SNEAKERS & FASHION

Peter Moore: Remembering a Visual Visionary

The creative director behind the Air Jordan 1, Nike Dunk, & adidas EQT series changed sportswear. However, his most iconic work may not be felt on feet but rather through the wall.

The world lost an innovator when Peter Moore, creative director at Nike in the 1980s and adidas in the 1990s, passed away last week at the age of 78.

Over the course of his illustrious career, Moore made his mark in Beaverton, drafting the iconic Air Jordan Wings logo and Jumpman emblem for Nike. His canvas quickly shifted from shoebox to shoe business, revolutionizing pro basketball through the Air Jordan 1 while starting the same shift in college hoops through the Nike Dunk.

As an encore, he quite literally rebranded, well, a brand. Drafting adidas’ mountain-shaped three-stripe symbol, he modernized a company he once competed against. In doing so, he conquered all categories through the adidas EQT franchise, a range that’s transcended time through tooling, branding, and color palette.

Moore was ahead of his time as an artist, designing a contemporary cache of shoes over 30 years ago. To say Moore was forward-thinking as a businessman is less talked about, but no less true.

The narrative associated with Moore drafting Michael Jordan’s Wings logo on an airplane napkin is well known. The story less shared is Moore’s foresight to encourage Jordan to build his own brand years later in the ’80s. Shortly after the Air Jordan 1 took flight, the creative director parted ways with the Swoosh, while Mike ultimately stayed put.

This fork in the road changed the course of sneaker history, still impacting sportswear’s future. Ahead of his time in ambition, Moore’s departure from Beaverton created the space for Tinker Hatfield to arrive as the Air apparent. Ultimately, their collective catalog later proved strong enough for Mike to have his own Jordan Brand subsidiary, a decade after Moore proposed such a radical concept.

Michael Jordan poster (via Nike, Inc)

In 2022, Peter Moore sneaker designs not only sell by the boatload, they transcend culture from track to trail, Wimbledon to Coachella. Over the course of his career, Moore’s magical ideas have created campaigns tied to Michael Jordan and John McEnroe, later lacing Keyshawn Johnson and Kobe Bryant.

The sneakers, however, are only half the story. Unbeknownst to some, much of Moore’s most spirited work didn’t spark imagination through shoeboxes, but rather through bedroom walls.

Poster Boy

Like any odyssey, Peter Moore’s journey came with promise and pivots.

After a short stint golfing at San Diego State, Moore transferred to Southwestern Junior College to get his grades up and pursue architecture. His professor, Robert Methany, recognized his potential and pointed him to Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.

At art school, he changed course to graphic design, seizing the external opportunities it created.

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“As a graphic designer, you solve your client’s problems,” Moore said in his portfolio. “As a painter, the communication is personal. The problems to solve are your own. A much more difficult situation. That’s why painters suffer.”

Moore’s creative counseling eventually came to Nike in 1976, offering design help from the outside. Only in its infancy, its chaotic atmosphere was far more exciting than that of the corporate climates he’d worked in prior. It was there he met Rob Strasser, his creative partner for years to come.

Strasser, Nike’s then-marketing director, sold Moore on constructing Nike’s image. This meant a monthly retainer to create hangtags for sneakers and posters for kids.

The latter positioned Moore as the painter tasked to solve the brand’s problem of how to market its ideas. His first run of hits was Personality Posters: bold expressions of character amplified outside of traditional sport.

(Think Moses Malone depicted as Moses from the Bible. Or Detroit Tigers catcher Lance Parrish catching an actual tiger. Better yet, envision the Dallas Cowboys ‘ Doomsday defense lined up in a foggy graveyard.)

The shots were satirical and inspirational at the same time, playing to the imagination and spirit of kids who’d look at them after getting tucked in. On the professional athlete end, the shoots became so successful that many endorsers requested a “poster clause” in their Nike contracts.

Over the course of his 10-year run making posters for Nike, Moore would zag again. After magnifying already-larger-than-life athletes, he went the reverse route by capturing the spirit of sport.

No longer was Moses Malone draped in the apparel of a prophet, he was drenched in sweat, finding his focus on a wooden bench. Michael Jordan was no longer captured on an airplane runway, but blending into a game of Shirts versus Skins. This down-to-earth aesthetic took to running, ice hockey, and hoops, often showcasing standouts as everyday athletes on their incremental search for success.

“We showed guys in pickup games, working out, training,” Moore said in his portfolio. “Half the time we didn’t even name the players. I tried to get away from the fantasy trappings and show athletes in a more realistic way.”

The Game poster (via Nike, Inc)

By 1982, Nike was more than just one of Moore’s clients; the brand was the bulk of his workload. What was once an agency called Peter Moore Graphic Design became Nike Design, a radical rebrand considering the space the Swoosh now occupies in aesthetic innovation.

Much in part due to an early spark from Moore, Nike, now valued at over $32 billion, came to life. It started in an office but it blossomed in bedrooms.

A Legacy Beyond Business

The posters Moore created in his early days in sportswear speak volumes as to the type of creator he was.

Able to find feeling through photos, Moore made his mark at Nike early on by providing the range to inspire athletic dreams through comedy and drama, leaning into extravagance before shifting to simplicity. For years, Moore was able to depict athletes both as superheroes and everyday people at the same time.

In doing so, he became the brand’s first creative director.

With 1985’s Air Jordan 1, a model that still stands as massively popular almost 40 years later, Moore crafted the ultimate image of an athlete. Shortly after, he set the superstar sportswear precedent even higher by bringing in Air Force 1 legend Bruce Kilgore for the lofty Air Jordan 2.

John McEnroe poster (via Nike, Inc)

Despite its polarizing appeal, the AJ2 ushered in an annual calendar for new namesake models to perform on-court and shock the market. Mike’s massive image has created both a light and a shadow for all who follow, inspiring competitors, elevating icons, and exploding an industry.

A risk-taker and a problem solver, Moore’s legacy lends itself to the enduring identities of Michael Jordan, John McEnroe, Dikembe Mutombo, and many more. Moore made sportswear larger than life, blurring the lines between aspirational and accessible. He was able to capture emotion through products and posters, eliciting it from the audience at the same time.

While Moore is now gone, the curiosity he sparked in sportswear lives on.

“Back then, sports, athletes, and even Nike were all part of a fantasy world,” Moore noted in his portfolio. “I wanted to take these posters right into the imagination of kids. The props, the costumes, and everything else was taken to the extreme.”

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