A BRIEF HISTORY OF
The resulting Air Max Light improved on the OG in a number of key ways and shed weight through the use of a new two-piece midsole that ditched the polyurethane of the original in favour of Phylon. 420 Denier Mesh also improved the runner's breathability while thermoplastic straps made sure that support and stability weren't sacrificed. The AM Light ultimately laid the groundwork for the Air Max 90 and saw its successor utilise a new take on those aforementioned thermoplastic straps, as well as the variable width lacing options they provided.
While 1988's Air Walker Max went the heavy duty, supportive route, 1989 saw Tinker Hatfield trying to craft an even lighter version
of 1987's original Air Max runner.
fig.3 AIR MAX LIGHT
NIKE Air Max light
Hounerable mention for the Nike Air Stab also released in this year.
Simply dubbed the Air Walker Max, the kicks were essentially a heavier, more supportive take on the Air Max 1 that went all-in on the structure of a leather upper while its aesthetic was one part AM1, one part Air Revolution – a strapped, high-top basketball sneaker that shared tooling with a little silhouette called the Air Jordan 3.
Nike may have a long history of running kicks, but walkers were important, too – especially back in the 1980s. With that in mind, the Swoosh added a walking shoe to the newfangled Air Max lineup in 1988.
fig.2 AIR WALKER MAX
fig.2b AIR STAB
NIKE Air Walker max
Hatfield, who was trained as an architect, was taken by the building’s inside-out approach — with its structure wrapped around the building’s exterior. From this came the idea to expose the inner workings of the shoe, and the visible Air window was born.
Father of the Air Max, Tinker Hatfield, found his inspiration for the inaugural design in the architecture of the Centre Pompidou during a visit to Paris.
fig.1 AIR MAX 1
NIKE Air Max 1
Hatfield, who was trained as an architect,
was taken by the building’s inside-out approach — with its structure wrapped around the building’s exterior. From this came the idea
to expose the inner workings of the shoe,
and the visible Air window was born.
Thus, he gave the kicks fluid lines throughout,
while perfectly highlighting the Air window with bold 'Infrared' accents. The result is a shoe that looks like a masterpiece in motion, even when it's standing still.
For the Air Max 1's 1990 follow-up,
designer Tinker Hatfield wanted to hit the ground running and highlight the new silhouette's bigger Air bag.
fig.4 AIR MAX 90
NIKE Air Max 90
Their resulting collaboration
was highlighted by a seemingly absurd 180-degrees of visible Air-Sole cushioning, making
the silhouette ripe for an advertisement campaign that tapped a bevy of legendary cartoonists, special effects masters, and movie directors.
While 1991's Air Max BW built on the success of the Air Max 90, the year's Air Max 180
took things in an entirely different direction
as Hatfield teamed up with Air Force 1
creator Bruce Kilgore.
fig.5 AIR MAX 180
Just like the Air Max 90 before it, the Air Max BW went even bigger and bolder. It may have used the same Air-Sole unit that appeared in the Air Max 90, but new construction techniques meant that Hatfield and company could better highlight the unit with an even 'Bigger Window'.
fig.5b AIR MAX BW
Nike Air Max 180
One of the most underappreciated gems of the storied Air Max lineup, the ST built on the success of its predecessor by employing a number of similar design elements, including a moulded and oversized external heel counter, not to mention a comfy neoprene tongue. And while they didn't feature 180 degrees of Air-Sole cushioning, they did feature the Swoosh's biggest Air-Sole to date and even coupled it to a forefoot unit by way of the brand's Footbridge tech.
Stability was the name of the game for
Nike's Air Max 180 followup and, to that
end, the Swoosh introduced the Air Max
ST in 1992.
fig.6 AIR MAX ST
NIKE Air Max st
The blow moulding used to produce the 270-degree visibility quickly changed what Nike could do with air, and it wouldn’t be long before the world saw a shoe with a forefoot cushioned in the same fashion.
With each Air Max release, Nike was exposing more of the air unit, so it was only a matter of time before the bubble wrapped its way around the heel. The inspiration for the design that achieved this came from an unlikely item:
a plastic milk jug.
fig.7 AIR MAX 93
NIKE Air Max 93
With each Air Max release, Nike was exposing more of the air unit, so it was only a matter
of time before the bubble wrapped its
way around the heel. The inspiration
for the design that achieved this
came from an unlikely item:
a plastic milk jug.
fig.8 AIR MAX 94
NIKE Air Max 94
He imagined the water eroding the landscape and unearthing the strata below. The image of the layers resonated once more when he considered the anatomy of a foot, layered with muscle fibres and flesh. The gradient of panels on the upper of the Air Max 95 is the manifestation of that very thought progression.
The Nike Air Max Racer is one of those few bubble-bottomed gems from the 90s that's never been given a retro treatment. The sneaker released back in 1995 and had to share shelf space with the mighty Nike Air Max 95, which might help explain why it's been so under the radar since its debut 20 years ago.
fig.9c AIR RACER MAX
Making use of the same midsole unit as the Air Max 93 & 94, the Air Burst debuted in 1995 with an upper that looked to take sensibilities from
the original Air Max 1. Suede and mesh
dressed the uppers, and even the
colours found on this OG are a
definite nod to it’s ancestor.
fig.9b AIR BURST OG
Tinker Hatfield often challenged the designers at Nike to tell him the story behind a design. One rainy day in Beaverton, 95 designer
Sergio Lozano was staring out of the
office window into the trees.
fig.9 AIR MAX 95
NIKE Air Max 95
Nike designer Sergio Lozano must have
been an outdoorsman at heart. It’s pretty
easy to see the inspiration in the receding
mesh panels along the side of the 96,
the waves of the ocean.
fig.10 AIR MAX 96
Pictured above from top to bottom are two colourways of the Air Max Tailwind and a third unknown silhouette
fig.10b AIR MAX TAILWIND
NIKE Air Max 96
But recently, Nike 'Behind the Design' states otherwise. The mind behind the 97, Christian Tresser, explains the layered uppers are representative of ripples of water in a pond, and that the silver colouration was actually inspired by the 'metal finishes like aluminum and polished titanium' on BMX bikes. Go figure!
Air Max designs are built for speed. What else
is fast? Bullet trains. As folklore goes, the Air Max 97 was designed with a Japanese
bullet train in mind, hence the
Silver Bullet’ moniker given to
the OG colourway.
fig.11 AIR MAX 97
NIKE Air Max 97
The Air Max 98 was essentially a chunkier, less fluid version of the Air Max 97, so the Air Max Plus easily stole the show in 1998.
fig.12 AIR MAX PLUS
1998 saw Nike take the Air Max bulk to new heights with the Air Max 98. A stark contrast to 1997's bullet train-inspired Air Max 97, the AM98 took on a heavily padded upper of mesh and leather while retaining the 97's tooling. Similarly, the Air Max 98 TL was released in the same year.
For his entry in the iconic Air Max lineup, industry vet Sean McDowell took cues from his Florida stomping grounds to clad the Plus — which debuted the Swoosh's new Tuned Air technology — in palm tree-inspired moulded overlays and gradient executions that looked like the Sunshine State's beautiful sunsets.
fig.12b AIR MAX 98
NIKE Air Max Plus
The Air Tuned Max was the first to have a
full-length Tuned Air system, one year after
the technology first appeared in the Air Max Plus (aka TN).
fig.13 AIR TUNED MAX
The Air Max Deluxe shared its full-length Max Air sole unit with the Air Max 97 and 98. When the Deluxe came out, it was one of the first times Nike had used an all-over digital print on neoprene. Its heel featured the same molding technique used on 1997’s Air Foamposite, while increased reflectivity and wide stitching on the upper completed the look.
fig.12c AIR MAX DELUXE
An obscure release from the archives, the Turbulence isn’t one of those shoes that you see pop up too often. One of it’s nicest little details is the addition of the PSI measurement sitting above the midsole, detailing the amount of pressure contained within the unit.
fig.12b AIR MAX TURBULENCE
NIKE Air Tuned Max
Maximum cushioning was the name of the game in 2003 so, as a juxtaposition to
the maximalist principles on display with
the Air Max 2003's full-length Max Air cushioning, Nike went the minimalist
route with its upper.
fig.14 AIR MAX 2003
Instead of the bold colours and out-there designs of past Air Maxes, the Swoosh utilised a Teijin performance material that was similar to those employed in elite track spikes and football boots. The result? A lightweight Air Max that didn't even require any break-in time.
Nike Air Max 2003
As a tribute to its heritage, the OG 360 dropped in a colourway paying homage to the Air Max 1.
The Air Max 360 is the culmination of
19 years of visible air development. It was inevitable that Nike would drop a shoe cushioned entirely by air, and it came in 2006 in the form of the Air Max 360.
fig.15 AIR MAX 2006
Nike Air Max 360
The upper was constructed from lightweight
and breathable Flyknit for a minimalism-meets-maximalism design that was actually the perfect marriage of two flagship Swoosh technologies.
Much like 2006's Air Max 360, juxtaposition was the name of the game for 2014's Flyknit Air Max. The tooling came in the form of the dynamic, flexible, ultra-comfortable Max Air cushioning that debuted in 2013.
fig.16 FLYKNIT AIR MAX
Nike FLYKNIT Air Max
The Air Max Zero was created after the team at Nike uncovered a sketch Tinker Hatfield had done when thinking about the Air Max 1. Dismissed at the time for being too innovative for the
general public, the shoe dropped in
2015 to an audience who
were finally ready.
fig.17b AIR MAX ZERO
Naturally, the Swoosh came up with the perfect solution, subverting expectations by ditching the Flyknit in favour of engineered mesh with reversed Swoosh logos to boot. The 2015's lasting legacy, however, is the horizontal tubular construction that was used for the full-length Max Air unit itself, and coupled with flex grooves throughout the outsole, making it the most flexible Air Max to date — and one that laid the groundwork for the most recent Air Maxes.
After 2014's Flyknit Air Max, Nike could have seemingly been at a dead end; after all, where was the company supposed to take the Air Max next?
fig.17 AIR MAX 2015
Nike Air Max 2015
New technologies allowed Nike’s designers to incorporate the air and exterior layer into a single holistic unit that could maintain its form with elasticity. That flexible 360-degree unit was then paired with the slickest Flyknit upper to date, creating the sleekest Air Max offering of all time.
Rightly billed as ‘the pinnacle of Air’ upon its 2017 debut, Nike’s breakthrough VaporMax unit acted as both midsole and outsole.
fig.18 AIR VAPORMAX
Nike Air VaporMax
Standing a whopping 32mm tall, the Air Max unit in
the kicks paid homage to those employed by the likes
of the Air Max 180 and Air Max 93, while Nike further emphasised maximum cushioned comfort with a
new-school-meets-old-school upper that was decidedly
modern while also nodding to the classics.
Sneakerheads adopted Air Maxes as a lifestyle staple long ago, and Nike finally alluded to this with the first-ever Air Max that was intended specifically for casual
wear from the get-go.
fig.19 AIR MAX 270
Nike Air Max 270
Essentially an evolution of 2018's 270, the 720 ups the ante with the most spring of any Air Max shoe ever thanks to a foot-cradling unit that stands 38mm tall.
As for the shoe's upper, Nike took cues from nature, 'specifically, the organic radiating movement of energy in different natural wonders'. Thus, initial colourways have been nods to everything from sunsets and lava flows to the Northern Lights and the Milky Way.
2019's Air Max 720 represents yet another lifestyle Air Max entry, and the first such shoe to ever feature a full-length unit.
fig.20 AIR MAX 720
Nike Air Max 720
While keeping some of the OG features of the AM90 – such as the heel logo, cassette, mudguard and cropped Swoosh – they completely upgraded the Air unit by adding a 200 per cent larger window than what you’d been used to. More flexibility was
also added, taking the OG tread lines and updating it for performance use in 2020.
In 2020, while Nike celebrated 30 years of the Air Max 90, they took the DNA from their iconic silhouette and crafted the futuristic Air Max 2090.
fig.21 AIR MAX 2090
Nike Air Max 2090
Jamie Bitmead, Perry Harding
Jamie Rankin, Radek Tomaszewski
Design & Build
Nike, Sneaker Freaker,
Sole Collector, High Snobiety
Words & Imagery
The Air Max Deluxe shared its full-length Max Air sole unit with the Air Max 97 and 98. When the Deluxe came out, it was one of the first times Nike had used an all-over digital print on neoprene.
Its heel featured the same molding technique used on 1997’s Air Foamposite, while increased reflectivity and wide stitching on the upper completed the look.
Their resulting collaboration was highlighted by a seemingly absurd 180-degrees of visible Air-Sole cushioning, making the silhouette ripe for an advertisement campaign that tapped a bevy of legendary cartoonists, special effects masters, and movie directors.
While keeping some of the OG features of the AM90 – such as the heel logo, cassette, mudguard and cropped Swoosh – they completely upgraded the Air unit by adding a 200 per cent larger window than what you’d been used to. More flexibility was also added, taking the OG tread lines and updating it for performance use in 2020.
Standing a whopping 32mm tall, the Air Max unit in the kicks paid homage to those employed by the likes of the Air Max 180 and Air Max 93, while Nike further emphasised maximum cushioned comfort with a new-school-meets-old-school upper that was decidedly modern while also nodding to the classics.