Nike toasts the 35th anniversary of the classic kick with the help of designer Virgil Abloh.
In the sneaker world, Nike’s Air Force One is a silhouette of legend—perhaps doubly so in Chicago, where the city’s longstanding embrace of hip-hop and basketball culture, when filtered through a vibrant streetwear scene, breathes a contemporary freshness into the heralded shoe.
Case in point: to ring in the AF1’s 35th birthday, the Swoosh tapped Rockford, IL native Virgil Abloh (as well as Just Don namesake—and fellow Chicagoan—Don Crawley, ACRONYM designer Errolson Hugh, Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke, and trendsetting rapper Travis Scott) to reimagine the model as part of its AF-100 collection, showcased this past weekend at an exclusive Wicker Park pop-up shop co-presented by RSVP Gallery. Abloh—hot on the heels of his other buzzed-about collaboration with Nike, The Ten—discussed updating the icon with Michigan Avenue.
Growing up, what did the Air Force One mean to you—not just as a fan of sneaker culture, but as a kid growing up in the Chicago area? VIRGIL ABLOH: To me, the AF-1 was always a staple. I came to know about the shoe from listening to Jay-Z lyrics.
What was the importance of the shoe at that time? What did it mean from a pop culture perspective? VA: It was especially important as a blank canvas of a shoe. Within hip-hop, it was a staple and a symbol of freshness, mainly in the white-on-white colorway. It was immediately iconic and had many moments of relevance past its inception.
You previously reflected that the current project entails "editing it, but not editing it too far to where it becomes something else." How do you make the Air Force 1 your own while preserving the heritage of the shoe? VA: Exactly—I wanted to have the shoe's original DNA at the forefront but still [have] some signifiers that the Off-White™ version of the design has interrupted the original.
Abloh's reimagined Air Force One features a metallic swoosh and employs quoted typeface characteristic of his brand, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh.
You've described yourself as a "reactionary designer," drawing on your immediate surroundings to design. How does that reactionary ethos play into this design? VA: I not only think about the design, but the existence of other original and edited re-released sneakers informs the decisions I make in my design process. Sometimes that takes precedence.
What's the difference in approach you take when you're flipping the Air Force One for this project versus when you're reimagining it for The Ten? VA: The Ten has a design language all its own...thereby the end result is different. One more original, another more extreme in terms of editing.
What's it like getting to team up with a fellow Chicagoan like Don C on a project like this? What's that say about Chicago's history—and current importance—in impacting sneaker culture? VA: It's super important. Don C is a global legend with very important local roots. Our friendship and partnership in RSVP Gallery in Chicago started specifically to bring local relevance to projects we were doing globally. I'm honored that we were given this chance to create.
Between Kareem's, Don C's, Travis', and Errolson's, do you have a favorite take of your fellow collaborators? VA: I love them all because they each explored a different theme in design.
Lastly, do you have a favorite all-time iteration of the Air Force One? VA: The original version, for sure.