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Introducing Air to a Shoe Was Innovative

Nike Air Max sneakers are lifestyle shoes with impressive comfort and fashion sense. Check out the interesting history below.

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Within the sneaker community, Nike Air Max sneakers are among the holy grail of sneakers for the shoe's exclusive designs and collaborations. With every release, Nike has raised the bar for the Air Max brand starting with the original Air Max 1 in 1987.

nike air max shoes

Tinker Hatfield created the vision behind the innovative design of the Air Max 1. In 1981, Hatfield arrived at Nike after graduating college as an architect. His eye for architecture, most notably the design of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, motivated him to tinker with shoe designs.

The "inside-out" appearance of the Centre Pompidou inspired Hatfield to create a window on the sole of the Air Max 1 to showcase Frank Rudy’s inner cushioning system. The Centre Pompidou has the inner workings of the structure on full display on the outside of the building. This is where the air bubble and future innovation for air inside the sneaker were born.

Frank Rudy developed the idea to insert airbags into the cushioning system of the shoe to help soften the impact on the foot for runners. Frank Rudy was an aeronautical engineer for NASA when he developed the idea for air technology in sneakers. Although Rudy showcased the technology to several major shoe companies, it wasn't until 1978 that Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, launched the Nike Tailwind with the innovative technology.

History of the Nike Air Max

The History of the Nike Air Max sneaker started with the Nike Air Max 1. The Air Max 1 was the first sneaker to integrate the visible air bubble on the sole. Originally released in a red and white color scheme, the Air Max 1 is considered by many sneakerheads as one of the most iconic sneakers designs ever.

After its introduction, the popularity of the Air Max 1 was cemented when Nike released the Nike Air Walker Max in 1988. The Walker Max was aimed at fitness and walking enthusiasts. With a more supportive and heavier leather upper, the Walker Max opted for leisure whereas the Air Max 1 showcased function for runners.

From the Air Max 1, Nike moved the design forward to launch the 56 Lite in 1989. While the Walker Max featured a more supportive design, the Air Max Lite decided on a lighter, more breathable design. The two-piece midsole boasted Phylon instead of the polyurethane on the Air Max 1. The original color scheme of the Air Max Light was red, white, and navy. For many sneakerheads, the Air Max Lite was the precursor to the popular Air Max 90.

Air Max in the 90s

nike air max shoesThe Air Max 90 was the first sneaker launched under the retooled Air Max brand in the 1990s. Initially, dubbed the Air Max 3, this sneaker features a larger airbag on the sole and fluid line work on the upper. The Air Max 90 was the first sneaker to showcase the infrared colorway with matching color accents.

The Air Max BW was similar to the Air Max 90. However, this model offered a larger air bubble window. The BW in the name stands for Big Window. The sneaker was originally released in a Persian Violet colorway in 1991, which many sneakerheads have deemed an iconic colorway for any Air Max sneaker.

For the Air Max 180 release in 1991, Tinker Hatfield enlisted the help of Nike Air Force 1 designer Bruce Kilgore to incorporate an airbag with 180 degrees of visibility. This was the first Air Max sneaker to ditch the original Air Max 90 silhouette. The Air Max 180 debuted in the Ultramarine colorway.

Nike released the Air Max 93 in 1993 to unexpected hype. This was the first Air Max sneaker to feature a design based on the shape of a milk jug with an air bubble that provided 270 degrees of visibility. The sneaker was released in a Menthol colorway with matching colored Air units inside the bubble.

The Air Max 95 delivered a lifestyle sneaker many sneakerheads consider one the more coveted models to this day. There were three different models of the Air Max 94 released in 1994. Originally released in a gray and neon colorway, the Air Max 95 boasted individual air bubbles on the front of the sneaker as well as the larger visible bubbles on the heel. This was the first sneaker in the Air Max brand to redesign the look of the shoe and place one definitive Nike swoosh on the ankle.

The Nike Air Max 97, dubbed the Silver Bullet for the metallic colorway and streamlined design, was a fan favorite in Italy. The layered upper is reminiscent of a pond with ripples flowing throughout the water, and the metallic color is evocative of BMX bikes or aluminum.

The Air Max 98 shoes are similar in build to Air Max 97s but the heavily padded upper and leather material separate this sneaker from its predecessor. The original Gundam colorway and mismatched pattern quickly draw the eye while the bulkier silhouette offers distinction from previous Air Max models.

In 1998, Air Max shifted the sneaker brand forward yet again. The Air Max Plus boasted newly created Tuned Air technology and featured individual airbags in the sole of the sneaker. The Hyperblue gradient colorway was never seen before and cemented the shoe as a sneakerhead favorite. The stripes and line design on the upper give the sneaker a one-of-a-kind feel.

Air Max in the 00s

nike air max shoesIn 2003, Air Max released the first significant sneaker of the new Air Max brand with the Air Max 2003. The sneaker was clean and simple. However, it wasn't until 2006 with the Air Max 360 that the brand reached another milestone in the Air Max journey. The Air Max 360 offered a performance-based design completely cushioned by air. The air bubble was completely visible from 360 degrees. In addition, the shoe was released in the same red and white color scheme as the original Air Max 90 to pay tribute.

The Air Vapormax was released in 2017. It was the first sneaker in the Air Max shoe line to remove foam and rubber from the outsole and midsole. The Vapormax fuses the cushioned airbag to the upper for a lightweight yet elastic feel and fit. The original Platinum colorway delivered a simple yet clean look.

In 2018, Nike launched the Air Max 270. The 270 was the first Air Max designed for casual wear. The air bubble and upper pay homage to earlier models, such as the Air Max 3 and 180. In 2019, Air Max released the Air Max 720, another lifestyle sneaker aimed at daily wear. The 720 is the first Air Max sneaker to feature a full-length air bubble unit. Originally, the 720 was released in the Aurora Borealis colorway.

Iconic Air Max Collaborations

nike air max shoesOver the years, Air Max has collaborated with several brands and artists to create some iconic sneakers. Recognized as one of the most coveted Air Max, the collaboration with atmos produced the Elephant Air Max 1s. The gray and black elephant print on the upper and teal swoosh have been sought after by sneakerheads on eBay since the shoe's release in 2007.

Off-White and Nike's collaboration for the Air Max 97 is notable. The clean white color is highlighted by the signature black Nike swoosh and Air logo to give the sneaker a designer feel. The collaboration was released in 2017, and the sneaker community has included the shoes on the all-time favorite Air Max collaboration list.

Future of Air Max

nike air max shoesThe future of the Air Max sneaker is bright and seems to depend on innovation. While environmentally friendly materials are an option, Nike can opt to combine its patent self-lacing feature with its Air Max cushioning technology to attract new sneakerheads. The brand witnessed forward progress with the Nike Air Max 2090 in 2020 and the Nike Air Max Pre-day in 2021. Though these releases have not achieved the strong following of the Air Max 90s or 95s, only time will tell if these sneakers can become a favorite in the sneaker community.

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