When it comes to Nike’s Air Max family, not all shoes are created equal. Some, like the Air Max 1 and Air Max 95, became instantly iconic—spurred by tremendous design and Adidas Gazelle Femme commercial success. Others, like the Air Max 97, became popular in certain circles and were eventually adopted by the masses years later. The Air Max 98, though, broke from the rest of the family not only because it eschewed the sleek designs of its predecessors, but because Nike largely left it untouched in the years following the original release.
The Air Max 98 was designed by Sergio Lozano, a Nike designer revered in footwear circles for his work on the Air Max 95. Like virtually every Nike designer who has had a lasting impact on the company, Lozano didn’t set out to design sneakers—rather, he studied industrial design at Cal State and applied for a job at Nike because he needed to gain interview experience. After meeting Mark Parker, Tinker Hatfield and Sandy Bodecker, he was a offered a job and, reluctantly, accepted it. Nike Air Max 95 Damen Lozano’s early days at Nike were spent working on the brand’s tennis and training silhouettes, before he eventually graduated to the legendary ACG program. By 1994, however, Nike’s running portfolio was lagging behind the rapidly emerging basketball division, and Lozano was approached to develop a new runner. The result was the Air Max 95, a shoe that redefined sneakers for years to come.
The most immediate beneficiary of the 95’s impact was Lozano’s next runner: the Air Max 98. It was a shoe that built on what Lozano saw as the Air Max 95’s strengths and that addressed the supposed shortcomings of the now iconic silhouette. A synthesis of Lozano’s work at Nike (up to that point at least) the 98 also drew on Lozano’s experience within the ACG program—from the shoe’s chunky silhouette, to the complex lacing system, to the outdoor-inspired Adidas Superstar Dámské launch colorways.
The Air Max 98 had the deck stacked against it from the beginning, with expectations at an all-time high following the release of the Air Max 95 and Air Max 97. Maybe that’s why the shoe represented such a divergence from the path tread by its Air Max predecessors—the only way to compete with the 95 and 97 was to offer something that was decidedly unlike either of them. Sure, the Air Max 98 featured some design elements from previous iterations of the Air Max; the full-length visible Air bed first seen on the Air Max 97 made an appearance for the second year in a row (something made possible by bringing visible air to the forefoot on Lozano’s Air Max 95). The outsole used to protect that visible Air bed was also drawn from the 98’s predecessor. The Air Max 98 also featured the layering that made its debut Adidas Superstar Femme on the Air Max 95, and which reappeared on the Air Max 97. The aesthetic was inspired by erosion that mimicked, in Lozano’s words, “striations very similar to what you see on the walls of the Grand Canyon. Layer after layer after layer that are slowly revealed over time.”
Apart from that, though, the Air Max 98 marked a drastic shift for Nike and for the Air Max family. The shoe was bulky, a titanic shift from the sleek silhouettes that defined the Air Max 97 and Air Max 1—even the Air Max 95, chunky when compared to the 1, 90 and 97, had a streamlined simplicity to it. The front-to-back ribbing from the 95 and 97 were replaced with vertically-ribbed sidewalls, making the shoe seem even bigger, while the mix of materials Nike Air Max 720 Damen and colors removed any semblance of grace and discreteness. The shoe’s original colorway—white, varsity red and blue—was popular and was aptly named “Gundam”, a reference to both the anime series of the same name and its signature Mobile Suit—the RX-78-2. The Air Max 98 was a loud shoe and wasn’t trying to fool anybody. To that end, if Lozano initially received pushback at Nike HQ for minimal Swoosh branding on the Air Max 95, he atoned for it with the Air Max 98, a shoe that arguably stands as the greatest feat of tasteful over-branding in sneaker history. Swooshes, “AIR” and Air Max branding abound, it’s all seemingly randomly sewn onto the shoe…but it works.