Nike's Air Force 1 "Color of the Month" pack

by Brendan Dunne

Images by Andy Hur

The Nike Air Force 1 could have very well faded into obscurity following its 1982 release.

The shoe debuted in a time before retros really existed for the Nike. The Swoosh wasn’t keen on re-issuing sneakers after they came out – some of its runners and early basketball shoes morphed in their developmental years, coming back with tweaks, but for the most part, a shoe was done after its initial run.

Thankfully, the future-classic, bulky basketball shoe by designer Bruce Kilgore was saved from certain fate by the sneaker-conscious public’s fervor for new pairs and the reaction to that fervor from a few sportswear merchants in Baltimore, Md. This important piece of the Air Force 1’s history will be honored starting in 2015 with a staggered retro release mimicking the original “Color of the Month” program that breathed new life into the model in the 1980s.

From the Air Force 1's original print ad campaign, via Nike

The program was pioneered by Baltimore retailers Downtown Locker Room, Cinderella Shoes, and Charley Rudo Sports. The few accounts of its genesis give credit to Paul Blinken, then the footwear buyer at Cinderella, and Harold Rudo, then the footwear buyer at Rudo Sports, as the two who first pitched the idea to Nike, with Downtown Locker Room entering the picture later.

The Nike Air Force 1 was a big hit in Baltimore at its ‘82 release, its profile helped out by the endorsement of hustlers who had plenty of cash to spend on sneakers. As Rudo put it in this rare documentary on the seminal shoe, “If you had Air Force 1s, you were the s-h-i-t.” Due to the shoe’s street endorsement and resulting coveted status in Charm City, Blinken and Rudo were eager not to let the best seller simply disappear from their shelves. So they flew to Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., in ‘83 to pitch a radical idea that would bring new life to the model.

“You need to bring back the original Air Force 1s,” was the message that Blinken recalls them delivering, mentioned in this Scoop Jackson piece on the sneaker’s timeline. The Cinderella Shoes rep even recalls Nike’s people asking how they could do better in the inner city and why their sneakers weren’t selling there. The solution was the Air Force 1.

Blinken and Rudo convinced Nike to let them sell new, exclusive colorways of the sneaker, the first of which were a white/royal blue and a white/chocolate brown. This unique approach was the predecessor to things that are commonplace in the sneaker world today: regional exclusives, limited product, and the Quickstrike release. One could even call it the first collaboration between a sneaker shop and a sneaker brand. The “Color of the Month” program, as it would come to be called, was an immediate success.

Nike Air Force 1 Contract
A mock-up of the original "Three Amigos" contract, via YouTube

Blinken and Rudo had to order 1,200 pairs up front to meet the factory minimums, with 950 pairs going to Charley Rudo Sports and 250 going to Cinderella Shoes. After blowing through their stock of the first two colorways that released in ‘84 (Rudo claims here that he sold 100 in the first day alone), the retailers went back for more. They told Nike they wanted a new colorway every month.

It turned out the citizens of Baltimore wanted a new colorway every month too, as the sneakers continued to move quickly off store shelves. Stories of the exclusives were soon passed along the I-95 corridor, with people making road trips from Philadelphia and New York City just to get a taste.

As the shoes continued to sell, Nike raised the minimum amount of pairs per order, leading Blinken and Rudo to bring a third retailer, Downtown Locker Room, into the equation. And so was born the “Three Amigos,” a collective in Baltimore that was the source of some powerful footwear that consumers couldn’t find anywhere else in the world at the time.

The Color of the Month series was revolutionary for its era, serving as an early indicator of the Air Force 1’s staying power, a signal of the sneaker’s transition from the basketball to the fashion realm, and a blueprint for a new way of breathing life into archival silhouettes. Starting this weekend, Nike will revive the series by bringing back one Air Force 1 pair per month for the next six months, each of them done up with original detailing. And yes, they’re starting things off in proper chronological order with the white/royal blue and the white/chocolate brown.

Find detailed imagery for each of the upcoming Nike Air Force 1 OG “Color of the Month” Quickstrike releases, as well as release dates for each, below.

Nike Air Force 1 High Retro QS "Color of the Month"
Release Date:
 10/03/15
Style #: 743546-103
Price: $140

 

Buy Now: End, Titolo, Eastbay, Foot Locker, Footaction, Sneakersnstuff, Shoe Palace, Overkill, Nike

 


Nike Air Force 1 High Retro QS "Color of the Month"
Release Date:
11/07/15
Style #: 743546-102
Price: $140

 

Buy Now: Culture Kings, Titolo, Shoe Palace, Overkill, Sivasdesscalzo, Shelflife, City Gear, Nike

 


Nike Air Force 1 High Retro QS "Color of the Month"
Release Date:
 12/05/15
Style #: 743546-400
Price: $140

 

Buy Now: Titolo, Sneakersnstuff, Overkill, Caliroots, Villa, Sivasdescalzo, Nike

 


Nike Air Force 1 High Retro QS "Color of the Month"
Release Date:
 01/02/16
Style #: 743546-200
Price: $140

 

Buy Now: City Gear, Foot Locker, Titolo, Sivasdescalzo, Oneness, Nike

 


Nike Air Force 1 High Retro QS "Color of the Month"
Release Date:
 02/06/16
Style #: 743546-106
Price: $140

 

 


Nike Air Force 1 High Retro QS "Color of the Month"
Release Date:
 03/05/16
Style #: 743546-105
Price: $140