Everything old is new again. Nike’s Air Force 1, a shoe that many of us grew up with, is turning 30 this week. And after some 1,700 unique versions, many millions of dollars, and one crossover hit by Nelly, Nike decided it was time to rethink the lynchpin of its brand. Nearly two years ago, Sportswear Design Director Marc Dolce set out to redesign the classic, ending up with a shoe that repurposes some of Nike’s newest technology. It’s long overdue, seeing as how some have called the AF1 “pathetically low-tech.”
The renamed Lunar Force 1 (shouldn’t it be Mars?) comes with bells and whistles like Hyperfuse and Lunarlon foam but harkens back to the white-on-white colorways of yore. It’s also super light: down from 17.56 ounces to just 11.7. When the LF1 comes out today, it’ll be accompanied by a version that’s thermo-molded, Nike’s new vacuum-forming technique that leaves the entire upper without stitching or seams. “It’s about maintaining the legacy but bringing it to a new space,” Dolce told Co.Design on Tuesday.
The AF1 is the sneaker industry’s answer to Coco Chanel’s pearls–they never go out of style, thanks in equal parts to Nike’s brilliant marketing strategy and sheer cultural momentum. The first version debuted in 1982 and was quickly discontinued, but in 1986 it reemerged with a new swoop and has largely stayed the same since. In the ’80s and early ’90s, the AF1 was native to Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. “I always thought it was a Brooklyn shoe!” laughs Dolce, who grew up in Sunset Park in the late 1980s. “People called it the Uptown, and I could never agree with that. I’d call it the Flatbush or something.” As East Coast street style and music migrated into the mainstream in the 1990s, so did the Air Force 1, appearing on MTV and suburban streets across the country. “Now we’re talking about it in terms of Rio, Shanghai, all of these different places,” he says.
As the shoe became a bigger seller, Nike developed a deft business strategy that has helped to keep it popular for three decades. Nike has figured out how to create what is essentially a small-batch industry around the AF1: special editions for holidays, celebrities, music, and street artists. There are Homer Simpson AF1s, raw meat AF1s, and, um, actual presidential AF1s. According to Business Week, retailers who sell AF1s on sale are excluded from the next round of new releases. Special editions are made in quantities of half a million pairs or less, which lets Nike build in a certain amount of anticipation and demand for each release. It keeps kids excited about the shoes, and makes collectors of them. In a way, it wrote the code for sneakerhead culture we know today. “Of every project I’ve done, I have the utmost respect for the AF1,” Dolce says. “You touch it, and you can sense all the designers that have come before.”
The LF1 goes on sale in stores today, and will run around $125 and up. If you’re in Brooklyn, stop by the Barclays Center, where Nike has installed an AF1-themed pop-up store.