Few shoes have as deep of a history as the Nike Air Force 1, and even fewer have been able to cross over into pop culture. The Air Force 1 isn't just a pair of sneakers, it's a statement. Nike has big things planned for the sneaker for ComplexCon, which is right around the corner, including 10 T-shirts designed by 39-year-old artist Brian Roettinger (you may know him from designing Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail cover art).
The T-shirts are a history lesson on the Air Force 1 and what makes it so great. We got the opportunity to talk Roettinger and had him explain what everyone can expect at ComplexCon this year. Here's what he had to say.
What do you like about the Air Force 1 so much?
I’ve never been a sneakerhead, but growing up the shoes that everyone knew were Jordans, Air Force 1s, and Air Max 95s. They had a cultural value. They went from being a sport shoe to becoming a lifestyle, and [the Air Force 1] was the one shoe that was always on my radar. Through its history of collaborations, it’s constantly evolving. It’s kind of a blank canvas.
There's a T-shirt that has an old ad on it. How did you decide to do that?
That ad was part of a manual, it wasn’t an advertisement, rather an instruction manual with its performance specifications. That’s what I liked: It was an ad, but it wasn’t attached to any sports figure. It was didactic information. To use an image from their history was something that spoke to me more than one of the first Air Force 1 ads with Moses Malone, Mychal Thompson, or Michael Cooper. It didn’t feel like an ad so much.
They’re typographically driven. My work revolves around using language or using typography as a way to communicate ideas, rather than pairing text with images. I break it down to the truest meaning. Nike has this history with making big cultural statements, of course everyone is familiar with “Just Do It,” so I liked the idea of going back and being part of that dialogue with big bold type.
Which is your favorite shirt?
When you design a shirt, you’re like, “This is my personal favorite,” but when you see them in person, it can change your opinion. So it’s hard to say. I like the one that says “Baltimore ‘85 until,” because Baltimore is responsible for giving the Air Force 1 its cultural value. I like that it’s a shirt that doesn’t say “Nike Air Force 1” across the front. It’s a “if you know, you know” shirt. On the sleeves there are images of the I-95 highway, which goes from Baltimore to New York. It’s connective thread of how the Air Force 1 had its roots in Baltimore and Harlem.
Want to experience Complex IRL? Check out ComplexCon, a festival and exhibition on Nov. 5-6, 2016 in Long Beach, Calif., featuring performances, panels, and more. For ticket info, click here.