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Year First Release: 1982

It’s hard to imagine these days, but the story of Air Force 1 ended almost shortly after it began.

The Air Force 1 was introduced in 1982 as a high-top, followed by the release of its low-top form in 1983. The Air Force 1 was Nike’s first basketball shoe to use the brand’s signature Air cushioning technology. Although Nike was pioneering in this regard, Nike planned to end production of the sneaker in 1984. However, due to its popularity in Baltimore, the owners of the city’s Cinderella Shoes and Charley Rudo Sports Stores urged the sportswear brand to keep releasing the shoe.

“It was [Charley Rudo Sports owner] Harold Rudo and I who came up with this idea to revive the Air Force 1,” said Paul Blinken, owner of Cinderella Shoes, in a video retrospective. “They thought we were crazy. They said, ‘But I believe in you. You’re crazy enough to ask, we’re crazy enough to make it.’ We had to take 1,200 pairs of each color: a white/royal blue and a white/chocolate brown. We took them, we sold them immediately.”

This success led to the Color of the Month program, with new Air Force 1 High color-ups hitting stores monthly. Retailer Downtown Locker Room eventually got involved, and soon Baltimore became a must-visit for people looking for sneakers from areas like New York and Washington, DC

Nike had been influenced, and the Air Force 1 continued to be released sporadically through the mid to late ’80s. It became ubiquitous on basketball courts and street corners, and maintained its presence on the East Coast. It was embraced by hip-hop artists and visionary designers like Dapper Dan, who applied high-fashion prints from brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton to the shoe’s panels.

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By the time the early ’90s came along, the Air Force 1 was much more commonplace. This is also the time when the white-on-white Air Force 1 Low, widely regarded as the sneaker’s quintessential iteration, hit stores. Keeping a fresh pair of white AF1s in rotation was a must, to the point where some collectors, like DJ Clark Kent, have been known to only wear a pair once before moving on to a fresh one.

Air Force 1 became a full-fledged cultural phenomenon in the 2000s. Nelly’s 2002 single “Air Force Ones” was proof that the trend extended well beyond the I-95 corridor. NBA star Rasheed Wallace played in them night after night – so much so that Nike started making special editions for him.

In Japan, the Air Force 1’s popularity led to a new type of worship. Nigo’s A Bathing Ape brand created a spin-off of the sneaker known as the Bape Sta, a shoe that was hugely popular in its own right and led to dozens of other imitators. This Air Force 1 fake phenomenon is still happening today and has led to Nike filing a number of trademark infringement lawsuits – including one against Bape in January 2023.

The Air Force 1 came full circle in 2022 when the late designer Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton collaboration was released. The shoes were largely inspired by the aforementioned ’80s customs and represented Abloh’s goal of combining the worlds of hip-hop, streetwear and high fashion.

To date, the Air Force 1 has been released in countless colourways, material variations, shapes and sizes. There are Air Force 1 boots and Air Force 1 mules. There have been collaborations with partners ranging from small boutiques to one of the largest fashion houses in the world. Nike released Lux ​​crocodile variations that retailed for $2,000. In some circles, keeping your white-on-white Air Force 1s clean is even passé. It’s a shoe that has literally seen it all and remains an icon.

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“It’s absolutely not a shoe,” said Abloh financial times months before his death. “It’s an art object. It doesn’t even have to be on someone’s feet.” –Riley Jones

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