A Look Back: Back to school in the late ‘90s
Take a look back with Drew Hammell of Nike Stories and check out some of the freshest back to school kicks of the '90s.
In 1987, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield sparked a revolution.
Is it crazy to talk about a shoe this way? Maybe. But 30 years after its original inception, visible Max Air remains one of the biggest style statements the shoe industry has ever seen, spanning casual wear, running, basketball, training, and more. So what is it that makes Max Air so enduring? Let’s look back and find out.
Posted 3.26 Day 7: Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit
Yesterday, we wondered what more, after thirty years, could Nike have to add to the Air Max line. The answer?
Less weight. Less bulk. And, surprisingly, less Air.
So, why, on Air Max Day 2017 — on the 30th birthday of visible Air — would Nike suddenly dial it back? Because, just like with the Tuned Air of the Air Max Plus, the Air VaporMax Flyknit that launches today was designed to answer an athlete’s specific need. After all, that was Tinker Hatfield’s original goal with every shoe he designed: solve a problem for the athlete.
The problem Nike is solving for here is that not every runner is the same. Just like Tuned Air added stability for overpronators, the VaporMax adds freedom for runners who need a lighter touch.
This starts with a one-piece Flyknit upper that wraps the foot for a snug, sock-like fit. Flyknit provides areas of support and breathability where you need them most without the bulk and weight of leather or synthetic overlays. Areas that need more support or durability – like the heel – are more tightly woven, while areas that need cooling airflow – like over the toe box – feature a looser weave.
Flywire cables are embedded in the Flyknit, wrapping the midfoot before joining the laces. As the laces tighten, so does the level of lockdown over the footbed. And what a minimal footbed it is. In the Air VaporMax Flyknit, Nike has managed to remove almost every single layer standing between the foot and Air cushioning.
VaporMax Air is the lightest version of Air cushioning yet. While still a full-length unit, VaporMax Air is segmented, providing cushioning only where you need it and allowing optimal flexibility. Rubber lugs are then added to high-impact areas for durable traction without unnecessary weight to slow you down.
The shoe world has never seen anything like the Air VaporMax Flyknit. Like many of the revolutionary models that came before it, the VaporMax is poised to spark another revolution and inspire countless athletes, shoe collectors, and industry leaders around the world. It makes us wonder where we’ll be in another thirty years.
So far, we’ve covered the evolution from small heel window to visible forefoot Air, and simple design elements to boundary-breaking style. The next leap Nike made brought the Air Max line full circle. The key word here is full — as in full-length Air.
This transition was not a quick or easy one. 1991’s Air Max 180 made the first big stride towards full-length Air with a unit that seamlessly transitioned from outsole to Air-Sole. Like previous models, the Air Bag was visible on the lateral and medial sides, as well as from the back of the heel.
We’ve said it before: The Air Max revolution is driven by the idea that more is better. Where did this idea come from? The fact that more Air seemed to mean a more comfortable ride. And the shoe industry at large seemed to agree.
So, two years after the Air Max 180, Nike once again delivered on that idea. The Air Max 93 featured 270 degrees of visible Air, extending the unit all the way through the back of the heel. Then, ten years after the very first visible Air Bag hit the market, Nike unveiled the Air Max 97, complete with a full-length Air-Sole unit.
The progression didn’t stop. Now that there was full-length Air, Nike wanted to create a shoe that was ONLY Air. Foam cushioning breaks down over time, especially in running shoes where the repeated impact of heelstrike can be brutal. Max Air, however, doesn’t lose its cushioning properties. The bag self-inflates, so it never loses its shape and you never lose your comfort.
So, Nike said goodbye to foam and in 2006, released the Air Max 360 featuring Caged Air. The shoe was a monumental achievement, and to pay homage to how far the line had come, the Air Max 360 was released in an OG red and white colorway.
Since 2006, we’ve seen new upper technologies and fabrics to decrease weight and update style. We’ve also seen flex grooves added to the Air-Sole design for a more natural range of motion while walking or running.
Thirty years in the making, the Air Max 2017 proves that Max Air technology is here to stay. The line has withstood the test of time in ways that most sneakers only dream of, earning the title of classic while somehow remaining fresh and unique year after year. But at Eastbay, we can’t help but wonder – is there any “more” left to add to the Air Max line? We’ll find out tomorrow – on Air Max Day 2017.
The Air Max 95 paved the way for edgier silhouettes and bolder color choices. As a result, running shoes were taking over street culture and earning a tough reputation in the process. There is no shoe more notorious for this than the Air Max Plus, also known as the TN. Released in 1998, it took the inspiration of the 95 and turned it on its head.
The recognizable wave element is still front and center on the Air Max Plus, but instead of using layered panels, designer Sean McDowel fashioned a synthetic exoskeleton to wrap the entire foot. Meanwhile, the gradient grey of the 95 transformed into a spray-faded upper in brighter hues like Orange Tiger and Hyper Blue. Flat, tube laces and a small neon swoosh finished off this futuristic look.
But when it came to the Air Max Plus, innovation wasn’t only skin deep. Nike had also made updates to the Air technology, because while Max Air was great at comfortable cushioning, some runners needed more. Welcome, Tuned Air. By combining Max Air with structural elements, called hemispheres, the Air Max Plus could provide much-needed stability for overpronators. At heelstrike, these mechanical elements would prevent the foot from rolling inwards, guiding the wearer through a more natural stride. Max Air was no longer a one-size-fits-all cushioning.
The Air Max Plus is not for the faint of heart. This is a shoe that dared to be different, and those who are drawn to it defy definition and crave change. Sound like you?
In 1995, Hatfield stepped back from the Air Max line, and a new designer took the reigns: Sergio Lozano.
Lozano knew the time for subtlety had passed — the running shoe industry was in a slump and the Air Max 95 needed to spark another revolution. Lozano accomplished this by creating a shoe that broke the Air Max mold while remaining true to the line’s philosophy of revealing the invisible.
So, what did the Air Max 95 reveal?
The secrets of the human body. Nylon lace eyelets wrapped the top of the forefoot, much like the human rib cage, and the layered panels of the upper echoed the muscle fibers hidden beneath our skin. The gradient grey of the original Air Max 95 was also meant to resemble the geographical effects of erosion on the earth over time, leaving us to wonder what surprises Nike could still unearth eight years after visible Air. The answer (as always) was more.
Peeking out from the shoe’s black outsole — the first of its kind for Nike — was the now recognizable Air-Sole unit. But this time, visible Air wasn’t just relegated to the heel. The Air Max 95 had visible Air in the forefoot.
It’s fair to say that Nike wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the Air Max 95. The shoe was so unlike anything that had come before, that it would have to forge its own path through popular culture and the shoe market. And forge, it did. The Air Max 95 became a street style sensation. The famous — or infamous, depending on who you ask — silhouette has been commemorated in song lyrics, graphic novels, and in numerous shoe designs that came after. Are you ready to reveal your true Air Max style? We have original, sneakerboot, or Ultra versions of the Air Max 95 in sizes for the whole family.
As you can see, the changes between the Air Max III and Air Max IV were subtle, and maybe that’s why what we now call the Air Max BW flew under the radar when it was first released. But the idea these changes were based on is an important one — one that shaped the entire evolution of the Nike Air Max Line. And that’s the idea that more is better. More cushioning. More padding. More comfort. More attitude.
And so, in 1991, Nike once again beefed up the Air Bag and carved out a slightly bigger window — earning the name BW. This trend would continue. It seemed the answer to Nike’s question, “What more could you want?” was, well, more. The inspiration behind the BW would lead to the Air Max 180 in 1992 — a shoe with an even larger Air-Sole unit that made contact with the ground for the first time AND was exposed at the heel as well as on the medial and lateral sides.
But that’s not the BW’s only legacy. Like its big brother, the BW would make a lasting impact on the sneaker world in the form of color. This time, the popular hue was Persian Violet. To this day, it sits right next to Infrared as one of the most recognizable colorways in Nike history.
You can still cop the classic colorway on the original version or as a revamped Ultra with a more breathable mesh upper and lighter, more flexible outsole. Get your Air Max fix by checking out our full range of colors and sizes.
Originally dubbed the Air Max III, what we now know as the ’90 took the visible technology of the original and upped the ante. Artfully combining form and function, Hatfield drew the eye straight to the shoe’s Air-Sole unit by surrounding it in color. And not just any color. Infrared.
The original Infrared Air Max ’90 is one of the most iconic style statements of all time. Thanks to Hatfield’s inspired design, this shoe bridged the gap between performance and style in a way that had never been done before. He combined the technology of Nike running with functional elements that appealed to the eye and complemented street style, using ribbing and sharp lines to evoke the forward motion of a runner and a fuller silhouette for an edgy, modern look.
Today, the Air Max ’90 is still key for serious sneaker heads and casual wearers alike. Part of the shoe’s enduring popularity is linked to its adaptability. The ’90 lends itself well to customization, and as a result, you can find unlimited color and material combinations, as well as celebrity and designer collabs that freely mix prints, patterns, and textures in new and interesting ways. Twenty-seven years after its release, the Air Max ’90 continues pushing the design envelope and challenging the world to see sneakers in a whole new light.
Inspired by the Pompidou Centre in Paris, France — which uses its structural features as visible design elements — Hatfield decided it was time for Max Air cushioning to come out of hiding. Nike had already been using the midsole technology across many of its performance shoes since 1979, but Hatfield knew it was time to make a change — it was time to bring Max Air front and center.
What exactly is Max Air? Actually, it’s not even air at all, but a urethane pouch filled with gas. Designed by aerospace engineer Frank Rudy, Max Air was lighter than traditional midsole foam and provided better impact protection and a smoother running stride.
Hatfield knew that while runners loved the feel of Max Air, they weren’t actually sure what it was. So, he decided to increase the size of the Max Air bag, carve out a section of the shoe’s foam midsole, and expose the cushioning. And so, visible Air was born.
Today, the Air Max 1 is a retro casual shoe, but in 1987 it was a top-of-the-line runner. Throughout its 30 years, the Air Max 1 has gone through many changes, innovations, and updates. The OG university red and white colorway remains a classic must-have for many collectors, while newer Air Max fans benefit from recent technology updates like lightweight Ultra and the snug fit of Flyknit. Today, we’re kicking off our Week Of Air Max celebration by featuring a shoe that combines both of these tech updates: The Nike Air Max 1 Ultra Flyknit.
This stylish remix of the classic kick keeps the traditional Air-Sole design of the original, but cuts down on even more weight with a breathable, cored out Ultra midsole. The finishing touch is a one-piece Flyknit upper for a sock-like fit and premium look.
Want more Air Max? Don’t worry — we’ll be back every day this week to feature another of our favorite Air Max models from the past 30 years. Trust us, you don’t want to miss this.
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