Few trainers are ever actually iconic, despite what marketing departments claim. But the Air Max not only owns that accolade, but also its spot at the head of the sneaker hall of fame. The Jordan Adidas Gazelle Dámské may turn over more money; the Chuck Taylor may be more ubiquitous; but the Air Max is the one every kid begged his mum for.
On a trip to Paris in 1987, Nike architect-turned-designer Tinker Hatfield stood outside the Pompidou Centre and was struck by an idea for a new kind of trainer. One that would change the world of sneakers forever.
George Pompidou’s inside out architectural style led Hatfield to think about applying this to the air sole units, which had appeared in a few Nike styles dating back to 1978. By cutting away the foam on the midsole, the air bubble would become, for the first time, visible. The Air Max was born. The world of trainers changed forever.
The 1987 OGs don’t appear very often and when they do, they come with price tags commensurate with their history. And, frequently, 30 years of degradation since Adidas ZX Flux Damen boxfresh hype hasn’t always been so rabid.
The Swoosh recently reissued the original silhouette in a host of new colourways. The pick is white and varsity red, same as the storied original. You might just fool a couple of people.
Three years after the original, Tinker Hatfield returned to the Air Max design with a view to modernising it. Additional eyelets offered the wearer the option of different lace configurations, to personalise their kicks, and ribbed side panels created a frame which drew the eye to the air bubble.
Red highlights were key to the original colourway, a shade that became known as ‘infrared’. The shoe typified trainer design for a decade and remains as popular today as it did in 1990.
Of the many Air Max 90 collaborations, none tops the 2004 hook-up with New York skate store Dave’s Quality Meats, who opted Nike Air Pegasus 83 Womens for a bacon-themed colourway of off-white, pink and red. Delicious.
In the mid 1990s a shoe arrived that, despite the family name, bore little resemblance to its father. The Air Max 95 had been stripped down to the sole and built up again from scratch, for a shoe that looked so aggressive you’d be nervous of inviting it round for Christmas.
This iteration was the first to feature the dual air bubbles at the forefoot, alongside the trademark heel bubble. Design wise, it was inspired by Nike Air Pegasus 83 Donna the human body, although that’s not obvious on first view; the midsole acts as the spine, eyelets were ribs and the mesh uppers represented layers of muscles and flesh.
The classic colourway featured bright flouro yellow accents – emanating from inside the air bubbles, the shoe appeared to glow from within. Nike re-released its OG colourway last year (below), but that also disappeared quick.
Continuing to push the boundaries of technology, the air bubble itself was reinvented again two years later with Air Max 97, which extended the visible air along the whole length of the sole.
Looking more futuristic than ever (it was, after all, inspired by the high speed bullet trains of Tokyo) the Air Max 97’s upper had to live up to the audacious design of the sole; the original colourway was a brazen metallic silver with reflective Nike Air Max 2016 Donna piping.
Later colourways included gold, a first for Nike. The Air Max had dispensed with any notion of blending in. This was a sneaker for stunting.
Last year’s iteration of the Nike Air Max is a tour de force of both design and performance elements. Utilising Nike Flyknit technology, the colourways are as attention grabbing as ever: the sole features an ombré effect that references the colour scheme of the Flyknit upper, and the full length air bubble sole harks back to the 1997 iteration, although it now offers even more comfort and durability.
The Air Max is still the jewel in the crown of Nike’s trainers even after almost 30 years.