Nike Air Max - A Testament to Innovation
Updated: May 27, 2022
The "Air" Series | Air Max Day 22'
Air Technology, a game changing sneaker innovation, made big waves in the late 70’s. This new “Air Technology” was made up of pressurized nitrogen in small but sturdy urethane pouches - something the industry hadn’t seen before.
The tech, Coined by Nike, and originally designed by aerospace engineer Franklin Rudy - aimed to do 2 things:
Reinvigorate Nike's trainer series of sneakers
Make the running shoes lighter and more comfortable for wearers.
Nearly a decade after air technology was introduced to Nike's brand, another revolutionary design was born. Debuted in 1987 and designed by Tinker Hatfield, an American architectural designer, the Nike Air Max 1 took the stage as a new testament of innovation. A testament that would inspire dozens of footwear designers for over 30 years.
Every year since March 26th 2014, Nike has been celebrating the air max collection with special releases, behind the scenes videos and new colorways. This year, LONER wanted to dig deeper, exploring how the design of a retro shoe can still hold the hearts of so many captivated sneakerheads.
Before diving deeper into the Air Max collection’s Longevity and various colorways - we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the core design philosophy pushing the collection forward. Today we’ll be looking at 2 of our favorite and most influential early variations of the sneaker.
The original, debut “Air Max 1’s” released in 1987
The “Air Max 95’s” a mid 90’s staple released in 1995
The OG Air Max 1’s debuted in 1987 despite Nike air tech being public for nearly 10 years. The urethane pouches located in the base of the shoe was definitely an interesting hook for anyone looking for a better than average training shoe but the caveat to this technology was that it was hidden. The nitrogen pressurized air bag was tucked away inside of the sole of the shoes - in this case, not seeing was believing.
That’s where the Air Max 1’s come in. Tinker Hatfield, an architectural designer by trade until he joined the Nike team in 1981, had a revolutionary idea, make the already notable air pouch...
Wider, boosting the overall stability and padding of the sneaker
Visible through the base of the shoe, which allowed for the change in the pouches' size, without sacrificing comfort.
This was a hit or miss, sparking a fair amount of controversy on the team. A design like that had never been tried before, and the creativity behind it caused a lot of people to really consider whether or not the design was a good idea - but this revolutionary new look was exactly what the brand needed.
Since its release, the “visible pouch” Air Max collection has been a Nike staple, and has found itself loved by sneaker heads around the world. As of today, there are nearly 200 different collabs, limited editions and special collection variants.
Creative Stockpiling | The Air 95's
The second variant of the original air max collection we’d like to call attention to is the Air Max 95 series. In the 90’s Nike gained a lot of popularity because of its influence in the Basketball scene - but found themselves ready to reimagine what their running shoe collection was capable of.
At this point Hatfield had recently moved off of the project after designing an assortment of influential colorways, opening the floor up for a new designer Sergio Lozano, who joined the team in an effort to reimagine the sneaker. While there are many things to love about the Air max 95 series (too many to list here), what we love about Sergios’ extremely memorable 95’ design, was the inspiration behind it and the lengths to which Lozano was willing to innovate.
“..So one of the goals was to take our top level running product, which was the Air Max, and really reinvent it to make a statement and take it to a new level..” - Sergio Lozano
Sergio’s design (pictured below) was ”naturally” inspired. The source of this inspiration was erosion, a process by which material is worn away from the earth's surface due to the elements (rain, wind, dirt etc.) breaking them down. This context is important when looking at the 95 series - which features “eroded” fabric layering and an often jagged outsole (bottom of the shoe).
The theme of erosion came to Sergio on a rainy day in Portland, where he could see the rain affecting the landscape around him from his office window. Another important trait of Sergio’s design was that the 95 series was the first Nike silhouette to use a black outsole. He moved away from the traditional white, because running shoes, in his resident town of Portland, got dirty quickly from the rain / terrain. By using black material, Lozano meant to hide some of that dirt and grime buildup. This made runners happier, longer.
But Sergio wasn’t finished yet, pushing the creative center of the design further still by making the air bubble, originally visible only in the heel area of the trainer, visible in both the front and the back - A Dual Powered Cushioning System.
“Air Max” is a somewhat loaded term in the fashion industry. And the best way to look at the Air Max series is not as a sneaker, but as a collection. Every iteration of the shoe was (and is) dependent on innovation. Innovation that often made Nike itself uncomfortable.
Because of this, as a creative myself, the Air Max is undoubtedly one of my favorite pieces of footwear. Not because it’s a beautiful shoe (which it is) but because every instance of the sneaker feels like a piece of art. Every designer who painstakingly toiled to create something new on top of the air max concept had to dig deep, and as an artist, that’s something I can appreciate.
So to close, I personally don’t look at the Air Max family as a collection of shoes, I view them more as an artistic body of work 35 years in the making. To this day I'm still loving every minute i spend learning about the different designers that poured their creative soul into this project