Nike Air Force 1: a true icon


As drop day approaches for the Supreme x Comme des Garçons SHIRT x Nike Air Force 1 Low, we wanted to take a look back at the history of a classic silhouette.


I know, I know… when we’re talking about classic sneakers, the first adjective is always iconic. While that’s usually undeserved, the Air Force 1 has earned the title. After 36 years & thousand of iterations, the AF1 remains the best-selling sneaker in history.


In 1979, the Nike Tailwind changed the industry by introducing the first ever Air sole. Next for Nike was to bring that innovation to the basketball court. Bruce Kilgore was the young product designer who would take on that task.


Though Kilgore was initially hired to design track spikes, he soon moved to the basketball division. Working with engineers, trainers, podiatrists & biomechanists, Kilgore began to develop the Air Force 1 we know today. Among his most notable additions to the shoe are the cup sole & revolutionary Pivot Point. The slanted collar is another feature devised by Kilgore after studying the Nike Approach hiking boot. After extensive testing on college ball courts across the country, the AF1 launched in 1982.


The initial ad campaign which accompanied the launch was nearly as iconic as the shoe. It featured some of the NBA’s top players from the era, including Moses Malone, Bobby Jones & Jamaal Wilkes. To kick off the campaign Nike announced that Air would be sold by the box. The big reveal was the players in jumpsuits on a tarmac–airliner behind them–all wearing the new AF1.


Because the initial launch focused on creating a high performance court shoe, the only offering was a high top. In 1983 that changed. Nike unveiled a low top model that was intended to appeal to a broader audience. That new version reinvented street culture across the East Coast. Everyone needed that latest colorway of the AF1.


Despite the East Coast success, Nike decided late in 1984 to cut the line. What followed was the birth of a movement. AF1 fans–primarily OG sneakerheads in Baltimore–revolted & relentlessly pushed Nike to bring it back. Uptown fans won & the sneaker was re-released in 1986… the first ever retro.


Throughout the 1990s, sales of the AF1 remained strong (bolstered by the introduction of the AF1 mid). But the 2000s was the real renaissance. Along with countless new colorways across the high, mid & low models, Nike introduced women’s sizing. This decade was also the beginning of the collab era.


From 2010 to present, the Air Force 1 has continued to evolve. New materials & technologies have been employed on the uppers & sole. The one element that has remained is Bruce Kilgore’s classic minimalism. Regardless of the materials or build, the fundamental design shines through.


This Thursday’s release is no exception. Though the trademark cut & paste of Comme des Garçons takes the spotlight, the true strength of the collaboration can be attributed to the iconic silhouette it’s applied to.