Before the days when social media and resale platforms determined the “it” sneaker of the season, sneakerheads like Dexter Tan looked to music videos and magazines to draw inspiration for their next pickup. For the co-founder of Sole Superior, it was Nelly’s “Air Force Ones” that sparked an unwavering passion for the chunky basketball sneaker. For our latest edition of Straat Your Stuff, we caught up with Dexter in the week leading up to Sole Superior 2022 to discuss his love for Air Force 1s, why he rarely shops on resale sites, and the lengths he has gone to secure his grails.
What do you like about the Air Force 1? Why has it been such a big part of your sneaker collection?
For me, it’s always about comfort and the Air Force 1 has been one of the most comfortable shoes because, for a hefty guy like myself, its thick sole provides me more comfort when I walk around.
And another reason why I like them so much is the fact it is the shoe of the hip-hop scene from back in the day. I mean you had Nelly, Dr. Dre, all rocking Air Force 1s and since then it’s always been an icon for me.
When did you first learn about the Air Force 1?
Watching the music videos in the past on MTV, a tv channel, you would see people wearing Air Force 1s among other sneakers. But it really jumped out to me when Nelly came out with the song Air Force 1 and the whole video was just chuck full of references to the shoe, visually and lyrically.
Which Air Force 1 colorway did you cop first?
Actually, my first pair was a mid. I know, it’s controversial. It was called The Matrix. At the back, there was one logo on the heel and it had a matrix design on the background.
It’s a general-release shoe, but the reason why I like it so much is because it’s white with some red highlights and red lining. Having the strap flapping around, wearing it with bermudas, it gave me a spring in my step. I thought it was really cool, you know?
After that, I purchased my first white on whites. I think I finally managed to find a pair in my size. It was just love at first sight.
How has your personal style evolved around the Air Force 1? Has it changed over time?
Nelly was a big source of influence when it came to how I wore my Air Force 1s. So wearing Air Force 1s meant wearing the whole hip-hop look, which was baggy. Baggy pants with oversized jerseys and t-shirts. A must-have was a snapback cap or the new era cap pushed to the back.
I’m a bit more simplistic now in terms of my dressing. It’s mostly t-shirt and jeans or cargos. But the Air Force 1 is chunky enough to fit whatever size jeans I wear, whether it’s tight fitted or wide flair. And it’s comfortable enough for me to slip it on and go out. Everything goes with it.
How many Air Force 1s do you own at the moment?
If we were just looking at shoes that are still in my collection, I think Air Force 1s total about 60 or 70 pairs. I keep a lot of them on display, especially those which have some sentimental value. But in my lifetime, since I began collecting in the early 2000s, there were way more. I think at least a hundred Air Force 1s that I have bought, cooked and thrown out.Which was the most expensive?
The most expensive pair I ever paid for is actually the Anaconda Lux Air Force 1s.
The reason why I wanted it so badly is because when I used to work at a consignment shop in Singapore, they had it at the back. It retailed for S$2,000 because it is actually the last pair that was globally released by Nike that actually used real animal skin. The white pair I have is made from snakeskin.
One of the days that I had a bit more spare money saved up, I put it out on forums that I was looking for a pair. This guy hit me up and I still remember he told me that he got a pair for me ready. All in, I paid a little over S$1,000 for them.
Which pair is the rarest?
The rarest one I have is the Air Force 1s done for Diamond Supply for the release of their Coca-Cola collaboration a few years back. I think there are about a hundred pairs in the world and it was given to friends and family only. I was just going through Grail and then I just happened to chance upon it. They were crazy beat up but I only paid about US$180 for them.
What was it like hunting for sneakers before resale apps became mainstream?
I mean, there were only two methods to buy rare shoes in the past. Like community forums locally or if you wanted to buy something overseas, it’s either through social media, Yahoo Auctions or eBay. So eBay became like a daily affair for me. Every morning, if I have an internet connection, I would log on to eBay and search a few search terms like my size and I would just scroll through. You’d be surprised what pops up.
Sometimes these are people who may not know what they have. So they just list it there and then you could purchase it for a fairly reasonable price. And even if it was being sold by someone who knows sneakers, prices were quite fair back then as long as they understood that you were gonna wear it or you’re gonna keep it.
Which Air Force 1 collaboration will go down in history as the best ever made?
To me, the PlayStation AF1 is the perfect collaboration for me. It truly melded two communities that never had a reason to be associated in the past. And it had such a big impact on me as I have always loved playing video games. To top it off, it just so happens that the PlayStation Three was the first console I bought with my own money.
Design-wise, it’s big because the shoe itself features the logo. So that’s very rare nowadays, especially if it’s a third-party company that is not associated with sneakers. I love it so much because it has the PlayStation gradient, the PlayStation color scheme, and the OG PlayStation logo in the back, which made it all so much sweeter.Are there any other grails you are keeping an eye out for?
One of them is the Vibe magazine Air Force 1. The colors were beautiful and it came from a very big hip-hop magazine of the time.
The Ueno Sakura Blossom Air Force 1 is another. That was beautiful and Tim Suen has it. The shoe’s laser embroidery is beautiful to me and so is the box that it came in.
Straat Your Stuff: Catching up with Tim Suen four years on
And the most important question, when do you know your Air Force 1 is cooked?
To me, it’s when the air bubble bursts. It also means that the whole foam in the midsole is disintegrating. So you have this weird sensation when you take a step and the whole back of the shoe fold on itself, like an accordion.
The beauty of the Air Force 1 is that it still looks good beaten up. But there’s no way to actually wear it out comfortably when the air bubble bursts. I’m a heavy guy so when I wear it out I can literally feel like my back of heels grinding in the ground.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Grab tickets for Sole Superior 2022 at Eventbrite.sg happening from November 26 to 27 at Drip Singapore, 100 Orchard Road Singapore, 238840. Check out @solesuperiorsg for more details and the lineup of vendors.