The Nike Air Force 1 is a constant. Since its launch in '82, the shoe has gone from strict basketball equipment to a global street style staple. The how and why is held by the people who, generation after generation, adopted it, each with their own introduction points and reasons.
Stories about Baltimore’s mid-'80s support of the silhouette and New York’s unbridled decades-long love for it abound. However, the position of the Air Force 1 in other cities is less documented. Still, every place has its own distinct relationship with the Air Force 1 — a specific spin or cultural connection. London is no exception.
In the late ‘90s, the Air Force 1 had a strict underground following in London. It wasn’t embraced by fashion, nor did celebrities, footballers or musicians celebrate it. Instead there was an organic street embrace that was defined by a particular way of styling the shoe.
“On the road, all black was favored and it was laced with one cross lace from the bottom lace hole to the top. No other city was lacing shoes that way,” remembers Magdi Fernandes, a collector from West London who ran the boutique Slammin’ Kicks from 2002-2007.
The early 2000s was pivotal to London’s Air Force 1 connection. JD Sports, which first stocked the AF1 in ’89, began offering limited-edition exclusive colorways, which gained a cult following almost as powerful as the mythical CO.JP varieties from Japan.
“U.S. stores and consumers were importing UK shoes. I would send 10-15 pairs of each style to DJ Clark Kent because he wanted that many pairs of each JD Sports exclusive. That was unheard of at the time,” says Fernandes. “It was a special moment for the sneaker industry as the dynamics changed from the U.S. having all the power. It put the UK on the map.”
The dynamics changed from the U.S. having all the power. It put the UK on the map.
Subsequently, the silhouette's status in the city rose. In 2003, London got its first true signature AF1 with the Carnival, which held special resonance in West London. Four years later, the Brixton Top Cats were given hat tip through the London edition of the World Love pack. And most recently, Samuel Ross’ AF1 A Cold Wall* paid cerebral homage to the Big Smoke’s distinctive architecture.
Despite the hyped collaborations and limited runs, the shoe's organic, underground buzz still abounds in London. That signature lacing and the silhouette's simple appeal captured the attention of successive generations — as it always had and always will.
Here, four contemporary Londoners share their respective take on the Air Force 1.
AJ Tracey, 23, Rapper, Ladbroke Grove
In London, this is how highly people regard the Air Force 1: You could be going somewhere nice — to the club, for example — and wear a nice shirt, smart trousers and then instead of formal shoes, you would wear a pair of fresh pair of Air Force 1.
I’ve grown up in the Air Force 1. It is just the best silhouette. You can see that other trainer designs have since tried to copy the style — but it’s an original, and will always be the cleanest.
London influences the way that I dress a lot. My style is a cross between utility streetwear with high-fashion and designer. A lot of people have the misconception that style is about money or owning the newest drop but it’s not. Style is about making whatever you wear your own.
LEAH WILLIAMSON, 20, FOOTBALLER, MILTON KEYNES
My younger brother and I always used to have matching Air Force picked by our mum. He was just a toddler then so people must have thought we were a fashionable family.
Trainers are a huge part of the London lifestyle. The urban roots of the Air Force have been merged with the culture of fashion in the city — it's the style capital! That inch of a sole gives you a platform to stamp your ground and be accounted for. It’s not to be worn without a bit of attitude and confidence — certainly not something London is lacking. For me, it's the ultimate shoe.
Today, my style is all about layering up with oversized or netted tops with flashes of color underneath and high-waist jeans or track bottoms. Those crisp whites give my look the classic status and sense of '90s nostalgia.
Little Simz, 23, Rapper/Actress, Islington
My first Air Force 1 pair was white with a red sole. I'll never forget how much I loved those trainers; I used to wear them everywhere!
Still, I’ve always been a fan of the classic whites. I'd usually wear them with a tracksuit. Nice and simple.
Jadon Sancho, 17, Footballer, Kennington
Growing up in London, everyone had a pair of Air Force, from the most fashionable person to the least. If there were a London starter pack, you'd have Air Force in them.