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Local Legend: How a Japanese Release Became a Global Grail

The Nike Air Force One has, since release in 1982, enjoyed fierce regional loyalties. Consider the shoe’s burgeoning position in Baltimore, fluid since the mid-80s, and its ultimate blossoming in New York City. Beyond, tight releases in other cities from the early 2000s — Chicago, London and Philadelphia — helped spark a new collector tourism that saw AF1 fans traveling vast distances to one up each other and turn regional colorways into global grails. 

This truth is most apparent in the Japanese releases at the turn of the century. Thoughout the early 2000s, Nike’s co.jp project introduced a number of Japan-exclusive styles. Standing out within the “Concept Japan” collection is 2001’s Linen/Atmosphere Air Force 1 Low .

The color way is simple, clean and different — but not scary.

DJ Clark Kent

Simple in form, the full-leather build — with timely pink accents — is hailed by collectors worldwide as one of the best ever colorways. The shoe was also key in popularizing a new kind of collector shorthand. Given the sheer number of makeups available, connoisseurs had no other option but to label each with its own nickname, frequently singling out a single color on the label. In this case, the muted shade of brown became this release's unofficial title — the Linen.  

The design returns, fifteen years later, as a global exclusive to Kith's all-new Miami flagship store this week. It’s only natural that the shoe’s lasting appeal pay homage not simply to the Linen’s brilliant aesthetic, but the thrill of the hunt too. 

Here collectors, representing two generations, reflect on the Linen's unique pull.

Ronnie Fieg, Kith
The Linen is my favorite shoe, period. There are different elements that make a sneaker great, and the Linen is the definition of every one. The quality is on point, the colorway is unique yet tasteful, they were almost impossible to find, and there were only a few made.

In 2001, news about sneaker releases wasn't as easily accessible as it is today. You had to know someone to give you a heads up about when certain pairs were being put on shelves. Coincidentally, when the Linen originally released I had a friend in Japan and he told me about these Forces he found there that he'd never seen before. He said he was bringing back 3 pairs, so I knew they were going to be crazy before I even saw them. When he got back I went to his crib to check them out and was instantly in love. I offered to buy a pair, but my friend refused to sell me any, which made me want them even more. I ended up tracking down some other people I found out had acquired pairs and traded away some of the most valuable sneakers from my personal collection. Today I have four pairs, one that I wear and three on ice. I would do it all again, and still catch myself having an eye open for brand new pairs floating around in my size.

DJ Clark Kent, DJ & Producer
The Linen is an absolutely beautiful execution of the perfect sneaker. The color way is simple, clean and different— but not scary. Nobody would dream to wear a shoe with pink swooshes in the U.S. at the time. But, when NYC saw these, minds changed, and it became an instant classic.

I learned about them because one of my friends from Japan told me that some tan and pink Airs were coming out. I had him find out when, and the best part was I was headed out to Tokyo the week after. Being a certified sneaker junkie, I called the promoter who was hosting me. I asked him to change my flight date to arrive the day before the release — one week prior to the date I was actually working. Complaining about extra hotel costs, he said “no.” I made a deal: Fly me in, put me in the hotel for the 7 days, and I will DJ for free. Needless to say, he gave in. 

On the morning of the release, I got a chauffeur, drove to as many sneaker shops as possible, and bought every size 11.5 I could find. It was Tokyo, no size 12's! When I was done, I had 11 pair. Every single pair...WORTH IT.

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