a mountain. It is now Adidas’ primary logo.
He also signed Denver Nuggets rookie center Dikembe Mutombo to a signature shoe-and-apparel deal in 1992 and was involved four years later in Kobe Bryant’s deal with Adidas.
Moore left Adidas in 1998 and formed What’a Ya Think Inc., a consultancy, where he continued to work with Adidas as well as with Bally and startups such as Blueview, a company that makes biodegradable shoes.
In addition to his wife, who was Christine Hummel when he married her, Moore is survived by his sons, Hagen, Dylan and Devin; four granddaughters; a sister, Mary-lin Ryan; and a brother, Michael.