The Nike Air Max 97 has had anniversaries before, but given that its 20th birthday ties in with a revival of late-'90s style, it’s a slightly bigger deal. This is one of those shoes that’s both loved and hated — an object that’s very much of its time, but one with an undeniable identity. Last year was about the Air Max Nike M2k Tekno Femme95, but next year belongs to the 97. From its inception to the strange forms it took throughout the years, Nike designer Christian Tresser’s creation has had an interesting couple of decades so far.
In retrospect — as the outcry over the sole switch of a NikeLab Ultra edition attest — the Air Max 96 was an incredible looking shoe, but it and its solid but nondescript sequel (also recently reissued) was utterly eclipsed by its successor. Following up the Air Max 95 had hindered its popularity, but the statement silver gleam of the Air Max 97 rendered the 96 into a series footnote. Being sandwiched between classics was a hindrance — especially when they kept being retroed due to audience demand.
Bizarrely, Nike made a few attempts to unite the heft of the Air Force 1 and the Air Max 97’s sleekness. Some fusions work and some fusions Adidas Superstar Dámské don’t. The Jordan AF1s were abysmal, but a few effective mashups of Nike runners and their bestselling hoops shoe emerged in 1998. A wear test premium leather 2007 edition of the AF1 with the full-length translucency on the midsole and that familiar AM97 tongue did the blog rounds. Another sample delivered a more overt union of shoes, bringing silver and mesh panels to the Uptown,Adidas ZX Flux Femme alongside the 97’s heel and tongue straps — surprisingly, it’s not as trash as it sounds. That said, just because it’s an anniversary year for both shoes, we don’t need an official release for this one.
The Air Max 97 debuted in fall 1997, but by spring 1998 it was superseded by the first of two Air Max 98s (the most familiar one). Given the boom time of Air Max — particularly in Europe and Japan — it’s safe to assume that Nike were trying to maximize Nike Epic React Flyknit Dames (no pun intended) profits by keeping a quick fire rotation on the shelves. Factor in Triax takedowns and the Air Max Light series, plus the impending debut of the Plus and a shoe really needed to have its own identity to be stick in the minds of consumers spoiled for choice.
Beyond regional special makeups, the Air Max 97 wasn’t part of many partner projects. Most retailers were Adidas Superstar Donna keen to use a more versatile design and Nike rarely seemed to push the shoe onto collaborators. San Francisco’s True deserve some credit for their masterful 2004 remake of the AM97 that brought it back to earth by jettisoning the metallic stuff and keeping it speckled and neutral. In subsequent years, AM97 collaborations with Sony PlayStation, Shady Records, and, bizarrely, a tribute to Japan’s Kashima Antlers soccer team, complete with Air Jordan III style Nike Air Max 95 Donna elephant print, became popular amongst collectors.
Some of Christian Tresser’s 1996 sketches for the Air Max 97 look barely different to the final thing, bar a duo of pod-like applications that, in some illustrations, seem to incorporate the PSI of the dual pressure, full-length air unit on the shoe. Perhaps intentionally or accidentally complimenting the Air Max Uptempo ’97’s Nike Air Max 90 Donna pods, the decision was evidently made to keep things a little more streamlined.
Bizarrely, the Air Max 97's Max Air unit would find itself onto a union of Air Max 90 and 1996's popular Humara trail silhouette. If you don't remember 2008's Air Max Terra Ninety — which wasn't a bad shoe, despite the collision of classics in its DNA — you're almost certainly not alone. That same year, Nike would also merge the Air Max Plus with the 97, resulting in one of the Adidas Stan Smith Donna more appealing sole swaps, but another forgotten experiment.