One of the most celebrated sneakers from Nike’s roster, the Air Force 1 has changed the landscape of the footwear industry and paved the way for a new wave of cultural icons. And while it’s been over 40 years since the AF1 first entered the conversation, this year, the shoe is set to dominate more than ever before. With demand for the sneaker at an all-time high thanks to covetable collaborations and continuous remodels, questions are now being asked as to whether it can surpass the likes of the Nike Dunk and New Balance 550. Here, we take a look at the AF1’s long-standing legacy and how it came to be 2023’s must-have sneaker.

Introduced in 1982, Bruce Kilgore’s Air Force 1 was the first basketball silhouette to feature Nike’s Air technology. The style transitioned from on-court performance to off-court style as hip-hop artists pushed the silhouette to the forefront of culture through lyrics and videos. Years later, the AF1 achieved cult status with more big names wearing the shoe — including Jay-Z and Nelly. Nike went on to introduce a selection of styles that attracted fans from around the globe and informed the direction of the industry.

Fast forward to present day and the Air Force 1 is reigning supreme. Nike has produced over 2000 styles since the shoe’s inception, proving the AF1’s relentless staying power and enduring impact. Now confirmed as one of the Swoosh brand’s bestselling styles, the Air Force is having a moment, and it’s not hard to see why.

High-profile collaborations are a driving force behind the sneaker’s recent demand. Partnerships with the world’s biggest brands — Supreme, Off-White and Cactus Plant Flea Market to name a few — have drawn in a wider audience and introduced the silhouette to a whole new demographic. Virgil Abloh and Louis Vuitton’s 2022 rendition of the Air Force 1 saw the silhouette enter the luxury realm, while Stüssy’s pared-back take reinforced the sneaker’s streetwear appeal. With plenty more collaborations planned for this year, including Jaquemus, Tiffany & Co. and AMBUSH, the AF1 moves ever closer to being crowned 2023’s most wanted shoe.

But while exclusive releases and limited-edition collections have given the Air Force 1 a level of prestige, the secret to the sneaker’s current success lies in its versatility. From classic white low-tops to all-black styles, the silhouette’s endless wearability has allowed the AF1 to transcend the seasonal trends and become a certified staple year-on-year. Its clean lines and comfortable design not only resonates with today’s shoppers, but heralds a new era of timeless essentials. 

As we head deeper into 2023, the Air Force 1 continues to be an unstoppable force. The silhouette may have celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2022, but this year is set to be even better. Tastemakers and A-listers like Hailey Bieber, Drake and Rihanna have all been spotted wearing the shoe, while reimagined classics and all-new colourways are rumoured to dominate the market. With the Nike Dunk and New Balance 550 predicted to fall from the top spots, there’s a space to fill — and the Air Force 1 is the perfect fit.