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Air Force 1: On or off court, a true staple for sneakerheads

Andy Silva breaks down the history of the Air Force 1 ahead of the release of the Air Force 1 Billie on Monday, April 25.

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Street Style At Paris Fashion Week - Menswear Spring/Summer 2022 Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Quick question: Are you a sneakerhead? Have you ever shopped in a Foot Locker or any sneaker store in a mall, really? Do you wear Nikes?

If the answer to any of those questions is yet, then more than likely you’ve owned a pair of Air Force 1s, in some form, at some point in your life.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the Air Force 1 in all its permutations has become one of the true sneaker closet stapes, alongside corporate siblings like the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars and the Air Jordan 1. But, like most of the shoes which have since transitioned to lifestyle wear, they began their journey as a performance model.

Designed by Bruce Kilgore and initially released in 1982, the Air Force 1 had a noteworthy story as a performance model even before it became a streetwear staple. The Air Force 1 was the first Nike shoe to incorporate both encapsulated Air and a cupsole. After integrating encapsulated air into its running shoes like the Nike Air Tailwind in the late 1970s, the company looked to bring the technology to the basketball court.

Encapsulated air and the cupsole, as well as excellent build materials, made the AF1 a premier performance model upon its initial release, and even allow for some people to continue to play in them to this day. Notably, former NBA All-Star and Champion Rasheed Wallace was well known for wearing the Air Force 1 High during his playing days.

The shoe also technically is the first sneaker to be retroed by Nike, even if they didn’t call it that at the time. The shoe was initially discontinued in 1984, but after hearing the outcry and demand the sneaker still evoked, the Swoosh quickly brought the shoe back out in 1986 and they have basically remained available ever since. This would also foretell the impact the shoe would have in the world of streetwear and culture at large.

Initially, the shoe was only available in a high-top model, but it is perhaps most well known for its low-top model. The white/white Air Force 1 Low transcended sports and quickly was adopted in streetwear. The shoe became cool thanks in part to love from icons such as Jay-Z and Allen Iverson (Reebok had to make their own knock off of the AF1 called the I3 Pressure because Iverson loved the Air Force 1 so much that he was prone to occasionally wear them despite being signed to Reebok). The shoe is cemented in pop culture thanks to its role as the inspiration behind Nelly’s most well-known song.

The shoe is popular among customizers, as the white/white colorway is almost literally a blank canvas. It has also been a part of several notable collaborations. As discussed previously, Virgil Abloh offered his take on the model several times, including as part of The Ten campaign. There have also been collaborations with Travis Scott, Kith, CLOT, Supreme, the New England Patriots and Playstation. Louis Vuitton even got in on the action, with Abloh helping design a special LV colorway of the Air Force 1 prior to his death. That shoe was extremely limited and is going for some insane aftermarket prices.

The latest collaboration on the Air Force 1 is set to release on Monday, April 25, as pop star Billie Elish offers a take on the classic. Nike says Eilish attempted to infuse her own personal sense of style by incorporating the five chunky straps seen on the upper of the shoe covering the laces, meant to mimic the star’s penchant for oversized styling. The shoe is also made of environmentally-friendly material, including Nike Grind in the midsole.

The Air Force 1 can basically be adapted to whatever style and/or story you want to tell. As the model celebrates its 40th anniversary something tells me it will have no problem sticking around for 40 more.

To purchase a pair of the Air Force 1 Billie on April 25, click here.

To see more of this month’s releases, check out our release date calendar.

If you have questions or just want to talk sneakers, hit on me up on Twitter — my username is @a_silva32.