A Brief History of the Nike Air Force 1

When the Nike Air Force 1 was making a special comeback, Dustin Tolliver was leading the effort. Tolliver is Nike’s Global Footwear Product Director. Being a veteran of the industry, he knew what had to be done.

The Nike Air Force 1 might come across as an easy shoe to retro. However, it does have some subtle considerations.

Knowing how popular it is doesn’t make things easier. The Air Force 1 stands as one of the most popular Nike models of all time. In fact, it’s even a go-to for those that aren’t crazy about shoes.

So, in short, Tolliver needed to get this release right. Luckily, he understood what made this shoe iconic. The job involved going back to the original glory of the early 1980s debut. A good example is the shoe’s shape.

When the Air Force 1 first released, it was a bit more streamlined. The silhouettes you see from the early 90s onwards added some bulk. This came mostly as the result of subtle upgrades. So, Tolliver and the Nike team began searching. They were looking for old lasts and shells that could help bring the OG back.

And it didn’t stop there. Sections of leather had to be stripped back to OG form. Overlays had to be restructured. Even the lather base itself needed to be brought back to its OG quality. So, there’s a question that comes to the uninitiated. Why all of this fuss over an old sneaker? You might even understand Jordan retros demanding this. But, why the Air Force 1?

Admittedly, not every part of the sneaker community would quite understand it either. To be sure, there is plenty of love for the AF1. However, the market is busy catering to other trends. So, what’s the big deal, anyway?

The Designer

Before we get into the shoe itself, we need to talk about the man. The Air Force 1’s current status is one of style. But, it debuts as a technological achievement. Specifically, the Air Force 1 drops as the latest addition to basketball wear. There are a ton of elements about its build that are innovative. A man named Bruce Kilgore inspired all of them.

Killgore is one of the first two employees under the Nike name. As most of you know, it was then known as Blue Ribbon Sports. Killgore made his presence felt early. He was charged with improving the track spike design. His work in this department impressed.

He was then moved over the brand’s basketball efforts. Known at that point officially as Nike, there was a lot of ambition. Nike wanted to lead the hoops category going into the early 80s. Killgore was initially provided with just one prototype. He would refer to it as something that “looked like the Michelin man.” Nonetheless, his work was quickly underway.

Nike’s team of advisers to Kilgore included podiatrists, biochemists, and an aerospace engineer. And yet, the designer managed to keep things neat. The Air Force 1 did come with quite a few tech innovations, though. One of the more remarkable aspects is the cupsole. This was added on for durability. After all, the shoe was meant for a very intense sport.

Another unique addition is the rounded outsole traction pattern. This may come across as nothing to obsess over. But, Kilgore’s outsole pattern focused in on the motions of a basketball player. He was particularly fascinated by the pivoting motion of the foot. The circular design allowed for smoother pivots without loosing out on traction.

The Air Force 1’s design also inspired Tinker Hatfield himself. Hired as an architect, the designer was given AF1’s to hoop in. It left such an impression on him that he would move over to footwear design. In fact, the AF1 even informs Tinker designs such as the Air Jordan XI.

On a more modern note, we look to Kyrie Irving. The Nike Kyrie II has a distinctive outsole. The forefoot sports a circular section. This is clearly inspired by the Air Force 1. Kyrie’s constant change of pace and angles need this design. Kilgore’s inspiration is as relevant today as it was in the 80s.

Today, the AF1 is more of a streetwear icon, but its hard to discount its performance design roots.

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