Talking about NIKE “AIR FORCE 1” & “DUNK”

SKIT’s Katsushige Kamamoto and The Apartment’s Takayuki Ohashi talk about the history of the AIR FORCE 1 and DUNK models.

SKIT’s Katsushige and The Apartment’s Takayuki Ohashi have a lot in common; they both run their stores out of Kichijoji, have a love for sneaker and fashion culture, and by doing so also know a lot about the background of these found in street culture. We asked them to enlighten us on the subject of NIKE’s AIR FORCE 1 and DUNK models, which have been regaining popularity these last few seasons.

--- Like in many other fields of culture and fashion, there’s this repeating cycle of popularity you can find in the world of sneakers; recently, I feel as if the wave has been bringing us back to the AIR FORCE 1 (AF1) and DUNK models, both from the SB series. When do you suppose this trend started?

Kamamoto: “The DUNK model has been regaining popularity for about the last three years. In this case, it’s not so much a fashion trend as it is more of a collector’s item these days, and so it seems like the movement itself started from China this time.”

--- Does that mean that the DUNK model and other items from the SB series have been going up in price level these few years?

Kamamoto: “There was this one person who suddenly appeared and put 800.000 yen on the counter not because of the DUNK being part of the SB series, but purely because of the model itself; he literally walked in and said ‘Could you get me all models from this one to this one’. That happened three years ago, and I think it was for then that people started regularly appearing to buy DUNK items. At that point, it was not so much a global trend as it was more a thought that ‘the DUNK might be the next big thing’. After a while the market just ran out of DUNK models and so logically the prices went up. It was in that time frame that Travis Scott started appearing wearing old models of the SB series as well. It almost feels like some buyers instigated this development, rather than it being something that just naturally occurred out of nowhere.”

--- Mr. Ohashi, I hear you go to New York often to buy new items; what was your impression of the state of the market for AF1 shoes as well as other SB series models, which are usually seen as fairly low-tech in the sneaker world?

Ohashi: “I feel like in the 2000s, many of the vintage collectors that were slightly younger than me, as well as local graffiti artists would all be wearing the AF1 model; what I noticed recently is that these people have started wearing even older models, like the Black Snake model or models using linen. It seemed like they would be wearing older models that were still in good state to stand out from the rest of the people. That’s one thing I noticed, but of course that’s not the main trend going on here. About five years ago, the whole of New York would be wearing Air Jordans; someone out there must’ve wanted to try something else and chose the AF1 model. ‘If you really try you can probably still wear older AF1 models and they’re actually really interesting!’; that’s probably their thought pattern here. That’s when we buyers started thinking ‘the AF1 might be the next big thing’ and decided to buy in advance, but that actually didn’t go too well, haha. The response was so-so, to say the least. But after the revival of the linen model in 2016, the atmosphere suddenly changed completely around the AF1 model to a situation much more favorable to us.
As far as the DUNK SB model goes, I’ve actually never really seen many people wearing it in New York at all. This has always been the case, but there is a definite gap between the people wearing the AF1 model and people who wear the DUNK SB model. The current hype for the DUNK SB model is less of a fashion trend and more focused on the item itself; it’s one of the items being re-evaluated these days just like it was when the Ura-Harajuku culture started gaining traction in the zeroes.”

Kamamoto: “The older SB models have gained in price a lot and they’re sold within a short period of time after being put on sale, but I’ve never really seen many people wear them on the street. It’s being called a boom, but for me it’s more of an ‘invisible boom’. You’d probably think that a lot of people were actually wearing them in America, but even on the West Coast where I go I don’t really see anyone wearing them. It’s being called a worldwide boom, but to me it’s something of a hype that only really exists on Instagram and social networks of the like.”

--- So it’s almost like a virtual boom.

Kamamoto: “I really feel the DUNK model only really gained popularity these last few years. When it was revived in 1999 it was also Japan where the hype started.”

--- So it was only really popular in and around Japan?

Kamamoto: “Yes, basically. There was a specific group of people in Japan that were big fans of this model, but I wasn’t personally part of this group either way, I only learned of it afterwards. I’ve turned 42 this year and I learned of the existence of the DUNK model back in middle school, but even back then it was sold for about 30000 yen, so it was usually the people who were into second-hand clothing actually wearing them. But it was possible to buy original DUNKs really cheaply at the Rose Bowl Flee Market and when I first went to New York and asked an employee at Foot Locker about the model he basically didn’t even know what I was talking about.”

Everyone: “Wow!”

Kamamoto: “It’d be like ‘Man, you are wearing some weird shoes’. In the zeroes they did a collaboration with Supreme which did help their popularity a bit, but the model never found a stable position in the genre. For us (Japanese), there are some ultimate standard DUNK model like Dark Blue/Yellow or Orange/White but that kind of idea never made its way outside of Japan.”

Ohashi: “I’m from the same generation as Mr. Kamamoto is, so I associate the DUNK model with Dark Blue/Yellow as well, but I always had the feeling that they were shoes people in the second-hand clothes field would be wearing; they were just not meant for me. That changed a little bit when the DUNK PRO model arrived; at the time I was also skateboarding myself and for that it’s important you have special skateboard shoes, right? I also owned some other pairs, models like OSIRUS and es, but I was also a big hip hop fan and that didn’t go very well together, so I would always change shoes immediately after skateboarding as to not be seen wearing skateboard shoes by other people. But when the DUNK PRO model arrived, I realized I could wear them on a regular basis as well and so I started doing so. But afterwards the SB model arrived, which was again kind of different from the normal style people in Ura-Harajuku would be wearing. There were a lot of things I did like about those shoes, but in the end I felt like I wasn’t the kind of person who should be wearing them.
I think there’s two strands of DUNK models that are especially popular now; the shoes that were released before the DUNK PRO model, made famous by Virgil Abloh and the SB DUNK models that became popular for their collaboration with Travis Scott. Those are in the end the DUNK models that were most accepted into the Harajuku, Ura-Harajuku culture. In that genre, I suppose they’ve become iconic in some way.”

--- I remember the DUNK PRO model! It’s been ages since I’ve heard anyone talk about it!

Kamamoto: “It’s been mostly forgotten. The people who started the DUNK PRO project moved on afterwards to develop the SB model as well. I feel there’s a big gap there between Japan and the rest of the world; this is something I’ve read in an interview before, but on a world scale the SB model was treated as a failure. In Japan people would stand in line to buy these sneakers, but that wasn’t enough to make up for the lack of sales everywhere outside of Japan. Perhaps that is also one of the reasons never became part of the standard inventory.”

--- Back when the URA DUNK model was released in Japan, I remember there being a huge variety in the way people would tie their shoelaces. Was that ever a thing as well abroad?

Ohashi: “When I’m talking with some of my friends working as writers in New York, I often hear that people who wear AF1’s usually don’t even use the shoelace holes and just tie their shoelaces together like that. I think this is a thing that came from the newer models made in hip hop style, but those shoes usually come with the shoelaces not in the shoes but instead in a bundle separately, right? They basically wear them just like that.

I also usually tie my shoelaces very loosely as to make sure the tongue isn’t damaged; I think that’s the way people treat their shoelaces. Nowadays that style was updated by people from HECTIC and for example OSUMI, who were checking out the New York culture back in those days.”

--- When talking about the AF1 model, they did a collaboration this season with Supreme with the box logo on a completely white or black shoe.

Ohashi: “I think what Supreme was trying to do here was to use that box logo to push the model into the realm of really standard items. They’ve been using that box logo for a lot of collaborations recently on other smaller items as well, right? The nuance there is that that item is THE BEST in its field, like a stamp certifying it is a quality item. Supreme is a brand from New York; as far as standard items goes, the top 2 is usually a battle between Timberland and the AF1 model, which will probably not change anytime soon. The reason they didn’t change much in the way of actual design is probably because they realized the position they’re in. I think that model will probably turn out to be an evergreen in about ten years.”

--- It definitely strengthened the position of the AF1 model as a standard in New York. Do you think that means the market position of the model will be better in the near future?

Kamamoto: “I think so, yes. For example, the way Virgil handled the Off-White model ended up ‘destroying’ the conceptions about it in a good way. As this is the current trend, the fact that Supreme decided to release a similar design has great meaning. These days even NIKE is moving around their swoosh for their inline models. I definitely think there is some sense of meaning to be found in these trends. In a world where flashy and out of the ordinary designs are seen as good, there are definitely signs that a change is coming.”

Ohashi: “These days it’s not just Virgil’s style of designing, this is a way that items are generally designed. The recent collaboration between Comme des Garcons Homme Plus and the AIR MAX 95 was made with the same methodology. It’s more a matter of philosophy than pure fashion. That philosophy, that way of thinking is slowly becoming more and more saturated, so when people start logically plucking it apart, there will be no choice but to move on to the next step. That’s when Supreme used the AF1 to provide a more solid alternative in their own way, like they always do.”

Ohashi: “These few years I often find myself thinking that the trend in sneakers is completely separate from the trends seen in fashion, which became especially apparent after the arrival of the Dad Shoes. There’s a lot of people just collecting sneakers independently from a fashion perspective, which in the end leads to people going to the completely opposite end of the spectrum and walking around wearing completely worn-out Mephisto’s. That’s recently become the new trend. The white AF1 models are fairly standard as far as shoes go, they’re the ultimate inline. I think it might be interesting if people would start wearing those kinds of shoes as an actual part of fashion. By which I mean, not going for a flashy or deluxe shoe but a standard edition instead.”

--- Mr.Kamamoto, do you have any models from the SB series or AF1 models that remain in your memory?

Kamamoto: “I started out with the SB model before I moved on to the AF1. The reason I started being interested in sneakers was from a sports perspective; at the time, basketball player Michael Jordan and 3 on 3 were part of popular culture. From the Chicago Bulls I went on to Chicago, then to rapper Common Sence who was born there, and ended up being interested in the AF1 sneakers he was wearing; in a way it was all linked together, and that’s what made the AF1 model special to me. Of course, I knew about the DUNK model by that time as well, but it was much more pricey and I never bought any. The AF1’s were the best shoes you could normally buy at that price level.”

--- What specific model were the AF1’s you remember best?

Ohashi: “I started out with white mid cut AF1 sneakers. A lot of people who started dancing before me would be wearing AF1’s and I was always interested in them as an aspect of black culture. But these people were wearing shoes with red soles; the chronology of things might get a bit messed up, but in the early nineties there was a 12 inch album brought out by Lord Finesse, and on the back of the sleeve Finesse was wearing snow white AF1 sneakers; that was the first time I realized these shoes were that white, and they would be selling those at this sports store in Ichikawa. Problem is, they were 30 cm in length. Obviously they didn’t fit but I bought them anyways. Either way, that’s why I started out with mid cut AF1’s. Obviously the more standard choice is a low or high cut, but for me the mid cut version which was ordered differently per city is the one I remember the most. The ones I would wear are the sneakers from Chi-Town or NYC, I still remember them and love them.”

--- I remember those, the ones ordered per city! There was like the Navy White model in NYC, right?

Ohashi: “There were also the ones made especially for the Foot Locker around Ameyoko, at the end of the 90’s when I was in high school, or the AF1’s made for Europe with all the weird colours.”

--- And the ones for JD Sports, right?

Ohashi: “Yes, those as well. I loved those kind of sneakers back then. When the WEST INDIES model came out, which used three different colours besides white, it felt really strange. For me, one of the AF1 model’s characteristics what that it always featured two colours. I have a lot of memories from the period that the AF1 was still only a two-colour thing.”

Kamamoto:” From the perspective of the shoe store, the AF1 really was a model that only used two colours, so when in the nineties NIKE decided to do their logo in gold and use three colours, that was a rare sight in itself.”

Ohashi:” I love to match the colours of my sneakers to my clothes, so I often felt that when using three colours the third one would get in the way of that often.”

--- Finally, I wanted to ask you how you feel about the fact that trends in the sneaker and fashion worlds never go at the same pace much these days; is that something that has always been the case?

Ohashi:” These days there is a lot of people going into the fashion world starting from sneakers; a lot of people doing stuff with sneakers on YouTube, or a famous actor or TV personality starts to love sneakers, that’s kind of a new genre that started appearing. I think that’s where the gap between the two worlds started appearing. I felt the same when I was still in New York though. There were more and more people wearing a full NIKE outfit combined with quite rare sneakers. That was something that I didn’t see ten years ago. Also, there’s certain styles of clothing that only people in a certain community start to wear. At that point, it becomes something that has almost nothing to do with fashion.”

Kamamoto:” There’s a lot of those people amongst our customers these days, but that’s kind of a boom in itself. I myself experienced the AIR MAX 95 hype, but one thing I realized is that there’s got to be someone that also keeps the flow of culture going, the central elements of these hypes, or it will disappear without a trace before you know it. Of course all hypes are bound to end one day, but the culture that developed with them will stay for the long run.”

Katsushige Kamamoto

Born in 1978 in Aomori Prefecture. Owner of sneaker shop “SKIT”. Currently has four locations in Japan. Carrying rare items at reasonable prices,SKIT is being noticed by sneakerheads from all over the world.

Takayuki Ohashi

Owner of the Apartment and the Apartment SOHO in Kichijoji, that proposes the fashion and lifestyle linked closely with that of New York’s culture.

Photo_ Shunsuke Shiga
Text_ Maruro Yamashita