Both made with basketball in mind, there’s no doubt that the Air Force 1 and Dunk silhouettes are two of Nike’s most popular styles of all time. Simple iterations of the AF1 have been collection staples for years, but the re-emergence of the Dunk has seen people push their beloved Air Force 1s aside. Offering an extensive range of everyday designs and expert cushioning for comfort, will the Dunk take the crown as the ultimate go-to shoe, or has Nike’s recent focus on heritage-inspired and all-new colourways done enough to renew the industry’s appreciation for the iconic model?

First released in 1982, the Air Force 1 quickly made its mark in the sportswear industry. Marketed with the slogan “Air in a Box”, the Air Force 1 put comfort and performance at the forefront of its design and, thanks to its optimised support, became a go-to sneaker for some of the world’s greatest basketball players. It didn’t take long for the expertly crafted AF1 to infiltrate into streetwear style, with the triple-white and all-black proving to be the most popular choices within ‘90s fashion. By the early noughties, the Air Force 1 cemented its place as a collection staple thanks to shoutouts from artists like Jay-Z and Nelly, while footwear enthusiasts and A-listers alike donned the sneaker across the globe.

As the sneaker industry boomed in the 2010s, demand for newer, fresher designs increased. This left the door open for retro-inspired silhouettes like the Air Jordan 1 and Nike Dunk to steal the limelight and take centre stage. While the classic Air Force 1 held its own as a certified icon, fans were desperate to get their hands on something new. Fast forward to 2021 and the Nike Dunk Low Panda has become one of the most sought-after sneakers of the decade. With a success story similar to the AF1’s origins, the less chunky, equally as versatile Dunk has topped the charts for the last two years.

Much like the Air Force 1, the Nike Dunk model was originally unveiled as a highly functional and comfortable basketball trainer in 1985. Inspired by the sleek look of the AF1, the first Dunk campaign was inspired by a selection of university colour schemes and was titled the “Be True To Your School” collection. The Dunk was then updated in the ‘90s when Nike came out with the SB Dunk which was tailored towards skateboarding. Despite always being in-demand, the popularity of the Dunk skyrocketed when Nike collaborated with rapper and artist Travis Scott in 2020.

The highly sought-after Nike Dunk Panda particularly owes its current success to its collaborative predecessors. After the roaring reception to the Houston-born artist’s unique spin on the SB Dunk, the Dunk was set-up for many more exciting partnerships with brands like Virgil Abloh’s Off-White and Ben & Jerry’s. More minimalistic offerings of the Dunk were then seen as a more affordable way to introduce the silhouette into collections, which is why the Panda Dunk is now one of the most-bought pairs.

As trends naturally fluctuate and demand for vintage-inspired iterations increases, the Air Force 1 is making a slow-but-sure comeback. 2022 saw Nike put a focus on fresh colourways and all-new collaborations in honour of the AF1’s 40th anniversary, with pairs like the NOCTA x Nike Air Force 1 Certified Lover Boy staying true to the favoured triple-white design. As we edge further into 2023, AF1 designs from AMBUSH and other collaborators are gearing up for release, while the Dunk continues its focus on bestselling colourways. But who will come out on top?