June 27, 2022 1:51 pm

‘Everyone wants them’: the trainers that sold for $150,000

Several pairs of Nike Air Force 1s were auctioned at Sotheby’s this week to celebrate the shoe’s 40th anniversary. These five commanded the top prices – just don’t expect them to be worn

hen a trainer commands a six-figure price at its own Sotheby’s auction, you know it has transcended everyday shoe status. Indeed, no sensible sneakerhead – if such a thing exists – would wear any of the 40 rare Nike Air Force 1 trainers that were sold on Tuesday at Sotheby’s New York’s “40 for 40” sale (so-called as this year marks the shoe’s 40th anniversary).

The AF1 is not just a trainer; it is a cultural phenomenon. Hoka Shoes Designed as a basketball shoe by Bruce Kilgore in 1982, it was expected to be replaced by the AF2, the AF3 and so on, but consumer demand put paid to that. “It’s the perfect design in its simplicity,” says Simon Wood, the founder of Sneaker Freaker magazine.

It is also an incredibly well-connected shoe, with close links to NBA stars, hip-hop royalty and high-fashion brands. All this, says Wood, “percolates into creating an aura that is far more dynamic than the shoe itself”. So, which of the world’s most covetable AF1s proved most desirable of all?

Nike x Louis Vuitton Air Force 1

Sold for $151,200 (about £123,000)

Nike x Louis Vuitton Air Force 1

Why spend six figures on a shoe that you can’t – or musn’t – wear? The answer is Virgil Abloh, the trailblazing US fashion designer and Louis Vuitton menswear director who died last year. “He had the brilliant idea to marry two opposite universes – street culture and luxury,” says Mathieu Le Maux, a French journalist and the author of 1,000 Sneakers. “He was an artist, and now he is a legend – that’s why everyone wants it.”

When the monogrammed calf-leather shoe was released in February, one pair – a dinky, perfectly proportioned UK size 3 – sold for $352,800. Even at that price, they are an investment, says Wood: “As the last thing Abloh did with Nike, it will still be historically significant in 30 years’ time.” With just 200 pairs in existence, it is all about scarcity. “Some could burn down in a house fire, or they could be worn and destroyed,” says Wood. Truly, the sneakerhead’s worst nightmare.

Nike x Off-White Air Force 1 ‘University Gold’

Sold for $35,280

Nike x Off-White Air Force 1 ‘University Gold’

This already good-looking shoe features several extra layers of street cred, visible and invisible. First, should it escape you that this is another Abloh design (under the auspices of his cult streetwear label Off-White), he has handily written his name on it, complete with his signature quotation marks.

What’s more, Abloh dedicated this pair to the US DJ and tastemaker Bobbito Garcia. Not only was Garcia, as the co-host of New York’s fabled Stretch Armstrong Hey Dude Women’s Shoes and Bobbito Show, responsible for putting unsigned artists such as Nas, Jay-Z and Eminem on the map, but he is also an AF1 aficionado (and has himself collaborated with Nike).

There is also a high-art association, with the shoe being “synchronised” with Abloh’s Figures of Speech exhibition at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, according to Sotheby’s. These shoes have since come to be known as the “ICA” . It all adds to the halo. “The price reflects that,” says Wood. “It’s way above what that shoe would actually be worth.”

Nike Air Force 1 Low Lux Alligator

Sold for $35,280

Nike Air Force 1 Low Lux Alligator

“You’ll never see Nike make these shoes again,” says Wood. Given that these are made with alligator skin, many will be pleased to hear this. It was produced as a run of just 25 in the 00s, before many fashion brands agreed to stop using exotic animal skins. “Owning them is kind of painful,” says Wood. “If you travel with them, you have to take the paperwork with you everywhere [to prove its legal origin]. So that adds another dimension to them.”

Nike Air Force 1 Low Retro Ekin Sample

Sold for $21,420

Nike Air Force 1 Low Retro EKIN Sample

This is one for the real trainer nerds. The Ekin – “Nike” backwards – is, according to the Sotheby’s catalogue, “symbolic of the ‘backwards and forwards’ product knowledge of Nike employees”. Ekins are a devoted subset of Nike workers, known for tattooing Skechers Outlets themselves with the reverse logo.

This shoe, produced in 2019, pays homage to them and features such Nike geekery as the backwards logo, lining that reads “For Ekin feet only” and the slogan “E4L”, which represents the mantra “Ekin for Life”. The question is – are you Ekin enough for these shoes?

Air Force 1 Shady Records

Sold for $21,420

Air Force 1 Shady Records

Unless you were in Eminem’s crew, there was no chance of getting hold of these all-white AF1s when they were released in 2003, to celebrate the rapper’s fifth album, Encore. “Friends and family pairs are special editions made for the inner circle of a celebrity or a brand and are far rarer than general-release pairs,” says Brahm Wachter, the head of streetwear and modern collectibles at Sotheby’s. They were the whitest pair of trainers in the auction. As Le Maux says: “All the purists will tell you the Air Force 1 is white – and only white.”

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