There are plenty of cult sneakers older than the Air Force 1 launched in 1982—Adidas' Rod Laver model has been around for nearly a decade longer, for one—but few have enjoyed such sustained success. Fans of the AF1 grew so attached to the shoe so quickly that when Nike considered discontinuing it after just one season, a handful of stores in Baltimore banded together and pleaded with the company to reconsider; Nike allowed the stores to continue to carry two exclusive colors, and fans promptly flocked from New York City and Philadelphia just to grab a pair. Upon seeing the degree of fan demand, Nike eventually decided to relaunch the shoe in earnest in the mid-'90s, and it's remained popular ever since. To borrow the words of another beloved franchise: The force is strong with this one.
Created by Nike designer Bruce Kilgore, the Air Force 1 was initially conceived as a basketball shoe. While the performance aspects were certainly appreciated by athletes, it was the sneaker's simple, comfortable silhouette that captivated a larger audience. Pop cultural pioneers like Jay Z and Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci all saw the style launch as adolescents, and would go on to help revive its popularity in the early 2000s.
Sure, Run D.M.C.'s "My Adidas" influenced a generation of sneaker buyers in 1986, but I was born in 1990—all that tracksuit and shell-toe business flew right over my head. The song about sneakers that first spoke to me was "Air Force Ones," Nelly's 2002 ode to the Nike staple. To be clear: It not only spoke to me, it made me want to buy in bulk. The Air Force 1 came in so many colors and materials: bright lime leather, red crocodile skin, wheat-colored suede. In a way, that variety is what made the Air Force 1 so desirable. I did pick a favorite eventually—the classic, all-white low-top that matched my Allan Houston Knicks jersey.
While a pair of clean white Air Force 1s is still affordable and available today ($90 on Nike's website), rare versions (including collaborations with Futura, Supreme, and Undefeated) can go for crazy money, and be incredibly hard to track down (an edition of the sneaker, made with German outerwear label Acronym, is currently on eBay for about $5,000). And the Air Force 1 continues to be reimagined, only adding to its perpetual appeal. Riccardo Tisci's 2014 version of the sneaker was worn by the likes of Rihanna and Naomi Campbell; just last month, Nike released an upscale leather version, in addition to a lightweight Flyknit update. The shoe has come a long way from its days on the court and, like the presidential plane with which it shares a name, continues to fly. Here's hoping it never lands.
To get a pair of Air Force 1s for yourself, visit nike.com.