When technical dexterity knocked into the stellar talents of shoemaking, the outcome led to the world’s most revolutionary and one of the most popular Nike shoes of all time — Nike Air Max Sneakers.
Nike forever changed the footwear landscape with its pioneering invention, gifting the world of sneakers with trailblazing Air technology and the Air Max sneakers. Such storied is this style’s history that the brand in 2014 declared March 26 (the day when the prototype was released) as the Air Max Day to celebrate this shoe and release its new models. This year, as this icon celebrates its 34th anniversary, we take a closer look at its inspiring story and development.
Nike, founded in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports, is one of the biggest footwear brands in the world. Designs like Cortez, the Dunk, and Air Jordan 1 have forever associated it with the face-paced and performance-driven world of athletic shoes. And gracing this avante-garde edit of Nike shoes is Air Max that catapulted this American brand to global success.
The story of Air Max started with an idea that was pitched and rejected by twenty-three shoe companies. Marion Franklin Rudy was an aerospace engineer who came up with a novel idea of stowing airbags in the sole of running shoes for smoother and more comfortable wear. After plenty of rejections, he met Nike’s co-founder Phil Knight and presented him his radical theory. When the theory was put on a practical test, the result was astounding. Hence, in 1978, Nike launched Tailwind — the first shoe to have air cushioning in the soles. The design, launched in limited numbers, became instantly popular.
The OG: Nike Air Max 1 Sneakers
Tinker Hatfield, the father of several iconic shoes, is the mastermind behind the legendary Air Max 1. Currently the Vice President for Design and Special Projects at Nike, he is one of the most acclaimed designers of the footwear industry and also the creator of Nike Air Jordan sneakers.
He claims that the cultural metamorphosis of the mid-80s inspired him to create something different and new. During this time, changes in all spheres of life were swiftly taking place. People rejected the run-of-the-mill processes in favor of the unconventional and distinctive. Therefore, Nike too had to calibrate in order to survive this period of transition. And then, a significant milestone in Nike’s story came when Hatfield designed the breakthrough Air Max 1 sneakers in 1987, a shoe with a visible Air window.
The design of Air Max 1 was the magnum opus of Tinker Hatfield. A trained architect himself, he was moved by the futuristic structure of Pompidou Centre in Paris. He translated the inside-out style of the building into a shoe design, creating a window on the sole to put on display Nike’s patented Air mechanism. It was the first time when such advanced technology was incorporated into the design of a sneaker. A platform built for future inventions!
A Tale of Progression: How Nike Air Max Transformed Over The Decades
Throughout all the models released in the last three decades, Air Max has constantly transformed to make running swifter, bouncier, and easier. The brand’s relentless drive and reverence for unlocking new doors have given rise to a lineup that is dynamic, cutting-edge, and in all sense — visionary.
From Air Max 90 to 95, 97 to 360, and Zero to VaporMax, every new iteration of this iconic style has been bestowed with modern elements and transmogrifying technology to capture the mood of the moment without forgoing its unique DNA. A sneaker whose genesis lied in running has now become a streetwear staple being available in a wealth of trendy colorways. In terms of the silhouette, the shape of the sneaker has aged like fine wine. It has graciously harbored all of Nike’s latest technologies like Flyknit uppers, Hyperfuse, and Lunarlon soles.
One can better appreciate the evolution of these popular Nike shoes through the following models:
Nike Air Max 90 Sneakers
Introduced with a bigger Air unit in the sole, Nike Air Max 90 remains one of the most covetable models of the franchise. The original pair was dressed up in a pleasing colorway — Infrared to drive emphasis on the new design element. Today, the market is rife with myriad versions of the 90 available in a throng of cool colorways, all the while staying true to the aesthetics of the prototype.
Nike Air Max 97 Sneakers
A notable shift in the design of the Nike Air Max was witnessed in the ‘97’ model. In lieu of a window, the soles were now endowed with a full-length air unit, thereby redefining the potential of the Air technology. In addition, the contemporary aesthetics gave these sneakers a street-approved look.
Nike Air Max Plus Sneakers
Released in 1998, Air Max Plus is a fashion icon that owes its success to an unconventional silhouette. These sneakers were designed by Sean McDowell, who took inspiration from palm trees of the Florida beaches, translated as a wavy overlay on a gradient exterior that mirrored the sunset sky. Besides, this model also marked the debut of Nike’s updated Tuned Air technology placed on the tongue of the shoe.
Nike Air Max VaporMax Sneakers
Creativity takes a new form in Nike Air Max VaporMax, introduced in 2017. Nike’s exceptional growth in technology and design can be traced through each model of the Air Max line. While the Nike Air Max 360 flaunted the soles as a comprehensive Air unit, with VaporMax, the brand took another leap. Air Max VaporMax is a vision of fine engineering constructed with both the midsole and the outsole designed as one integrated Air unit.
Nike Air Max 720 Sneakers
“Engineered for steps rather than strides”, Nike Air Max 720 was released in 2019 as a lifestyle sneaker instead of a sports shoe. Designed with the tallest Air unit, 720 personifies the notion of walking on air. Because the Air unit in this model is visible 360 degrees vertically and horizontally, the pair was titled 720.
The charisma of Nike Air Max lies in evolution. From Air Max 1 to 720, a journey of innovation and discovery was started 34 years ago and will continue till infinity, because as Nike says, Air is not about ‘then’; it is about ‘now’.
Find popular Nike shoes for men and women like Nike Dunk and Nike Air Jordan 1 here.