Leaner And Lighter! Nike's Marc Dolce Talks Lunar Force
Over the past three decades, Bruce Kilgore’s infamous Air Force 1 design has left a King Kong Bundy-sized footprint in the sneaker hall of fame. As the 30th anniversary celebrations ramped up to a fitting conclusion, Nike dropped a bombshell, announcing that their Lunar foam would be added to the Air Force 1’s sole unit, the first and only major update to the franchise since 1982.
Marc Dolce is a footwear design director for Nike Sportswear and has worked on countless projects, including the Penny Hardaway, Barkley CB Posite and Vactech, Kobe and LeBron NSW editions. He is also is one of the designers responsible for the Lunar Force. We caught up with him to get the back story on the future of the Force.
First off, could you please tell us a little about your work with Nike.
My name is Marc Dolce and I’m a Footwear Design Director for Nike Sportswear. Part of what we do in Nike Sportswear, is use innovation that is born out of performance and apply it to make our classics newer and better for the demands of the modern day. In this case, we looked to update the Air Force 1 franchise to truly make it a “Family of Force”. The original Nike AF1 will always be available, while we will also present the Nike Lunar Force 1, the Nike Air Force 1 Foamposite, the Nike Air Force 1 Duck Boot, the Nike Air Force 1 Downtown, and the Nike Air Force 1 Comfort.
Whether you are on or off the court, footwear that will get you through the day in comfort is essential to a rigorous lifestyle. Offering unique product that is functional and solves problems through its design and innovation is important to us.
The Nike Innovation Kitchen must be a pretty cool place to work. I know it’s top secret.
I work as a designer on the Nike Sportswear team. We also have a team of designers that work in the Innovation Kitchen with our athletes to create new product that will help them feel lighter, faster, and perform better in competition. As they develop new technologies and innovations, we find ways to adapt these benefits to our Nike classics to make them newer and better. We are always looking at different ways to bring new technology to classic silhouettes so we often work in collaboration with the Innovation Kitchen.
What can you tell us about working there?
Nike’s a pretty great place to work. I started as an Industrial designer and had no idea that sneaker design was even possible until I heard about Tinker Hatfield. Since then I feel lucky to be apart of such a diverse group of inspiring people here at Nike.
At Nike we have designers around the world working on many different teams to create new an innovative products and technologies. Here we firmly believe the power of collaboration helps lead us to new and surprising places. By collaborating, the learning is reciprocal through trial and error and the discovery of new approaches that can lead to critical innovations. We share what we are working on and often look to see how we can incorporate key innovations from other teams into the work that we do. For instance looking at performance technologies, we incorporate Nike’s Lunarlon cushioning system into the Nike Air Force 1 resulting in the LunarForce 1. I specifically work on the Nike Sportswear Design team, but its our culture to collaborate with many different designers here.
Ok, tell us about the Lunar Force 1.
The team wanted to finish off the 30 year anniversary of the Air Force 1 looking at the future. The Nike Lunar Force 1 revolutionizes the iconic Nike Air Force 1 with Lunarlon cushioning and Nike’s Hyperfuse construction. It keeps the unique heritage of the Nike Air Force 1 intact while its innovation-driven look and feel adds to its character. We are truly moving from history to the Future of Force by offering new versions that are made unique by the innovations within them.
Whose idea was it?
A critical part of our design culture here at Nike is collaboration. As part of a team of designers working on Nike Sportswear product, we work together to achieve a common goal. In the case of the Nike Lunar Force 1 we looked at how we could make the Nike Air Force 1 more comfortable and more light-weight given the technologies we have at hand. Once we began work on finding a solution the process developed pretty organically from there.
The AF-1 has in the past been widely recognised as the ‘perfect shoe’. Have you received feedback from Bruce Kilgore and the New York AF-1 crew?
I’ve heard Bruce has seen the Lunar Force 1, curious to know what he thinks about it. As far as the New York AF-1 crew, we have received all types of feedback from all over the globe actually. Some prefer the lighter more comfortable feel of the Lunar Force 1 while others are holding true to the original preferring the more stable feel of it. Overall our AF-1 crew really appreciates the fact that we didn’t look to replace a classic but rather we added to it. I think it was really important to them that we maintained the iconic look of the Nike Air Force 1 making subtle changes to its construction that was a benefit to the wearer, more comfort. Also the original Nike Air Force 1 will always be available, its just now there is more variety.
How conscious were you of the old guard during the design and creation process of this project? They’re pretty fussy about their shoes...
I personally have a lot of respect for the Air Force 1 and the people that have worked on it before me. Over the past 30 years, the Nike AF1 has transcended from being just a sneaker to become a cultural icon. Growing up in Brooklyn, the Air Force 1 was part of the fabric of NYC. The Nike Air Force 1 is the ultimate canvas for reinvention. With the Nike Lunar Force 1, we applied new innovation while keeping true to the look and feel of the Air Force 1 that is so coveted across the globe. The beveled look of the sole that is synonymous with Lunarlon technology was maintained while the front of the sole is smooth like the original Air Force 1 so that when you wear your jeans, the shoe will look like the classic.
At first glance the two things seem incompatible... big chunky Air Force ball shoe and light weight foam. When did you know it would work – both style-wise and technically?
As we look to the future it's not about the lightest weight but the right weight. We are always looking at new ways to update our classics and make them newer and better. By adding new technology, we were able to take the Lunar Force 1 to just 11.7 ounces compared to the original weight of the Air Force 1 at 17.56 ounces.
Lunarlon is one of Nike’s most comfortable and responsive cushioning systems. We wanted to keep true to the original with the Nike Lunar Force 1, while offering a new feel for the wearer that could be concealed if preferred. Developing new and exciting innovations takes time. Using insights from our athletes and obsessing performance and innovation often comes to surprising results. After years of testing, trial and error, and perfecting new materials the result is a light-weight cushioning system that is the ultimate reflection of Nike DNA.
Whilst designing did you consider leaving the traditional upper? Did you play around with other variations?
We wanted to make a statement with the Lunar Force 1 while still keeping true to its heritage. Using both Hyperfuse technology and Lunarlon cushioning technology allowed us to bring great innovation to the Lunar Force 1 and AF1 family. Over the past 30 years, there have been thousands of iterations of the Air Force 1 and our designers always look at ways to keep our product fresh. We are focused on the Family of Force and developing newer and better versions of the Air Force 1 products that will keep our fans excited for what is to come.
I was wondering if the Free sole would work on an AF-1?
Many different outsoles could be adapted to the AF1, Free could work but at this point we really felt Nike’s Lunarlon cushioning system provided the best benefit and maintained the OG look and feel.
You’ve got Zoom Air, Hyperfuse and Lunarlon cushioning... it does feel like the future. How do you feel about shoe design in regards to materials? How much further can you push things?
This is just the beginning. Just like the Air Force 1, the Lunar Force 1 is a great canvas for reinvention. If you look back at the thousands of different iterations and color combinations over the years, the fabrications and color blocking were key in making each of those feel unique. The Lunarlon cushioning in the midsole and outsole features trademark Lunarlon beveled ribs, enhancing flexibility and reducing the shoe’s weight. A Nike Zoom Air-Sole unit remains in the heel for superior comfort and reactivity. Simultaneously, Nike’s Hyperfuse construction transforms the upper with its unique unibody construction that fuses three layers —one for stability, one for breathability and one for durability—into one revolutionary, lightweight composite. In addition, the advanced design’s minimized seams mean less rub, while its distinct look allows for new embellishments and colorways.
Reducing weight in product is always a good thing, and you have managed to trim a third from the classic with the Lunar Force 1. Was this a key consideration when revamping the model?
We wanted to make the Air Force 1 more modern for its 30th anniversary while still keeping true to the icon. With a few exceptions, Nike AF1 is a style that has not changed since its introduction in ’82. As Nike technologies and innovations present themselves we always look for ways to adapt them to our icons as ong as it makes the experience of the wearer better. In this case, Nike Design looked at the idea of ultimate comfort and cushioning as inspiration and turned to Nike’s Lunarlon cushioning system and Hyperfuse construction on the upper as the ideal update for the future of the Nike AF1. Basically the Nike Lunar Force 1 is leaner and lighter.,
It started life as a basketball shoe, now you’ve added elements of running tech... what sort of category do you think the Lunar Force sits in now?
The Air Force 1 was born as a performance basketball shoe and will always be known for its play on the court. At the time of its release, the Nike Air Force 1 was revolutionary with a unique use of a complete leather upper and Nike’s groundbreaking Air technology in the sole unit.
One of the inspirations for the Nike Lunar Force 1 was the original design objectives from designer Bruce Kilgore. Adding Nike Air was originally a response to street ballers wearing multiple socks to minimize the stress of impact during play. We looked at this idea of ultimate comfort and cushioning and turned to Nike’s Lunarlon cushioning system as the ideal update for the future of the Nike AF1. Basically the Nike Lunar Force 1 make the AF1 leaner and lighter and continues the tradition of being known as a basketball shoe.
And finally, the Air Force 1 has been going strong for 30 years. What will we be wearing on our feet in 2042?
We cannot hint to the future but are confident in saying that we are defining the next 30 years of Force, a bright new future that is defined by innovation.
The Nike Lunar Force 1 is available now from select Nike stockists.