How Bruce Kilgore Encapsulated Sneaker Culture

September 27, 2021 by Joey Birch

How Bruce Kilgore Encapsulated Sneaker Culture

Producing a ‘classic’ sneaker seems to be down to a fine science, and the hope that the audience will take to it well. Bruce Kilgore seemingly had that science mastered in 1982 when he designed the Nike Air Force 1. 

The Air Force 1 is a staple in streetwear culture with the silhouette being used on multiple collaborations to this day, including the recent Off-White x Nike Air Force 1 ‘Lemonade’. Despite the rapid and long-lasting success of the Air Force 1, Kilgore prefers to keep a low profile, not realising just how popular his design has become. 

In an interview with Nike in 2017, he says: "I was in Taiwan in 1987 and had gone to see a factory, and they were telling me about the Air Force 1. I said, 'I didn't realize we were still making it.' And they said, 'Yeah, man, we're always making the Air Force 1.' I was completely clueless."

The Air Force 1 was the first basketball sneaker Kilgore had designed and marked the beginning of using airbag technology in a basketball shoe. The original rollout of the sneaker saw six of the top NBA basketball players at the time, including Michael Cooper, Bobby Jones, Moses Malone, donning the new silhouette in its initial high top variant. 

However, by 1985, the same year as the Air Jordan 1 and the Nike Dunk were released, the Air Force 1s ‘Royal Blue’ and Chocolate Brown’ colourways were rereleased in three select retailers in Baltimore. With all 3,000 pairs selling out instantly, popularity spread far across the East coast with a number of retailers re-releasing more exclusive colourways.

At this point, it was clear the AF1 had already transcended the basketball court. Taking its place within streetwear and hip-hop culture during the early 2000s, where the shoe has stayed to this day.

Following the creation of the world-famous Air Force 1, Kilgore went on to design a number of tennis shoes including the Nike Air Ace, the Air Pressure, and in 1986, alongside Air Jordan 1 designer Peter Moore, the Air Jordan 2.

While Bruce Kilgore keeps a low profile nowadays and is said to not wear many pairs of his own Air Force 1s, his legacy still stays strong. With the triple white colourway selling out in stores in 2020 and early 2021 to a number of high profile collaborations on the silhouette, the Air Force 1 will define culture for many more years.