By Drew Hammell
When it comes to innovation, Nike has never shied away from bold, in your face, never-before-seen designs. Ask 100 sneakerheads what the most iconic Nike running sneaker of all time is, and their answer will most likely be one with a visible Air-Sole unit. The Air Max 1, for example. Or the Air Max 95. Or the 97.
However, there were two revolutionary Nike running models that didn’t feature visible Air: the Huarache and the Shox R4. Both were beyond radical for their time. They had designs that were off the wall – way out there. Designs so crazy, so ridiculous, that they actually worked. The Huarache had a neoprene sock sewn inside of a plastic cage that held the foot in place snugly. The Shox R4 boasted actual, literal…springs. These were shoes the sneaker world dreamt of, but didn’t think anyone could possibly be audacious enough to produce.
The Air Huarache running shoe was designed by the legendary Tinker Hatfield and debuted in 1991. There were basketball and cross training models as well. All three models looked very different from anything Nike had released before. “It (the Huarache) didn’t need a Swoosh, because people knew that only Nike could think of this crazy idea and then pull it off,” said Hatfield in a SNKRS article.
In terms of technology, Tinker’s original sketch featured a visible Air-Sole unit, but the final model ditched the window. That turned out to be just fine, because the sole was so chunky with such a huge internal Air-Sole unit, they were like big fluffy pillows. “Have you hugged your foot today?” boasted an old Huarache ad.
19 years later, Nike debuted the Shox R4 in 2000. The beginning of the 21st century was a strange time for sneaker design – most footwear enthusiasts will agree that Nike lost their way a bit, and got a little too experimental with their concepts by ’99-‘00. Maybe it was the fact that people thought every computer was going to crash and the world was going to end when the clock struck midnight in 2000, so it wouldn’t matter anyway. The sneaker creatives might as well design the craziest shoe possible before the human race ceased to exist.
But, the clock did strike twelve, and computers didn’t crash, so out came some wild Nike designs. Leading the charge was the first Shox model, officially called the Shox R4. The R4 featured a cushioning system in the heel with urethane columns for a trampoline-style response. It took 16 years of innovative tinkering to get the Shox design and fit right for the general public, and the year 2000 seemed like the appropriate time to unveil them.
Today, there is still plenty of demand for the OG Huarache and Shox models. Nike continues to reimagine these two silhouettes as well, with the new Shox Gravity releasing along with the Huarache Run Drift and Huarache City models this month. The newer models are stripped of some of the weight from the OGs, with a revamped modern look and fit. The 2018 models are a testament to Nike’s commitment to pushing the limits of design and functionality, and prove that sometimes, crazy is good.
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