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Icons of Air: A Nike Air Max Timeline

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Nike Air Max Timeline

With the introduction of their Air technology Nike changed the game. A staple of the brand, Nike Air became the standard for cushioning and transcended footwear. It became a part of culture. From music to television, Nike Air was/is everywhere. Since its introduction in 1978 (Nike Air Tailwind), the famed technology has seen many evolutions. All of which pushed the boundary on design and style like nothing we’d seen before. All carrying memories and a story behind them. In celebration of Air Max Day we’re sharing some of the more memorable stories behind your favorite Air Maxes.


Nike Air Max 1

The one that started it all. Released in 1987, the Nike Air Max 1 was designed by legendary designer Tinker Hatfield. Air had been used prior to the Air Max 1, but it was always hidden behind foam. Inspired by a trip to Paris and a visit to the Pompidou Center, Hatfield took his thoughts about the glass building back to Oregon: “Maybe we could also expose the Air-Sole technology and create a shoe that’s like no other.” The rest is history.


Nike Air Max 90

The Nike Air Max 90 symbolized the start of a new decade. The design was fresh and indicative to where the brand wanted to go. Expectations for the Air Max 90 were high and designer Hatfield knew the silhouette would hit the ground running, so the sneaker was designed to evoke forward motion. With its fluid aesthetic, the Air Max 90 featured a larger volume Air unit than its predecessors and popularized the color that would become known as “infrared.”


Nike Air Max 95

The Nike Air Max 95 wasn’t just a sneaker. Nike itself describes the shoe as an “outcast.” The model was the first silhouette to feature visible Air in the forefoot. The element brought a whole new approach to cushioning and support. Designer Sergio Lozano was greatly inspired by the human body. Thus elements that resemble human ribs, vertebrae, muscles and skin were incorporated into the design.


Nike Air Max 97

Like the 95, the Nike Air Max 97 broke ground. The model featured the first full-length Max Air unit. A feature that brought 360 degrees of comfort and opened tons of doors for design and innovation. Designed by Christian Tresser, the silhouette for the Air Max 97 was directly inspired by Japan’s high-speed bullet trains. The result was a fast and fluid design. At a time when music, movies and style mattered most, the 97 was the perfect shoe for the era.


Nike Air Max 2003

The Nike Air Max 2003, took the Air unit from the 97 and doubled down on the innovation. New molding and a construction that brought your foot closer to the ground added comfort and flexibility. Up top, the Air Max 2003 employed an upper similar to track spikes and football boots. Making for a “lightweight design, aggressive look and premium feel” that brought comfort straight out of the box.


Nike Air VaporMax

Over seven years in the making, the Nike Air VaporMax was a true evolution and completely transformed the standard Air Max. Shedding weight and waste, the VaporMax puts your foot directly atop the Air unit. Eliminating the need for a traditional foam midsole and offering greater flexibility and response than ever before. It was initially paired with a Nike Flyknit upper, a move that allowed for targeted, precise support and further reduced the weight of the shoe.


Nike Air Max 270

The first of its kind, the Nike Air Max 270 was the first model to boast an Air unit 100-percent designed for lifestyle. So it was built to stand up to the rigors of sport as well as the demands of all-day wear. Its design was inspired by the Nike Air Max 93 and the Nike Air Max 180. With the former also inspiring the name for the new model. As 270 stems from an internal Nike epithet for the Air Max 93 that referred to 270 degrees of visibility in the air unit. At the time of its release it also featured the tallest-ever Air Max heel unit, at 32-mm tall.


Nike Air Max 720

A dedication to innovation forced Nike to think outside of the box with the Nike Air Max 720. Answering the question “how big is too big?” Released earlier this year, the model utilizes a large bulbous sole and set a new record for tallest Max Air unit, at 38-mm tall. While not quite traditional, the Air Max 720 does include some classic Nike DNA. Speaking to Sole Collector, 720 designer Dylan Raasch said: there’s a little bit of ‘97 and the ‘95. We use it tastefully but go somewhere new so it doesn’t offend anyone.” That’s what Air is all about. Paying respect to the past while looking forward to the future.


Keep it locked and celebrate Nike Air Max Day with us on March 26th.