Meet the illustrator who created the box art for the Air Jordan 4 ‘Manila’

Dec 16, 2020

LIKE many Pinoy millennials, Raxenne Maniquiz grew up with a dad who was a Jordan fan. He collected DVDs of the GOAT’s highlights, and they’d watch them together. He even collected Air Jordans.

But when she asked him where those shoes were now, he could only shrug. “Sabi niya, ‘Wala na sila,’” she said to SPIN Life. “Ginagamit daw kasi niya sa liga. ‘Panlaro kasi iyan. Kaya naman ‘yan ginawa, kasi panlaro iyan.’”

At the opening of the Jordan Manila store — the first of its kind of Southeast Asia — she saw firsthand how sneaker culture has evolved since her dad’s days.

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A post shared by Raxenne Maniquiz (@raxenne)

“Na-overwhelm ako,” the illustrator recalled as she went around and saw the dizzying array of kicks — as well as the people lining up to score them. Many of these 'sneakerheads' collected shoes for shoes' sake; a far cry from the panlaro naman mentality of her father. “I see this as a totally different world.”

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The hottest item on the Jordan Store was, of course, the Air Jordan IV Retro ‘Manila.’ With only 150 pairs made, it’s one of the year’s most coveted sneaker drops. In a very big way, Raxenne Maniquiz is also part of that sneaker’s history. After all, it is her art that lines the inside of every AJ4 ‘Manila’ box.

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Maniquiz’s art style is distinctive. As a freelance illustrator, she brings a fresh, organic look to her art — often literally, as her subjects tend to be indigenous flora and fauna, in subdued, delicate patterns and with an attention to detail that brings to mind natural history engravings. Botany, but make it fashion.

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A post shared by Raxenne Maniquiz (@raxenne)

When Nike contacted her in early October to explore a collaboration, she was very nervous. Not just because it was a global brand, but because it didn’t seem like a very natural fit at first glance.

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“Kasi, oh my god, sports, basketball,” said the fine arts graduate from UST. “I mean, what can I do for them? I [paint] flowers and plants.”

The Nike reps, however, explained that they were looking for something different.

“Feeling ko there's this look that we usually associate with sports apparel or sports brands — something very street or something very graphic,” Maniquiz said. But the brand was looking to present something less urban, but still representative of Pinoy culture and the way hoops has woven itself into it, like vines intertwined thickly across a trellis.

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The freelance illustrator painted a rich, tropical tapestry in what she called an “updated Philippine flag palette” — colors toned way down and matching the various hues of the various Air Jordans across the years. Many of the organic elements are figures of endemic Philippine species, both plant and animal.

Beside the FLOTG tag, for example, is a Philippine hornbill (Buceros hydrocorax), found across our archipelago.

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She also added one of her favorite subjects: moth orchids. “They just have this alien-like quality,” she explained. “And also the fluidity of their forms — I feel like I also see that in Jordan shoes. I wanted to reflect all those crazy forms in the plants and which you also see in the shoes.”

Aside from plants and animals, Maniquiz also incorporated a lot of familiar Jordan iconography — the Olympic medals, the championship rings, a goat — as well as the six championship AJs Michael wore.

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A post shared by Raxenne Maniquiz (@raxenne)

You don’t have to buy a pair of AJ4 ‘Manilas’ to appreciate Maniquiz’s stunning art. A wall-sized version (with an orange-red background) is also on display as wallpaper inside Jordan Manila’s fitting room. Even if the slots for store visits are already booked solid until next year, there’s likely a bigger chance of you seeing her art there than you picking up a coveted pair of ‘Manilas.’

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Ever since her gig for Nike, Maniquiz has confessed to falling into a "black hole" of Jordan Brand research.

She said: "It's so amazing how the Jordan universe has expanded and [you have] these different collaborations with different people. I saw the Anna Wintour one, which was really interesting, and the Dior shoes, partnerships and collaborations you wouldn't think would happen in the first place. It's very inspiring... and shocking to see the prices."

And if she ever got a chance to design her own pair of Air Jordans, which of the 35 platforms would she pick?

The Air Jordan 12, she said without hesitation.

“I just really like the silhouette. Ang designer, ang artistic ng dating niya.”

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