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These Are (Some Of) The Most Important Nike AF1s Of the Past 40 Years

Name a more recognizable sneaker, we dare you. OK, perhaps there may be other contenders, but few (if any) sneakers can rival the Nike Air Force 1’s impact on culture and style. It’s been painted in just about every which way since its first release in 1982 with over 2,000 iterations having been created so far.

First designed by Bruce Kilgore, the original AF1 was revolutionary for its use of air pocket technology, becoming the first basketball shoe to place serious emphasis on comfort as well as performance. Named after the U.S. presidential plane, the Air Force 1 is a game-changer that merges sport and street like no other, and its popularity has endured to this day, captivating die-hard sneakerheads, casual wearers, and everyone in between.

Since its inception, Nike has been progressively building the Air Force 1 family, starting with the classic AF1, and adding new members over the years such as the Air Force 1 mid, Lunar Force 1, Air Force 1 Foamposite, Air Force 1 Boot, Air Force 1 Comfort, and Air Force 1 Downtown. Pushing the boundaries of sneaker design over the years, Nike has managed to cement the Air Force 1’s place at center stage of the sneaker world. It’s almost impossible to narrow its impact down to one page but we’ve attempted to do so. After some serious brainstorming with fellow Highsnobiety staff, here are some of our picks for the most significant styles from over the last 40 years:

Air Force 1 High OG White/Silver (1983)

This one’s the classic, with a slight twist. Crisp white and featuring an eye-catching silver swoosh, this sneaker laid the groundwork for all of the AF1 limited edition reworks, redesigns, and reinventions that would follow.

Air Force 1 Low (est. 1997)

“Nike’s Air Force 1 is a bonafide classic in the world of sneakers, there’s no denying that. And while the myriad of collaborations it’s been the focus of has undoubtedly added to its popularity in recent years, for me the all-white take will never be beaten. Clean and comfortable in equal measure, it’s a silhouette that goes with absolutely anything. And I mean, anything. As adaptable as they come, which only enhances its charm and allows it to serve as a uniform for an array of subcultures. It’s a classic, no doubt.” — Tayler Willson

Air Force 1 Low Taiwan (White/Varsity Red) (2001)

“Originally released in 2001 but re-released in 2018. Searched online for a solid few years trying to find them before finally securing a pair last year. I love the non-traditional swoosh and the patent materiality, which gives the classic AF1 an elevated and “luxurious” feel. The medial and lateral swooshes both have a different gradient color too, which gives me big TN vibes. Loved the NYC version released by Kith in 2020 too — that’s on my Wishlist now.” — Alex Hackett

Air Force 1 High ‘Sheed’ (2001)

“Rasheed Wallace’s hightop patent leather AF1s. As a teenager, it was dope to see the high AF1 on the NBA hardwood, as no one in the NBA played in ‘Forces at that time. You would see them a lot in streetball because they had the removable ankle strap, but no one would really use the strap as they should, so it just hung off the back, for styling purposes of course. But when Rasheed played in his shiny player addition AF1s with the unbuckled ankle strap flailing behind, it was clear that he was ONE OF US!” — Shaun Roach

Nike x Stash Air Force 1 High (2003)

With production limited to just 1,000 pairs, the Stash is one of the rarest AF1 models ever. Released in three cities—New York, London, and Tokyo—it’s named after its designer, famed graffiti artist Josh ‘Stash’ Franklin. With mesh side panels, a suede swoosh, and a reflective spray can nozzle pattern across its toe and heel, the Stash is more than a sneaker—it’s a literal work of art.

Air Force 1 Mid ’07 WB Wheat (2007)

“I particularly loved the WB Wheat Air Force 1. This release always felt like an elegant nod to the cultural legacy of the AF1. Being so deeply associated and embedded in Hip Hop culture, the brown suede reminds me of Brooklyn and its cultural pioneers of the 90s. It might not be as flashy as other releases, but it’s one that stands the test of time. Can’t go wrong with that one” — Larissa Clark

Air Force 1 Low “Questlove” (2008)

If the classic AF1 is vanilla ice cream — comfy, timeless, and soothing — then 2008’s Questlove Low edition is an overflowing sundae of mint chocolate chip, topped off with red velvet brownie chunks, and some gold leaf for good measure. Designed by Academy Award-winning Philadelphia-based artist and ‘The Roots’ drummer Questlove, the sneaker was one of 18 models created by invited artists for Nike’s 1World campaign.

Air Force 1 Low “DJ Clark Kent Black Friday” (2008)

Musician and producer DJ Clark Kent’s Black Friday rendition of the AF1 Low is a show-stopping shoe worthy of Superman himself. The sneaker is decked out in a rich black textured pony hair toe and midsection, glossy black midsole, and shiny galaxy silver heel and swoosh. In a definitive example of bridging cultural gaps, the sports world of Nike meets the stylish world of Hip Hop.

Air Force 1 Low “Savage Beast” (2009)

Released just in time for 2009’s spooky season, the Savage Beast AF1 is giving haunted pumpkin bigfoot energy, but make it fashion. The sneaker’s design was inspired by Gossamer, the hairy orange monster from the Looney Tunes cartoons. It comes covered in bright Halloween-orange (possessed) pony hair and features an embroidered white swoosh, and once again expands Nike’s presence in popular culture.

Air Force 1 Low Linen Kith Exclusive (2016)

“This might be a gorgeous colorway, but it’s also a drool-worthy slice of Y2K nostalgia—which we all know the youth are obsessed with right now. Nike’s CO.JP (Concept Japan) was a blending of worlds, a recognition by the American sportswear giant that there was so much heat to be unlocked outside of its own home. It was what the fashion world already knew, and what sneakerheads were soon to catch up on — that Japanese influence in any type of design was a surefire way to make an end product irresistible. CO.JP set the stage for the market of collabs as we know it today, and this Linen AF1 colorway is the perfect example of the wearability that garms from the Far East are known for. Chef’s kiss.” — Naina Kamath

Air Force 1 Low VLONE (2017)

“The VLONE x Nike Air Force 1 is one of the most important sneaker collaborations in recent years. When the sneaker first dropped, nobody anticipated Nike pulling the plug on the joint efforts with A$AP Mob due to the controversy surrounding A$AP Bari. I remember queuing at NikeLab1948 in Shoreditch, hoping to pick up a pair, but fans of A$AP Rocky were out in droves with queues like I hadn’t seen before. It felt like one of the last in-store releases to garner such interest (Alongside Virgil Abloh’s ‘The Ten’ drop) before Nike would transition over to SNKRS, thus ending the OG method of queuing and camping for sneakers. With prices now in the thousands, the VLONE x Air Force 1 will always be unobtainable for the masses, but the drop highlighted the peak of sneaker collecting, for me at least.” — Jack Cook

Nike x Roc-A-Fella Air Force 1 (2017)

“What a time! This was a special release mainly because this was a grail that AF-1 aficionados thought would never release to the general public. Everything was on point for the release; the roll-out, the story told, and even accessibility.” — Jeffrey Lockhart

Nike x Supreme x Comme des Garcons Air Force 1 Low (2018)

“This release was the one that made me actually want to own a pair of AF1. I prefer low-key designs when it comes to collabs, so this one instantly caught my attention. It’s also sort of a “timeless” pair that I could wear today. Because Nike in 2018 had so many strong releases from Sean Wotherspoon to Virgil Abloh, also in general React Element 87 was so popular, but now we don’t see many people wearing them.” — Yulia Pankova

Nike x Louis Vuitton Air Force 1 (2022)

This one is so much more than a single sneaker. A collaboration championed by the late, great Virgil Abloh, the partnership between Louis Vuitton and Nike saw the creation of an entire collection of Air Force 1 colorways and styles. The collection also required a huge moment of trust on Nike’s part, as it marked the first time AF1s were built outside of Nike factories, instead taking shape in Louis Vuitton’s ateliers. Merging Nike’s sporty aesthetic with Louis Vuitton’s classic, timeless codes, while bringing something completely new and artistic to the table was never going to be easy — but Abloh was a designer like no other, and boy did he deliver.

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