NikeLab SF Air Force 1

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If you’re a fan of the Nike Air Force 1 in its thousands of colourways and multiple forms then you’ll respect the special forces out there. Some are overt and some are covert: cult favourites only known to the chosen few. The SF-AF1’s towering silhouette is a dramatic interpretation, but it’s something rooted in a history that pre-empts the existence of the brand.

Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman’s legendary achievements on Oregon’s tracks and fields are well documented — a remarkable coach and eventually, a pioneer of jogging. His insatiable curiosity when it came to altering footwear and apparel is an oft-cited inspiration. But his time serving in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II — a period where he rose to the rank of commander — remains, in line with the stoicism of the era, less highlighted. That period in Bowerman’s life would go on to inspire a new kind of performance design during the subsequent century.

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Let’s skip to the early 1980s for a moment. Hoops shoes were, by and large, a conservative looking collection unless you were lucky enough to be issued with your team colours. Air technology in running shoes had been on the market for a year, but for designer Bruce Kilgore, getting a new iteration specifically for basketball into a shoe was proving to be a significant challenge.

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Without Nike’s experimentation into offroad boot design around the same time, the Air Force 1 Hi may well have had a bulkier, less efficient shape.

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One of the key breakthroughs for Kilgore in solving bulk issues on Air Force 1 prototypes was seeing the heel of the Nike Approach hiking boot (another 1982 release, and the first Nike shoe to use GORE-TEX technology) lowered for strenuous up and down motions during hikes. That same principle could alleviate pressure on a player’s Achilles tendon. That boot’s hardwearing mesh would ultimately influence the mesh panels on the original AF1 makeup too. Before, basketball shoes had thin sole units, and this arrival’s thick sole would make a significant statement.

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In 2016, the Air Force 1 looks like a basic staple, but it belies the science that went into its creation. The thing we call an ankle strap was originally billed as a proprioceptus belt and the pattern on that familiar footprint was a set of tactically placed concentric circles. Every element was carefully applied. Connoisseurs and ballers — many of whom had a foot in both camps — took to it immediately. The tales of how the AF1 hit the ground and barely ever left have been told time and time again, but it’s necessary to reiterate just how big — in the literal sense — it was compared to its predecessors.

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Thus, the appetite for almost exaggerated, statement performance shapes was forged at street level. Nike would build on both their bold basketball and big boot offerings in subsequent years, as evidenced in their much-loved All Conditions Gear category. Very occasionally, those worlds would converge when players opted to wear ACG or brutal-looking Terrasport hybrid offerings in a game.

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Another Nike exercise in higher learning, 2009’s SFB (short for Special Field Boot) was the product of another rigorous creative process. Inspired by Bowerman’s army days, this eight-inch high design was originally created for military professionals, search and rescue workers and law personnel. Aware that first responders are athletes for whom every second matters more than any medal (losing points because of a hindrance might seem like a disaster, but losing your life for the same reason is genuinely critical), the team created something speed-focused.

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The SFB’s directional, flexible traction sole used Nike Free learning, rooted in Bowerman’s philosophies, for natural motion, while upper materials included an emphasis on quick drying breathability, plus puncture and laceration-proof zones. Made for all terrains but, crucially, created to be comfortable without the agonising break-in period of traditional boots, it served its purposes.

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Just as the Air Force 1 found a vast audience with no intention of scuffing the white leather on any kind of playing terrain, the SFB picked up as a lifestyle option too. With its functionality, it took on a sleek form that was a long way from the chunky uniformity of traditional uniform footwear. Special editions followed, with notable co-signs from progressive-minded characters like Hiroshi Fujiwara.

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The Air Force 1 has had some rugged makeovers during its lifespan. The black on black “S.W.A.T.” editions from 2004 were made for security professionals, upping the height a little and adding rip-proof laces and a steel toe. A 2005 “N2Winter” version of the high silhouette applied GORE-TEX breathability to the design. In 2011, the shoe spawned a duck boot themed makeover inspired by another east coast bestseller. For the debut of the SneakerBoot collection in 2013, warm and waterproofed iterations of the Air Force 1 were a recurring centrepiece.

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2016’s introduction of the SF-AF1 for lifestyle wear unifies both designs. That familiar AF1 sole is present, fused with the SFB’s taller profile, gusseted protective tongue, top eyelets and ventilation.

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Water repellent ballistic leather and full-grain leather construction are appropriately tough, and the military inspiration gets very literal. Two removable straps, including one inspired by military grade parachute suspension lines, amplify a focal feature. Stealth inspired elements include an espionage pocket hidden within the tongue and a carry bag that uses the ankle strap as a handle.

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The combined aesthetics present in the SF-AF1 are very much on civilian duty rather than being put through their paces in caged asphalt battlegrounds like the Air Force 1 during its performance heyday, or in extreme desert surroundings as the SFB was created to cater for. Still, just existing day-to-day requires footwear that’s built to take some force.

Gary Warnett.

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NikeLab SF Air Force 1
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BLACK/BLACK-GUM LT BROWN
Launch: Saturday 5th November 08:00GMT
Price: £159.00

 

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NikeLab SF Air Force 1
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FADED OLIVE/FDD OLV-GM LT BRWN
Launch: Saturday 5th November 08:00GMT
Price: £159.00

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NikeLab Womens SF Air Force 1
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LT BONE/LT BONE-SAIL
Launch: Saturday 5th November 08:00GMT
Price: £149.00

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NikeLab Womens SF Air Force 1
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GOLDEN BEIGE/GOLDEN BEIGE-LNN
Launch: Saturday 5th November 08:00GMT
Price: £149.00

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