Hailey Bieber, Naomi Osaka, Travis Scott, Rihanna, Odell Beckham Jr.— what do all these seemingly unrelated celebrities, athletes and artists have in common? A crisp white pair of Nike Air Force 1s. The once sportswear essential has managed to become one of the most popular players in streetwear fashion — and for a pretty good reason. Heck, even Nelly rapped a song about them. In fact, the streetwear sphere has seen more than 2,000 versions released during the last 40 years.
But why are Nike Air Force 1s such a classic? What’s the reason behind every sneakerhead’s obsession with this legendary lifestyle silhouette? To help you understand why the Nike Air Force 1 is an undisputed icon, we have to go back to its origins.
Why Nike Air Force 1s Are A Classic?
Granted, in 2022, Nike is the home of a diverse line-up of sneakers, but that wasn’t always the case. A few decades back, basketball shoes and Nike weren’t even synonymous. Despite its humble beginnings in a shoe outlet in Oregon called “Blue Ribbon Sports”, Nike managed to shake up the world of sports when it launched its first-ever pair of track shoes in 1972.
1982: The birth of the first Air Force 1s
It was 1982 when Bruce Kilgore designed the first ever basketball shoe packed with the Nike Air technology, revolutionizing the sneaker culture forever. The shoes were an overnight success — partially because Nike’s 6 top NBA players of the era were quick to don high-top Nike Air Force 1s on the court. Who were the “Original Six”? Michael Cooper, Bobby Jones, Moses Malone, Calvin Natt, Mychal Thompson, and Jammal Wilkes.
The 1985 re-release of the Nike Air Force 1s
However, despite gaining so much momentum, Nike decided to discontinue the Air Force 1s just 2 years later. Basketball pros and hobby players alike still continues to lust over them. Something that quickly became evident on the day of their re-launch in 1985.
The 3,000 re-released versions of the original Nike Air Force 1s (now available in royal blue and chocolate brown colorways) sold out as soon as they hit the shelves. Only this time, they also migrated from the Bench to the streets.
The unexpected popularity of the new Nikes, ‘forced’ the brand to keep dropping new and fresh colorways pretty regularly. In fact, from 1986 to 1991, the company released a new model almost on a monthly basis — and every release was a huge hit and immediately sold out.
Nike Air Force 1s in the 90s–2000s
In the mid-90s–2000s, Nike came up with yet another idea to reinforce the staying power of the now iconic Nike Air Force 1s. The concept was simple: new limited slick new colorway, premium and special edition sneakers for the true connoisseurs.
During the 20s, Nike Air Force 1s were spotted on some of the most globally influential rappers and artists which further reinforced the sartorial superpowers. Who can forget Roc- a-Fella Records’ white-on-white special edition shoes that featured the label’s embroidered logo? During this time, Jay Z, Shyne, Nelly, and G-Unit also rapped about the crisp white sneakers – a much deserving reputation boost.
Premium & limited edition & customs
This was the perfect time for Nike to go all in with the launch of their hyper-premium Nike Air Force 1 Low Anaconda Lux, which came attached to a $2,000 price. Later down the line, the company released Air Force XXV to mark the shoes’ AF1s 25th anniversary.
Nike’s marketing strategy didn’t end there. By the 2010s, sneakerheads could easily custom- make their own, unique pairs through the brand’s “NikeiD” platform to further expand their collection.
Nike Air Force 1s 35th Anniversary
With Nike Air Force 1s 35th Anniversary closing in, the brand decided to further diversify its designs in 2017. So they gathered five collaborators to design their own take on the white- on-white AF-1 and create 5 highly coveted styles. Amongst them were Travis Scott, Don C, Acronym, Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke, and Virgil Abloh, who “stylized a tonal black Air Force 1 sneaker with Abloh-esque design cues” and broke the internet.
Nike Air Force 1s’ 40th Anniversary
In celebration of the AF1’s 40th, the late designer collaborated with Nike once again in 2022 to send 47 pairs of custom-made Louis Vuitton Nike Air Force 1s down the runway during his S/S 22 fashion presentation. Lebron James, Eminem, IBN Jasper, and DJ Clark Kent were all spotted flaunting their anniversary pair on social media with pride.
So Why Nike Air Force 1s are a classic?
The answer is pretty simple. While Nike has developed and established a variety of new technologies, classic yet stylish look, fantastic proportions, immense comfort and wearability made Nike Air Force 1s the universally loved pair that it is today. Nike successfully managed to bring athleticwear to the streets — in the most stylish way possible. What was once a favorite amongst NBA players quickly became a streetwear must-have.
Nowadays, their iconic status is constantly being reinforced by the hordes of celebrities, influencers, and artists who always seem to pair their clean kicks with sweatpants, hoodies, and even suits, bikini tops, and shorts. Retro will forever be “in” and sneakerheads will always lust over the next, new limited-edition kicks. So as long as Nike keeps coming up with reimagined adaptations of their most-coveted classics, Nike Air Force 1s will continue to be a favorite purchase amongst the streetwear crowd.
All we have to do is have a look at the stats to confirm that Nike Air Force 1s were, indeed, the top-selling athletic footwear in dollars among all brands in the US.