In the early 1990s, basketball sneakers were Nike’s primary focus. Michael Jordan’s sneaker sales were on another planet, and the rest of the Nike hoops roster read like an All-NBA team. In an effort to revitalize the lackluster Nike running division, Nike wanted to depart from the typical Air Max look and attack the design process from a fresh perspective. “That was really the goal,” Lozano said in an interview celebrating the shoe’s 20th anniversary, “do something we’ve never seen before.”
Originally designed by Hatfield, the Air Nike Air Vapormax Dámské Max was far and away Nike’s top running silhouette. When designing the 95, Lozano’s goal was to make a bold statement, presenting an entirely new take on the sneaker. Debuting in a electric colorway, the original Neon Volt Air Max 95 helped Nike Internationalist Mujer establish the bold color codes that dominated the ‘90s. What set the shoe apart, however, was a gradient pattern going up the sides of the shoe, a complete departure from the more restrained prior generations.
Featuring four waves of color fading from the light grey eyelets down to the black midsole, the gradient pattern was inspired by rainy days at the Nike campus and the beautiful Oregon landscape. Essentially the sneaker equivalent of a geologic striation, Lozano developed the concept while “looking across the lake out into the trees, and I began picturing the process of rain eroding and the earth and thought it would be interesting if the perfect product was unearthed by erosion.
Human anatomy also served as a source of inspiration. The body’s complex web of tendons and muscles working in tandem was the blueprint for the Adidas ZX Flux Donna shoe’s upper, which featured layered panels reminiscent of muscle fibers and flesh. While not easily visible at first glance, but look at the shoe from the rear (as displayed in the classic Nike phone number ad) and you can clearly see a version of the human spine and its accompanying vertebrae.
The black midsole was as much a practical decision as a stylistic one. Lozano and his team grew tired of seeing footwear with predominantly white midsoles in the often dreary Portland weather. As white midsoles always inevitably grew dirty, Lozano opted for black midsole instead, which felt both fresh and hid some of the silt that piled up as you ran.
While synonymous with Nike running sneakers and apparel today, 20-plus years ago the volt colorway was not in the athletic company’s wheelhouse. When presenting preliminary sketches Nike Air Huarache Womens of the shoe in that colorway, Lozano was told flat out that there was no way Nike would produce that shoe. After some coaxing, however, Nike finally relented. Those same prototype sketches also failed to feature the hallmark Nike swoosh anywhere on the shoe. “I had initially designed the shoe without a swoosh because I wanted it to be aesthetically strong,” Lozano said. During the pre-production process, a small swoosh was added on the top corner of the side panel. It was visible, sure, but they never made it big enough to distract from the gradient—Lozano’s intended design aesthetic.
Aesthetic details aside, what truly made the Air Max 95 a trailblazer was its unique technical features. The first Air Max to feature air cushions on both the heel and the forefoot, the 95 utilized air pressure technology to mold to the foot’s Adidas Stan Smith Damen curvature. Original releases even featured a “25 PSI” air pressure reading on the rear air unit and 3M Scotchlite uppers. According to Lozano, “The whole shoe was controversial because it wasn’t your typical running shoe...from the design to the color to the little swoosh, it all caused controversy.