The Air Jordan 1, three decades after its original release, has become the most popular Jordan Brand sneaker of all time. Not always top dog for the Air Jordan line—models like the Jordan 3 and Jordan 11 could previously be considered the most celebrated—the 1’s rise to the top has occurred over the last ten years. No single event has led to its ascent, rather several smaller milestones helped contribute to the snowball effect to now make it what most consider the greatest Air Jordan of all time. Not limiting it to only the best of Jordans, many also simply consider it the greatest sneaker of all time, period.
Coveted collaborations, celebrity co-signs, and remastered styling are just some of the examples of why the Air Jordan 1 has ascended into the upper echelons of sneaker culture. Today we’ll explore all the colorways, people, and trends that made the Air Jordan 1 what it is today.
Worn By Celebrities
Let’s face it, anytime that A$AP Rocky, Rihanna, or PJ Tucker steps out in a fresh pair of sneakers, we have a tendency to take notice. Around the turn of the last decade, the Air Jordan 1 became the go-to for the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West as the two wore Michael Jordan’s first signature shoe in everything from the “Otis” music video, to various publication photoshoots and front row at fashion shows. We’re not saying their co-signs are the sole reason for the shoe's popularity, but their influence simply cannot be denied.
Easy-Wearing Color Blocking and Silhouette
The Air Jordan 1 was ahead of its time. When designer Peter Moore equipped the shoe with leather panels in distinct color contrast, it looked unlike anything on the performance basketball market in 1984. The bold yet elegant color blocking of the Air Jordan 1 “Bred,” “Chicago,” “Shadow” and “Royal” are just some of the designs that have endured thirty years after their original release.
Looks Good With a Variety of Pants
Coinciding with the rise in popularity of the Jordan 1 nearly a decade ago was the dawning of the skinny jeans era in streetwear. As baggy pants began to be phased out for more fitted looks, the Air Jordan 1 was seen as the perfect silhouette to pair with slim jeans. Kanye championed the tandem early on (who could forget his A.P.C collaboration that featured light wash stacked jeans?) and it would go on to become the de facto look for streetwear for a period of time.
Adopted By Skaters
Skaters appropriating sneakers is nothing new. Dating back to the mid-80s, the likes of Lance Mountain, Mark Gonzales, and Steve Caballero hit the streets and half pipes in the original Air Jordan 1. Tony Hawk lauded the Jordan 1 as a “good skate shoe” due to its padded ankle collar and flat, rubber sole. In modern times, the Air Jordan 1 has undergone a transformation of sorts, as a version of the shoe has been absorbed into the Nike SB line. Standout colorways like the Air Jordan 1 High SB “LA to Chicago” and Eric Koston’s Air Jordan 1 Low SB “UNC” (pictured above) blur the lines between lifestyle and skate footwear. In other words, the Jordan 1 is exceedingly versatile.
Nike began collaborating with independent boutiques and streetwear brands as far back as the late ‘90s. Jordan Brand, ever selective with who they partner with, waited until 2008 to venture out to link up with Levi’s for a denim-focused Air Jordan 1. The floodgates opened soon thereafter when Fragment Design and Lance Mountain produced highly coveted Air Jordan 1s early in the decade that placed the collective focus of the sneaker world squarely on the venerable silhouette. Last year the Union x Air Jordan 1 set closed out 2018 with a bang. This year, the biggest Jordan 1 collaboration yet dropped: Travis Scott’s backwards Swoosh edition.
Remastered Original Styling & Availability
Air Jordan collectors and fans have always appreciated premium materials and styling akin to the original models. Many point to the “Remastered” Air Jordan series as a leading factor in the renewed interest of the Air Jordan 1. Released in 2013, the Air Jordan 1 “Royal” was the first Jordan 1 to receive the “Remastered” makeover. The shoe featured an upgraded leather construction and true-to-original higher cut silhouette. It also brought back the original branding, adding the “Nike Air” logo to the tongue and dropping the Jumpman on the heel. It’s also worth mentioning how the limited availability of the 2013 “Royal” release created an excitement around the Jordan 1 that had been missing in the years before.
As we keep moving further from Michael Jordan’s playing days, the Air Jordan 1 still sustains relevancy thanks to a new generation who appreciate the design’s simple leather and rubber styling and effortless wearability. Similarly to the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star, another sneaker with roots in the performance basketball world that has transcended its initial purpose, the Air Jordan 1, more so than any other Jordan Brand sneaker, has gone on to evolve into something greater than its association with Michael Jordan himself. Almost anybody, with any kind of style or from any walk of life, can rock the Jordan 1 with ease. And that's what makes a sneaker truly extraordinary.