Icons of Air: A Nike Air Max Timeline & History
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.
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 Light
Air Max Light or Air Max II, whatever you want to call it this sneaker is a technological marvel. The polyurethane midsole from the Air Max 1 was swapped with a phylone midsole. The move made the Air Max Light lighter than its predecessor. The Air Max Light also featured a forefoot Air-Sole (more air than the Air Max 1), two-piece interlocking midsole, thermoplastic straps for stability and 420 Denier Mesh for enhanced breathability. At first glance the Air Max Light appears to be a slightly adjusted rendition of the Air Max 1, but it’s much more than that.
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 180
How do you follow up the beloved Air Max 90? With “50% more air and twice the cush’ (slogan used by Nike at the launch of the Nike Air Max 180)” that’s how. The first of its kind, the Nike Air Max 180 ensured that Air would literally hit the streets with your step. This was achieved first by offering 180 degrees of Air cushioning and second by bonding that cushioning with a bold urethane outsole. The result was unparalleled comfort with your every stride.
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.
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 1998
The Nike Air Max 98 had the misfortune of directly following one of the most iconic silhouettes of all-time (AM97), but the shoe has gone on to become an icon in its own right. Designed by Sergio Lozano (designer of the AM95), the Air Max 98 builds upon the strengths of its predecessors (layered upper, full-length visible Air), while also adding some of Lozano’s experience with the Nike All-Conditions Gear (ACG) program. Like the chunky silhouette, complex lacing system and the outdoorsy colorways. All of which were rejected by sneaker enthusiasts at the shoe’s launch. Today, those very qualities are what have fans gravitating towards the Air Max 98.
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 Max 2006
In 2006 most thought Nike had done all they could with the famed Air Max, the brand doubled down and introduced the Nike Air Max 360. Which offered a new take on 360 degrees of comfort by removing the standard foam midsole and putting wearers directly atop the Air sole. Removing the foam midsole allowed the Air Max 360 to weigh in at less than 13 ounces. The Air Max 360 sole was so revolutionary it quickly made its way into other sports. NBA fans may remember that Amar’e Stoudemire wore a high-top edition of the Air Max 360 during the 2006-07 NBA Season.
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.
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.
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.
With an eye towards the past, the Nike Air Max 2090 is deeply rooted with DNA from the iconic Air Max 90. Lifting the mudguard, cassette (layer which surrounds and highlights the Air unit) and heel logo directly from its muse. While rooted with heritage DNA, the 2090 also offers modern appeal. Using various levels of opaque materials on the upper, updating the classic waffle outsole and offering 200% more Air than originally found in the Air Max 90.
Nike Air VaporMax EVO
If you’re thinking the Nike Air VaporMax EVO looks familiar, that’d be because much like the 2090, the shoe has deep heritage roots. In total, the model honors seven Nike Air iconics (90, 93, 96, Air Max Plus, Tuned 99, Solas and 180+). Between the left and right shoes you’re looking at about three decades of style. The left shoe pays tribute to the likes of the Warhawk 90, Moon Landing 90, OG Blue AM 1 and AM 180 Comme Des Garcons. While the right shoe honors the AM 98 Snakeskin, AM 97 Wotherspoon and the OG AM Plus. At first glance the Air VaporMax EVO appears to be too busy and muddled. But a deeper look reveals a carefully crafted shoe that commemorates the past while still putting an eye towards the future.
Wishing you all a very happy Air Max Day 🎈.