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    Air Force 1

    The Nike Air Force 1 story starts in 1982. At this point, the Nike swoosh could be seen on small town basketball courts as well as at pro games for the NBA. But, even so, Nike wasn’t yet a major player in the increasingly popular world of basketball. It was time for some new trainers that were both comfortable and could also compete with the best out on the court. The Air Force One were the boots which did just this. They immediately pulled away from the competition as the first ever basketball shoe to use Nike’s trademark Air technology. This might have been the end of the story. Nike wanted to move on to a new model in 1984, but three retailers from Baltimore luckily convinced the brand to stick with the Air Force 1. Those three footwear stores on the east coast saw how much the people loved the classic basketball shoe. The Nike Air Force One grew in popularity really fast, especially in certain neighbourhoods of New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Basketball lovers looked to buy  a cheap pair when they hit the sale. Pro players could make the best of the new style, and parents could also be sure to find junior or infant sizes for boys and girls. Over the 80s and 90s, the original basketball shoe slowly morphed into a sneaker, and with that became a kind of status symbol out on the streets. Famous hip-hop artists, as well as basketball players, started wearing the AF1. With the new millennium, the shoe crossed over into the mainstream in the UK and throughout the world, becoming an essential in men’s and women’s fashion. And still, the original model is one of the most popular sneakers out there. It was born on street basketball courts and grew up in the neighbourhoods of the east coast. The key for Nike to beat established basketball brands was to equip their shoe with Air technology. In the seventies, the units filled with air revolutionised running, now it was time to revolutionise professional basketball. The Air pods in the midsole provided incredible comfort for the athlete. The high cut, assisted by a small belt, gave much needed support to the stability of the ankle. Legendary designer Bruce Kilgore gave the outsole a kind of circle pattern on the bottom, as well as thread-stitched material. This gave the shoe great floor grip and freedom of movement. Kilgore brought in the Nike Air Force 1 Low and High in 1982. A decade later, this was followed by the Mid version. On the original shoe’s 25th birthday, Nike brought us the Air Force 1 ‘07. Many more outstanding models, such as the Utility, would come later.

    The AF1 is known for its block white design, immortalised in the All White, or the black version in the form of the All Black. The shoe is a blank canvas where designers and artists can showcase their creativity. The Nike Air Force 1 has been decked out in every color imaginable. From pink and brown in the Wheat and Flax, to khaki and beige in Vanchetta Tan. It has been grey in the Wolf Grey and spotted in red and blue. Alongside all these fixed colours, it's possible to create your own custom designs using Nike ID. A perfect way of bringing your own style to your sneakers, or even of letting kids go mad with their imagination, with smaller sizes available for boys and girls. In terms of material, the first model was made of leather. This was later followed by canvas and suede, and even a soft pink velvet. From here, things got more creative. The outsole was made from gum. The best-known versions of this have a brown gum sole. For one edition, the classic leather was replaced with special, more durable TecTuff leather. Lastly, the entire upper part of the Cork was made out of cork. As always, Nike was not afraid to experiment. Diving into the wide range of prints that were used on this sneaker, we find the same sense of design daring. The Air Force 1 has been kitted out with a dotted, freckled pattern for the Safari, a green camouflage print for the Camo. There have been models with stars attached or printed on the side. The trainer was also treated to a light and dark scale print for the famous Snakeskin. We’ve seen the Skeleton, an edition that had an X-ray print of a human foot on the side of the shoe. Then of course there’s the Weatherman, with a satellite weather forecast design on the shoe. One of the most interesting features given to the AF1 is the Flyknit upper. It was only a matter of time before the 2012 technology found its way to the shoe.

    It all started with the Nike Air Force 1 Flyknit exploring the possibilities of an upper stitched entirely out of one piece of thread. It was a huge success, mainly because of the astonishing multicolor possibilities. It didn’t take long for sequels to arrive, such as the Air Force 1 Flyknit 2.0 and the Ultra Flyknit. This Flyknit technology was first brought in for running shoes. In 2012, Nike brought it to the world of basketball with the Air Force 1 Foamposite. Inspired by the 1997 basketball shoe, this shoe rocked the same shiny upper as the 90s model. The mid and high cut of the shoe, the AF1’s trademark, has been slightly adjusted over the years. We saw the Air Force 1 Ultraforce, which mixed the high cut with a sock style fit around the ankle. Then there was the showy Nike Special Field Air Force 1, which was an ultra high Air Force 1 model with multiple straps wrapping around the lower leg. Another similar model is the Nike SF Air Force 1 High, also with fibres around the lower leg. The mid version of that shoe is like a rougher design of the classic AF1 Mid. Then you have the Air Force 1 Jester, with its lowered swoosh. The outsole has also changed over the years. For example, in the Lunar. That model is basically the original version with a Lunarlon outsole. It has a different look but feels just as comfortable. This is quite similar to the Air Force 1 Duckboot, which is a high boot. It also has a lunar outsole and provides great warmth, so great during the winter. In other models the outsole was raised, turned into a platform for women’s models, resulting in the Air Force 1 Sage Low and the Upstep. Another shoe targeted specifically to women is the Air Force 1 Shadow, a design with cool double-stitched panels. Submodels were designed and redesigned, shaped and reshaped, sometimes leading to designs with unique features, or special materials, colours and prints, such as the sleek looking Downtown. Lots of these go by the name Air Force 1 Premium. 

    Most of the models named above are always available, something that cannot be said about these next pairs, which were highly exclusive when they were released. Nike gave several artists, fashion designers, brands and athletes a chance to make the AF1 their own. The main people that made the Air Force 1 famous were hip-hop artists from the United States. Jay-Z and Fat Joe each got a pair of their own, Nelly promoted the shoe in a song. And later a version was designed in collaboration with musician Travis Scott, the AF-1 Travis Scott, also known as the Cactus Jack, which had features referencing Houston, Texas where Travis has his roots. Hip-hop music label Roc-A-Fella had a custom pair as well. This was called the Rocafella. It was completely white with the Roc logo immortalised on the side of the back heel. Another interesting company Nike decided to work with on the AF1 was LeBron James’ media company Uninterrupted. This resulted in a white version of the shoe which came with a blue and black marker to customise the shoe with. The white and orange Air Force 1 Just Do It, part of the special JDI pack, also looks like it has been drawn on. It features several smaller logos and details linked to the brand’s slogan. Other special and limited editions were the Swoosh pack, with replaceable velcro swoosh, and one with a large smiley face on the side, part of the Have a Nike Day collection. Slowly but steadily, the Nike Air Force One found its way to the high-end fashion world. It was fashion designer Virgil Abloh who got things rolling with the Air Force 1 x Off White. Abloh restyled the original design with a recognisable orange tag and, next to the retro black and white, coloured the base bright yellow and blue. Several models were released with the fashion brand Supreme. These models come in high, mid and low, and can be seen with or without print. There are many more collabs that are worth mentioning, but two which stick out particularly are the Clot and Fragment collab, as well as the collab with clothing brand Carhartt. In other cases, the Nike Air Force 1 team decided to stay close to its roots in sport. Football player Cristiano Ronaldo got his own white CR7 model with gold details. And of course, Nike tied things back to basketball with the Air Force 1 NBA, an appreciation of the history on and off the court together.

    Air Force 1 Low

    If we went back to 1982 and took a walk through some of the biggest cities on the east coast of the United States, we would see the Nike Air Force 1 Low everywhere, on the basketball courts and on the streets. Released in the early 80s, the Air Force 1 was the next big thing in basketball, featuring impressive Air technology, but it also made waves in street culture. This was especially the case with the Air Force 1 Low which had a lower cut under the ankle than the High. Initially, the most popular versions included the ones in block white and black leather. Decades later, they revived these as Triple White and Triple Back, also bringing in a version in navy blue, and changing the leather for other materials such as suede. These sneakers went by the name of Air Force 1 Essential Low, emphasising the original look with the word ‘essential’. Later on this model was given the feminine touch with the Nike Air Force 1 Sage Low in colours such as beige.

    Air Force 1 High

    The original version of the AF1 which dazzled the basketball world in 1982 was the Nike Air Force 1 High. It was inspired by a hiking boot design. Its comfort, its stability and its looks were unmatched in the sport at that time. It was such a groundbreaking shoe in its technology and looks that in no time the performance footwear model became streetwear fashion. The high top design spoke to a lot of young people on the streets. The Air Force 1 High looked tough and basketball was a hugely popular sport. As mentioned, three footwear shops witnessed firsthand how amazed young people were by the high top model. They asked Nike for new supplies and started something they called ‘the Color of the Month Club’, regularly releasing a new colourway. The base color of the shoe changed from white and black to blue and burgundy, with the swoosh in an alternating tone. If it wasn’t for those retailers, maybe we would not have known the Air Force 1 as we do today.

    Air Force 1 Mid

    The eighties were a great decade for Nike shoes. It saw the launch of several Jordan models, the first Air Max model and two Air Force 1 models. The AF1 made the crossover from the basketball court to the streets quite fast, and the Low and High version of the trainer soon became legendary from small beginnings in cities of the east coast. In just over ten years, the sneaker became integral to street culture and just as much part of the hip-hop scene as it was part of basketball culture. It took about twelve years before the shoe had a follow up. This came in 1994 with the Nike Air Force 1 Mid, which was a stylish model midway between the Low and the High in size. The Air Force 1 Mid had the lightweight feel of the lower model but with all the stability of the high version from 1982. The belt that wraps around the lower leg just above the ankle makes it look more like the High. Still, it is not as big as the first model ever released of the Air Force 1.

    Air Force 1 07

    There aren’t many shoes which have built a legacy like the AF1 in such a short period of time. Even now after twenty five years, the buzz around the Air Force 1 is still going strong. In 2007, the shoe’s 25th birthday was celebrated with the launch of the Nike Air Force 1 07. Honouring the classic design, the overall aesthetics did not change much. There were some minor adjustments; different Swoosh sizes, as seen in the Air Force 1 07 LV8, and small additions such as added logos and pull tags at the achilles, as in the Utility. This version of the Nike Air Force 1 LV8 was mostly sold in white and black, though it also came in colour and with a gum sole, in the form of the Style. The colours available are black, green, grey and even pink. Nike also went on to give their anniversary shoe Premium variations with different upper materials using vibrant colours such as silver and yellow. They took it even further by making a few SE (Special Edition) versions. Those trainers really stand out, recognisably by their rare color combinations, raised outsoles, reflective panels and detailed Swoosh prints. To know whether you are looking at a normal AF1 or a 07 model, you just have to look at the end of the laces on the instep of the foot. There is a chance you’ll see a sparkling tag attached to the laces. This means you’re looking at a real Air Force 1 07.

    Air Force 1 Utility

    As if the Air Force 1 wasn’t cool enough, Nike decided to give it the “Utility” treatment. A number of Nike sneakers have undergone this interesting makeover which makes the shoes bolder and more high-tech. The sneaker was already great in its original form, but of course, the Nike Air Force 1 Utility brought us something new. A smaller, second Swoosh, text next to the laces, and three-part pull tabs at the Achilles on the back of the shoe. Then there’s the version with the big velcro strap and a brown gum outsole. The Air Force 1 Utility really did add something extra to the line. It gave the AF1 more edge and an even tougher look. That’s quite an achievement, knowing it’s a trainer which was born on the basketball courts and which grew up on the streets.

    Rank the Nike Air Force 1

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