THE HISTORY OF NIKE AIR MAX
By Style Feed Staff, 26 March 2019
Call it Christmas for sneakerheads, Hanukkah for hypebeasts or New Year for the newness obsessed – Nike’s annual celebration of its signature shoes, Air Max Day, has arrived. Get inspired as we take a look back at the Nike Air Max line’s most popular shoes.
Nike Air Max 1
It’s a shoe that’s older than we are, but it remains handsome and relevant to this day. In 1987, Nike released the Air Max 1 – a piece of groundbreaking design, which, for the first time, gave consumers a view of the Air Sole unit that underpinned the comfort and performance of designer Tinker Hatfield’s celebrated Nike Airs. Yup, this was the birth of ‘visible air’, inspired by the architecture of Paris’ Pompidou Centre – a building that looks like it’s been sprung inside out, boasting inner workings that are visible through its exterior.
Nike Air Max 90
Born in 1990 (hence the name), the third addition to the Air Max posse features a load more Air than its predecessors, which gives it a supremely springy feel. But it’s for reasons more than just comfort that it’s taken the world by storm. This style also brings with it subtler Nike branding, which allows for a stronger design and more experimental approach to colour than the sneakers that came before it. As a result, the Air Max 90 helped accelerate Nike’s move into the fashion sphere.
Nike Air Max 180
Double the visible air, double the fun – the advent of the Air Max 180 threw down the cushioned gauntlet with an air unit that’s 50% larger than previous designs. The upper features an inner sleeve that stretches to match the shape of the foot (hello, slipper-like comfort!), and its cartoonish colourway looks rad and kicks out a strong 90s vibe. Sadly, they’re pretty rare nowadays – so if you’ve still got a pair, hold them close and never let go.
Nike Air Max 93
Like the bumper on a car, the air unit on these bad boys wraps around the back of the shoe with 270 degrees of pure visible air. The precision-engineered blow-moulded air unit (inspired by plastic milk jugs, no less) was a game changer and the style fast established itself as a footwear design classic.
Nike Air Max 95
Some call it the ugly duckling of the Air Max clan, but we frickin’ love the 95. It was the first style to feature visible Nike Air in the forefoot and a black midsole, which marks it out as something of an outsider. But its fresh-as-hell silhouette and quirky, futuristic design continues to win diehard sneaker fans over, and earned it a refresh to celebrate its 20th anniversary three years ago. #NikeFact – the human body inspires the design. The midsole is based on the spine, the eyelets represent the ribs, and the layered panels and mesh symbolise muscle fibres and flesh. Tasty.
Nike Air Max 97
Proof that supersizing isn’t just the preserve of American fast-food joints, Nike went large with its air unit in the Air Max 97 (it literally stretches the full length of the shoe). Inspired by Tokyo’s lightening-fast bullet trains, this design looks sharp and has a cool sense of fluidity to it. But it’s not one for the more conservative sneaker fan, as its silvery upper catches the eye like an absolute beaut.
Nike Air Max 360
If you don’t reckon it’s possible to walk on air, think again. The Air Max 360 comes kitted out with 360 degrees of cushioning and a sole that features minimal foam. It's super-slick, but you’re unlikely to catch sight of this shoe as Nike only released a limited number back in the day.
Nike Air Max Plus
Also known as the TN or Tuned 1, the Nike Air Max Plus is one of the brand’s most iconic styles – and it’s not hard to see why when you take into consideration its multiple air units, alien-like exoskeleton and ombre colourway. Again, this is a shoe reserved for the more intrepid sneaker fans, but, worn with confidence, it’s easy to style the Air Max Plus out like a beast.
Nike Air VaporMax
When Nike marked its annual big day in 2017, it offered a fresh gift to the trainer-obsessed masses: the VaporMax. The lightest Air Max ever to be designed with a fully Flyknit upper, the VaporMax took seven years of testing and production to create. That’s because it’s the first Air Max iteration that doesn’t feature any kind of midsole/outsole to house the Air unit – instead the signature cushioning is fixed directly to the upper and treads straight on the floor.
Nike Air Max 98
Aside from the VaporMax Plus (a TN/VaporMax hybrid), it was the Air Max 98 that sent sneakerheads into a frenzy in 2018. Originally conceived back in 1998, Nike re-released the iconic OG Gundam design (pictured here) for its 20th anniversary, with colourways including ‘Triple White’ and ‘Gym Red’.
Bonus: Nike Air Max 270
Now you’re all up to date regarding Nike Air Max’s air-cushioned history, what about the future? It wouldn’t be Air Max Day without a brand-new model to get hype about – so take a look at the Air Max 270. The latest member of the squishy-heeled elite, it’s the first of the range that’s considered to be a 100% lifestyle shoe. Although most of the Air Max styles have been absorbed into casual wardrobes the world over, each pair before were all performance trainers at heart.
A change in purpose doesn’t mean skimping on that tech though. The 270’s name actually refers to the massive Air Unit (the tallest ever made by Nike) stretching 270 degrees around the heel. The cushioning also offers the biggest heel displacement range ever seen in a Nike trainer. In other words: they’re comfy AF. Happy birthday, Air Max.