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How The Nike Air Max Became One Of The Most Iconic Sneakers In History

1987 – 2017: 30 Years Of Nike Air Max

SLIDESHOW: Ten Air Max designs that should be at the top of your list if you’re looking to start collecting

If there was one thing we remember of the year 1987, it would be the birth of one of the most iconic sneakers of all time — the Nike Air Max One.

What gave the Air Max One such clout at the time was the introduction of a visible air cushion in its sole. Sure, Nike introduced the air cushion technology back in 1979, but the Air Max afforded athletes to actually see the technology at work. And seeing truly is believing.

The man behind the very first Air Max is Tinker Hatfield, a man who currently serves as Vice President for Design and Special Projects at Nike. Hatfield’s journey at Nike began in 1981 when he first started out as an architectural designer. It was only in 1985 when he started designing sneakers for the brand. Since then he has been responsible for creating some of Nike’s most iconic pieces including the Nike Air Trainer and several versions of the Air Jordan.

The idea for the Air Max came from Hatfield’s visit to the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Designed by architects Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini, it featured structural elements that were usually hidden under a building’s façade on the outside. The Pompidou Centre became the spark that gave life to one of the more recognisable shoes in history.

The Air Max has been designed for and linked to several sub-cultures throughout its history. Most notably, the Gabber movement of the early 1990s in the Netherlands, with its roots in electronic music, was particularly taken by the Air Max BW. Brought together by the same love for music, Gabbers soon adopted a similar style defined by bomber jackets, track suits, shaved heads and Nike Air Max trainers. The shoe has also been linked to other 1990s sub-cultures like Hip-hop and people of the working class.

In anticipation of the 30th anniversary of Nike’s iconic shoe on Air Max Day, which will be held on 26 March 2017, we bring you ten Air Max designs that should be at the top of your list if you’re looking to start collecting.

Nike Air Max: Celebrate the Month of Air with New Releases and OG Classics

1. Air Max 1 (1987) 
The first and most iconic Air Max sneaker, the Air Max 1 was inspired by the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Designer Tinker Hatfield designed window-like features on its sole to showcase the air cushioning inside, making the Air Max 1 the first of its kind to introduce the now-commonplace feature.

2. Air Max 90 (1990) 
The Air Max 90 features a more structural form and sharper angles in its design. The main innovation in this edition of the shoe is an increase in the amount of inert gas stored inside the air cushion capsule.

3. Air Max 180 (1991) 
Another milestone in the Air Max’s history, the Air Max 180 took the air-sole to the next level. By removing foam below the air-sole, designer Tinker Hatfield and Air Force 1 designer Bruce Kilgore manage to create a better looking and more powerful air cushion core.

4. Air Max 93 (1993) 
Inspired by plastic milk jugs, the Air Max 93 combined precision engineering with new blow-moulding technology to create a visible air-cushion heel with a 270-degree curvature

5. Air Max 95 (1995) 
The Air Max 95 builds on the innovations from the Air Max 93. This iteration featured the first ever visible air cushion in the forefoot of the shoe.

Nike Air Max: Celebrate the Month of Air with New Releases and OG Classics

6. Air Max 97 (1997) 
Taking inspiration from the east, the Air Max 97 was inspired by the fluid design of Japan’s ultra-aerodynamic bullet trains. The sneaker that was launched in 1997 also featured, for the first time, an air-sole that ran the full length of the sneaker.

7. Air Max 2003 (2003) 
Designer Sergio Lozano pared the the Air Max 2003 back by taking a minimalistic approach. Using a high-performance Teijin material, he was also able to reduce the overall weight of the shoe.

8. Air Max 360 (2006) 
Named the Air Max 360, the 2006 iteration of the classic Air Max was a triumph for the brand. Its designers removed all the foam from the sole resulting in a 360-degree air cushion, taking the phrase “walking on air” quite literally.

9. Air Max 2015 (2015) 
2015 was a good year for the Nike Air Max and saw the launch of two popular versions of the sneaker. The first, the Air Max 2015, became the most flexible air-cushioned shoe ever.

10. Air Max Zero (2015) 
The second launch in 2015 was the Air Max Zero. Combining a monofilament yam mesh and a cored-out Pylon outsole, the Zero is an ultra-lightweight shoe inspired by a sketch of the initial Air Max which, at the time, was deemed too radical and difficult to implement in a working model.

Nike Air Max: Celebrate the Month of Air with New Releases and OG Classics