The Air Force 1 was never meant to last this long. Released in 1982, Nike’s first “Air” basketball shoe, was discontinued two years later. But, thanks to the demand from those customising and remixing the shoe, it would be reissued as Nike’s first retro model two years later and is still going strong over 30 years on.
Today, in an East London warehouse that’s been temporarily transformed into a hypebeast haven, the topic of discussion is “REMIX & RECONSTRUCT”, and the Air Force 1 sits firmly at the centre. The workshop is part of ‘The Ten’, a collaboration between designer Virgil Abloh and Nike, that sees him reimagining pioneering silhouettes from Nike and Converse that date back as far as 1923.
Across ten months, Abloh has created ten new trainers, making the project one of the fastest moving collaborations that Nike has ever been involved in. With the aim of re-introducing their human-made quality, the silhouettes have been broken down, hand cut and reconstructed, resulting in open source products that allow the wearer to interact. Virgil is not simply inviting people to wear sneakers with his name on them, but to get involved in the design process themselves, embodying Nike’s “Just Do It” mentality.
At today’s event in East London he’s flanked by fellow creatives, including A$AP Nast, visual artist Eddie Peake, and designers Grace Wales Bonner and Michelle Lamy, each leading workshops with the Air Force 1 as their canvas. For Nast, the silhouette is of particular personal resonance; as a Harlem native it’s in his DNA. Nike might have named the shoe after the presidents plane, but the streets rebranded it the “Uptown”. The Air Force 1 became an icon of Harlem culture and it’s intrinsic flyness.
Clash took ten minutes with the A$AP Mob rapper and multifaceted artist, to discuss his involvement in ‘The Tens’ and what the Air Force 1 means to him...
Can you describe your involvement in ‘The Ten’?
I would say my involvement is just adding my own personality and taste to it. I’m just giving these kids something to look forward to.
[I was attracted to] the fact that we get to be teachers. For the most part I’m a learner, and I like to be a learner. I look at this like open of those things where I get a chance to be able to teach and give my input on what I think is cool.
What does the Air Force 1 mean to you?
The Air Force 1 is a sentimental one because I’m from Harlem, Uptown New York City, so that’s like wearing your heart on your sleeve.
I don’t remember my first pair, but I remember having pairs all my life. I’ve grown up wearing them. I remember the nineties, everyone wearing them, flavours everywhere: that’s a Harlem thing.
Why do you think the Air Force 1 has remained such a staple in hip-hop culture?
It’s just the go-to trainer, it’s the one you can wear with anything. You can literally throw on anything with that trainer and it still looks good. It’s hard to make a mess of it. It’s one of those shoes where the shoe is the outfit, you don’t need to do too much. I’ve got my Air Force 1s on, I can relax. I can go put sweatpants on, I can put some trousers on. However you feel, they sit so well. I think it’s a shoe that would never go away. It’ll be around forever.
Would you say that you focus on collecting or wearing your trainers?
I do buy duplicates sometimes. It depends on how I feel. It’s really got to be that special one, I don’t just buy duplicates of anything. It’s got to be that one where I’m like “I’ve got to have one to wear for sure, but I have to have one to put on ice.”
It never really works out much, because the first day I’ll probably total them quick and then I’m like “Alright, that second pair. I might have to pull those out the box!”
Do you think it’s becoming increasingly important for creatives to be involved with more than just one discipline?
I find that these days you have to have the full package. It’s not “I’m a rapper, singer, musician.” You can’t just have that no more. Kids want to see the whole thing, they want to know what your taste is when it comes to style. They want to know that you’re into art. All of these different things play a part. It’s not just about having that one talent. You’ve got to be multi-talented.
What thread remains constant throughout all of your creative endeavours?
Honestly, I create due to my surroundings and how I feel when I wake up. The way I dress; depending on how I feel when I wake up, I’ll put on a certain piece or colour. When I write music I get inspired from so many different elements. It might be from someone talking about their childhood, their past and what happened in their life, or it might be a colour or place. I take inspiration from so many different place.
Travel is a great source of inspiration for me. I feel like travel is the best thing that ever happened to me. Taking from different cultures, learning from them all, [applying that] to your own life and making it work for you.
You’re very active on Instagram. How would you describe your approach to that?
I’m hustling. Each post ain’t just a stunt. If I post something it’s for a reason. It might look like the silliest post, but there’s a reason why I posted that.
Would you say that platform has had a big influence on your career?
Yes, 100 Percent. I believe that the Internet has made me who I am. I respect the Internet and I believe I’m one with the Internet. That’s part of the reason why I am who I am today. It’s part of the reason why I can reach so many kids. God bless the Internet. We probably wouldn’t be having this interview right now if it wasn’t for that.
What is it that attracts you to London? You seem to spend a lot of time here.
Everything. The people, the poetry, the style. London is one of those places where I can come and people-watch because people dress very well here. I’d love to walk around the city and take pictures of homeless people, just to show that “Wow! These people have style like crazy out here.” I can relate to it so much. I must say, I love America, but at the same time in my opinion [London has] a next level of taste when it comes to personal style, and everyone’s just freaking it here.
It’s amazing to me when you can see the different classes of people but somehow they’re all stylish. It’s very intriguing to me. I love to be at one with that and be able to see that. I think that’s why I love to be here. I love this city, and nothing will change that.
How do you relate to the idea of “Just Do It” culture?
It’s as simple as it sounds. It says so much but so little at the same time. It’s like “Yo. Do what you need to do!” In life you’re going to have your ups and downs. You’re going to have your creative moments, you’re going to have your downfalls. You’ve got to just get out there and do something. You’ve got to get out there and fail, to know that you can get back up. “Just Do It” is so fucking simple, but it says so much to you.
Interview by Grant Brydon & Rob Meyers
The full The Ten Collection will be available in November at NikeLab stores and select retailers worldwide: