Culture

NIKE'S AIR FORCE 1: A CULTURAL MYCELIUM

23 November 2022

Tracing the history and the impact of the Air Force 1, END. put the iconic Nike sneaker under the microscope to investigate its cultural importance and longstanding status as one of the greatest sneakers of all time.

Nike Air Force 1 '07 Fresh DM0211-100
Throughout the history of sneakers, there are few silhouettes that have maintained cultural dominance for as extended a period as the Air Force 1. A jewel in Nike’s crown, shining bright in crisp white, the staple style has graced the feet of sports stars, hip-hop legends and sneakerheads alike for decades, worn until creased to be immediately replaced with a box-fresh pair, or even after a single wear a la DJ Clark Kent.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the Air Force 1, in its low top form and classic white make-up, was last year’s bestselling sneaker - a remarkable feat for a shoe that has been around for over four decades and continues to emerge in a myriad of different colourways and collaborations. A testament to the lasting impact of the sneaker and the timeless nature of the silhouette’s design, the Air Force 1 is the bedrock on which the 21st century sneaker universe has been built – a cultural mycelium that connects it all.

Originally penned and created by Nike designer extraordinaire Bruce Kilgore in 1982, the shoe’s initial incarnation saw the model in its high-top form – the low iteration wasn’t introduced until a year later in 1983. Plucking inspiration from hiking boots and offering up a chunky midsole, the basketball sneaker struck a chord amongst the footwear obsessed with its concealed Max Air cushioning – a first for a Nike basketball shoe - delivering a simple yet satisfying aesthetic that surpassed its formative release as a sporting sneaker. Propelled into the world of exclusivity by a trio of Baltimore retailers, despite Nike’s reported intention to quietly abandon the AF1, a selection of special make-ups were produced for Charley Rudo, Downtown Locker Room and Cinderella Shoes, turning the Maryland city into a haven for sneaker aficionados on the East Coast. Thrusting the sneaker into cult stardom because of its exclusive colourways, scarcity, and regional appeal, the AF1s impact and allure began to seep out to New York City, D.C. and beyond, quickly becoming a fan favourite at inner city retailers – the only retailers who were authorised to stock the shoe. Its exclusivity and variety of colourways continued to drive the model further forward throughout the late ‘80s and mid ‘90s, surpassing expectations and moving from a trend to a classic – a true staple of the sneaker world.

A hotly disputed topic, the first release of the Air Force 1 Low in all-white was so poorly documented that even the most well-versed heads in sneaker history have found it challenging, if not impossible, to identify exactly when it debuted. Roughly situated in the early to mid ‘90s, the white-on-white variant became a high-impact seller thanks to the sneaker’s pre-existing fanbase, with artificial scarcity continuing to fuel demand and excitement when exclusive restocks landed. Adding further fuel to the fire, the Air Force 1 was an early adopter of high-heat collaborations, leaning on its favour amongst hip-hop heads to further push the silhouette forward. With tracks such as “Can I Live II” by Jay-Z, “Air Force Ones” by Nelly, and “Air Forces” by Jeezy calling out the sneakers by name, with Hov even collaborating on the Roc-A-Fella AF1s, the shoes were continually spotted on the feet of rappers throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s. Gracing the cover of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s hit “It Takes Two” and a firm favourite in Fat Joe’s sneaker rotation, the ‘90s saw the AF1 immortalised and accepted as a part of hip-hop history, even permeating further into popular culture with a pair being sported by Jerry in Larry David’s seminal sit-com, Seinfeld.

Nike Air Force 1 '07 Fresh DM0211-100
Nike Air Force 1 '07 Fresh DM0211-100

Continuing this legacy into the modern day, Air Forces 1s, or “Uptowns” as they were commonly referred to because of their connection to Harlem’s hip-hop scene, are a steadfast sneaker within the world of hip-hop and beyond. With Travis Scott putting his own twists on the model in 2017 and 2019 respectively, the shoe continued to impact the sneaker-verse and enrapture new generations of sneakerheads and streetwear fans with their unusual and uncompromising transformations of the AF1s’ traditional outlook. K-pop star G-Dragon's Peaceminusone AF1s proved to be a popular make-up, while further afield, Swedish rapper and outsider artist Yung Lean rapped his own contemporary ode to the sneaker with Ecco2k on “AF1s” from 2016’s seminal album “Warlord”. Fellow Swedish autotune star Bladee also donned a pair in the DIY music video for cult hit “Into Dust”, encouraging a subcultural fascination with the deceptively simple shoes on a more granular level in a reflection of their ability to transcend trends and continue to be adopted by new waves within the music world.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2022, Nike show no signs of retiring the influential and much-loved sneaker, presenting an updated version of the iconic sneaker. Dubbed “Fresh”, the style quells any requirement to replace a pair because of toe creasing. A premium leather make-up ensures that the kicks will remain creaseless for longer, without sacrificing the essential aesthetic and white-on-white colouration that remains ever present within our collective - sneaker-obsessed - consciousness.

Nike Air Force 1 '07 Fresh DM0211-100

Release information

Nike Air Force 1 '07 Fresh

White

DM0211-100

11/24/2022

writerEND.
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