Back in 2007, when Nike celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Air Force 1, they released a retro version of the very first style—known to some as the Air Force Zero—which featured mesh panels on the side and a leather toebox with no perforations. Accurate in nearly every way, they were a must for me. I actually wound up getting two pairs, which doesn’t happen often.
But there was one detail they missed.
I was reminded of that pair today when I saw this pair, the “remastered” Air Force 1 High. Sure, they don’t have the mesh sidepanels or the clean toebox. What they do have is the classic Nike Air lettering on the heel—all caps, no Swoosh, “Air” in italics—which immediately brought me back. Not to 1982, but to 1985, when I got a pair of Nike Air Ships which used the same “Nike Air” lettering. And to the ‘90s, when I found a deadstock pair of white/purple Air Force 1 highs (which did have the mesh side panels) at a mom and pop shop. It’s amazing how important such a small detail can be.
The whole purpose of a retro product, if done correctly, should be to transport a would-be consumer back in time.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened for me, and it surely won’t be the last. The Nike Air tongue tag on an Air Jordan 1, the tongue on the adidas Superstar ‘80s compared to the Superstar II, the beefed-up stitching on the Converse All-Star ‘70s—all of these things are relatively minor, all of them are crucial to me. And as more and more sneakers release, those small details have become more and more important. (Then again, I’ve always been a lunatic about this stuff: Case in point, the first Nike Air Max Uptempo retros that said “Air Tempo” on the back instead? Unacceptable.)
Look at it this way: Assuming your purchasing habits remain relatively constant, the more releases there are, the more releases you wind up leaving on the shelves. And unless you’re a diehard completist (“I NEED Air Jordan XVs!”) or someone who just buys shoes to flip, those small details are going to matter to you, too. The releases you do buy are going to be the ones that move you most, for whatever reason. Sometimes it might be something as simple as a color or a collaborator. Other times it might be something more subtle.
I’m not sure how many different Air Force 1s have released since 1982, but it’s been a lot. In the thousands, certainly. There have been tons of Air Force 1 highs alone, many of them meant to pay tribute to the original release. Before that 25th anniversary pair there was a 20th anniversary model, which had the mesh side panels as well as “20th” embroidery on the outside heels (but not the unperfed vamp).
Until today, I didn’t realize that the NIKE AIR lettering mattered more to me than any of that other stuff.
The whole purpose of a retro product, if done correctly, should be to transport a would-be consumer back in time. If said consumer doesn’t have their own memories, that’s relatively easy to do. It’s why “retro inspired” product sells, why Air Jordan retros don’t need to be exact in order to sell out instantly.
For me, though? Close enough isn’t good enough. An Air Jordan V, say, without Nike Air on the back isn’t really an Air Jordan V. It’s not what I remember. And judging from the reaction I felt to a simple typeface change, what I remember is what really matters.
That “Nike Air” lettering on the back of the remastered Air Force 1 brought back feelings from 30 years ago like it was yesterday. Something priceless that I can actually buy.
Russ Bengtson is a senior editor at Complex. 'The Russ Report' appears every Friday and you can read previous columns here.