The Air Max line is a favourite for plenty of sneakerheads, having changed the landscape of the footwear world with just about every release. As varied as the shoes themselves are, so too are the stories behind them. Ever wondered how they thought up the Air Max 97, or why Nike thought to put air into soles in the first place?
Scroll down to find out the inspiration behind some of the classics, as well as a few slightly more obscure versions.
Long before the visible Air unit arrived on the scene, Nike had been cushioning the soles of their shoes with the gaseous goodness. Frank Rudy was the man who had the idea of putting air in a shoe, his inspiration for this Adidas ZX 750 Pánské came from the work he was doing for NASA. Frank was an aeronautical engineer employed by the space program when he approached Nike with his idea. We’re not too sure if NASA would allow that kind of tech sharing these days.
Father of the Air Max, Tinker Nike Cortez Mujer Hatfield, found his inspiration for the inaugural design in the architecture of the Centre Pompidou during a visit to Paris. Hatfield, who was trained as an architect, was taken by the building’s inside-out approach -— with its structure wrapped around the building’s exterior. From this came the idea to expose the inner workings of the shoe, and the visible Air window was born.
Nike may have a long history of running kicks, but walkers were important, too – especially back in the 1980s. With that in mind, the Swoosh added a walking shoe to the newfangled Air Max lineup in 1988. Simply dubbed the Air Walker Max, the kicks were Nike Internationalist Femme essentially a heavier, more supportive take on the Air Max 1 that went all-in on the structure of a leather upper while its aesthetic was one part AM1, one part Air Revolution – a strapped, high-top Nike Air Max 90 Dame basketball sneaker that shared tooling with a little silhouette called the Air Jordan 3.
While 1988's Air Walker Max went the heavy duty, supportive route, 1989 saw Tinker Hatfield trying to craft an even lighter version of 1987's original Air Max runner. The resulting Air Max Light improved on the OG in a number of key ways and shed weight through the use of a new two-piece midsole that ditched the polyurethane of the original in favour of Phylon. 420 Denier Mesh also improved the runner's breathability while thermoplastic straps made sure that support and stability weren't sacrificed. The AM Light ultimately laid the groundwork for the Air Max 90 and saw its successor utilise a new take on those aforementioned thermoplastic straps, as well Nike Air Max 1 Womens as the variable width lacing options they provided.
For the Air Max 1's 1990 follow-up, Nike Air Zoom Spiridon Femme designer Tinker Hatfield wanted to hit the ground running and highlight the new silhouette's bigger Air bag. Thus, he gave the kicks fluid lines throughout, while perfectly highlighting the Air window with bold 'Infrared' accents. The result is a shoe that looks like a masterpiece in motion, even when it's standing still.
Just like the Air Max 90 before it, the Air Max BW went even bigger and bolder. It may have used the same Air-Sole unit that appeared in the Air Max 90, but new construction techniques meant that Hatfield and company could better highlight the unit with an even 'Bigger Window'.
While 1991's Air Max BW built on the success of the Air Max 90, the year's Air Max 180 took things in an entirely different direction as Hatfield teamed up with Air Force 1 creator Bruce Kilgore. Their resulting collaboration was highlighted Adidas Gazelle Mujer by a seemingly absurd 180-degrees of visible Air-Sole cushioning, making the silhouette ripe for an advertisement Nike Air Vapormax Donna campaign that tapped a bevy of legendary cartoonists, special effects masters, and movie directors.