The Nike Air Force 1 is arguably the brand's most iconic sneaker. In many regards, it’s also the first of its kind.
Nike originally realized its “Air” technology in running shoes, and its introduction into the midsole was a revolutionary concept for basketball sneakers. Tasked with bringing the concept to life, designer Bruce Kilgore and an aerospace engineer brought the project to fruition with a high top silhouette inspired by hiking boots and strapped at the ankles. That basketball sneaker, called the Air Force 1, was brought to market in 1982.
A year later, the silhouette was contracted to six NBA players: Jamaal Wilkes, Mychal Thompson, Moses Malone, Calvin Natt, Bobby Jones and Michael Cooper. But, Nike’s aptitude for innovation and new releases led to the model’s discontinuation in 1984. In 1985, three sneaker boutiques in Baltimore saw the local popularity of the Air Force 1 and reportedly convinced Nike to reintroduce the silhouette exclusively to their stores. In a program dubbed the “Color of the Month Club,” Nike provided the Baltimore boutiques with a rotation of designs of the Air Force 1, drawing collectors from around the United States to Maryland. The exclusive re-release, atypical for Nike at the time, sold out almost immediately.
In 1988, DJ E-Z Rock was featured on the cover of the album It Takes Two, wearing a Nike Air Force 1 trainer altered by Harlem designer Dapper Dan with Louis Vuitton branding. The relationship between hip hop and the Air Force 1 continued throughout the 1990s and 2000s. With the release of the white-on-white Air Force 1 in the late 1990s, the shoe’s reach began to widen, and the hip hop community quickly embraced the monochrome colorway. Recognizing the popularity of the model, Nike began producing limited-run exclusives in collaboration with some of the genre’s biggest names.
In 2007, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the model, Nike introduced the luxury Air Force 1. Made in Italy with genuine crocodile skin, the pair bridged the gap between a basketball-turned-street sneaker and the luxury materials and craftsmanship of Italy.
Ten years later, for the 35th anniversary, Nike tapped five designers to rework the iconic white-on-white Air Force 1. Travis Scott, Don C, Virgil Abloh, Acronym and Kareem “Biggs” Burke of Rocafella were tasked with creating a shoe. Abloh’s model was a fan favorite; his deconstructed take on the silhouette has now been released in a variety of colors over the years.
In 2022, 40 years since the Air Force 1 was introduced, a culmination of the rich history of the silhouette was realized with the introduction of the Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 by Virgil Abloh. Released posthumously, Abloh’s work seamlessly connected the decades of prominence of Nike’s famed sneaker.