A History and Guide to Nike's Most Famous Sneaker
It is finally upon us! Air Max month has brought us many new and exciting sneakers paying homage to the history of the Air Max and Air technology in general. So in this article I will explain the cultural history and phenomena of the Air Max and why it's still popular over 20 years later.
What is Nike Air?
Nike Air technology was introduced in the Air Max line in 1987. Starting with the Air Max 1, developed by Tinker Hatfield, it started a legacy of visible air units and somewhat chunky retro feeling silhouettes. They advertised themselves, albeit somewhat falsely, as a "revolution in movement". It claimed to return energy to the runner and maximize workout potential. They were valued at the time for their comfort, and quickly became popular among streetwear enthusiasts and sneakerheads of the late 80's and early 90's.
The 90's were a hell of a time for sneakers, with sneakers such as the Air Max 90, endless crazy Jordan retros and releases, and the rise of Adidas. The Air Max 90 (known as the Air Max III until 2000) was one of the first to lead the charge of the way early 90's. After the massively popular Air Max 1, and not so popular Air Max Light, people were already in love with the comfortable and clunky shoe. The 90 had a bigger air unit, better colorways, and a slightly revamped and redesigned look. It was the best sneaker to follow up the One. The 90 is still loved, and for 120 dollars you can still pick up a pair from anywhere from Amazon to Foot Locker.
The Air Max 180
This has gone on record by both Tinker Hatfield and Bruce Kilgore (the designers of the 180) that it was possibly the hardest Air Max to design and produce. The Air Max 180 was released in 1991, only a year after the somewhat revolutionary Air Max 90. With a full 180 degrees of air, and a lower midsole, the Air Max 180 was hailed as a better running shoe than any other Air Max before it. It was said to be super cushioned and super comfortable. Though it is nowhere near as popular as the One or the 90, it still released with a considerable amount of hype, and it is building hype back up as more retro silhouettes make their way back into the market. There are also rumors of the 180 being Kanye's first collab sneaker, even if it never got to see the light of day.
The Air Max 95
After the Air Max 180, Nike took a year off, and came back in '93 with the Air Max 93. It was not nearly as popular as the One, 90, or 180, but was not bad. The 93 was underwhelming, however. After that, Nike took another year off. Then, in 1995, Nike came out with the Air Max 95. Unlike the 93, it was massively popular. Hatfield was not involved at all on this sneaker, unfortunately. The task was taken on by Sergio Lozano, who designed a sleek, futuristic shoe featuring Nike's first forefoot air unit.It also featured a 3M overlay on the tongue and heel for night time running. Though it became known as a lifestyle icon, Nike still tried to push the 95 as a running shoe. Several sneakerheads, progressive fashion lovers, and even rappers loved the shoe and flocked to the original neon green colorway which became an instant cultural classic.
The Air Max 97
What better way to end the 90's than with another timeless sneaker from the Air Max line? The sneaker is 20 now, and still being hailed as one of the best Air Max sneakers by fashionistas and sneakerheads alike. It sported full length zoom, and a stylish curvy design with minimal branding and a glowing 3M overlay. It was loved in Italy with colorways like the silver bullet and even a gold colorway releasing later in the year. Last year it got plenty of love during Air Max month 2017 with rereleases of loved colorways such as gold and the silver bullet. There are even collaborations with Sean Wotherspoon and UNDEFEATED which are highly prized and loved sneakers in the fashion and sneakerhead communities.
The Air Max 98
The last real iconic Air Max sneaker for 20 years, the Air Max 98 looked very similar to the 97, and it makes sense as this was also designed by Sergio Lozano. Unfortunately, it was not nearly as popular as previous models, and was doomed to the fate of hitting Eastbay and shelves at sale prices. In 1998, the Air Max 98 was not nearly as loved as its older brothers. It was quickly pushed aside for the Air Max 98 TL and the Air Max Plus, quietly forgotten for 20 years. Flash forward to 2018, and we're now getting the 98 in plenty of amazing retro feeling colorways. It is gaining a considerable amount of hype this year, and the Gundam colorway especially is now loved in the community.
The Air Max 270
So far the 21st century has lead to disappointment after disappointment in the Air Max line. Every sneaker has been not too stylish, not great for running, and overpriced. People began losing hope for Air Max. That is until 2018, with the recent announcement and release of the Air Max 270. Boasting a 270 degree air unit on the heel, it is quickly gaining a lot of hype among sneakerheads and may revitalize the Air Max line.
© 2018 Ian Barron