From the most avid sneakerhead to the more casual, the Air Max series is as household as it sounds. From the very beginning, the concept of Air is a mixture of boldness, inspiration, and polarization.
Like luxury cars or designer handbags, sneakers are a commodity that is cemented in a cultural consciousness that even casual shoppers will see instantly. Nike is one of the many brands that has gained such a universal name. Popular silhouettes such as Cortez or Air force 1 are embedded in our collective memory that simultaneously reflects a style, a cultural history and representing the whole culture.
Nike described the Air Max 1 as a crucial and revolutionary concept that lifted the brand when it was most relevant. While the story is part of sneaker legend, Nike’s 33rd birthday–celebrated as Air Max Day–is here and Nike is devoting an entire month to the celebration of more launches than we can probably keep track of!
On the prosperous event of Air Max Day 2020 and Air Max 90s 30th Anniversary, Nike is paying homage to the variations of Air Max 90 over the years that paved the way for Air’s future. Thirty years later, and with Nike Air Max ’90s continuing ingenuity through Air Manufacturing Innovation, the company continues to celebrate the revolutionary cushioning platform on its first shoe release date by releasing some of the bops like OG-inspired sneaker releasing “Volt,” “Hyper Grape,” and “Hyper Turquoise,” colorways with Air Max 2090 with its initial colorway available in unisex and youth sizing, and lava-glow is a women’s exclusive colorway.
Nike brings back the cult-favorite duck camo print from the 2013 Air Max 90 Atmos as a basis for a new Air Max Duck Camo Pack. Not only this The shine of precious metals make their return on the Air Max 90 Metallic Pack, originally only available via Nike By You. The women’s pack is also offered in toddler sizing, and releases in gold, rose gold and silver colorways.
The tales behind them are as varied as the shoes themselves. Have you ever wondered how the Air Max 90 was born, or why Nike was thinking of putting air in the sole? Put yourself to rest and just keep scrolling!
EARLY DAYS IN OREGON
Back in 1964, the company was founded by former University of Oregon athlete Phil Knight and his former mentor Bill Bowerman to help the running community gain access to the best shoes. They named it Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), launching the nascent business as a distributor to Onitsuka Tiger. Apparently, at track meets, Bowerman sold most of the shoes from his trunk.
Phil Knight — who finished his MBA at Stanford — and Bowerman didn’t take long to know that they wanted to do their own thing. Bowerman had created a cushioned running shoe that was released as the Tiger Cortez by Onitsuka in 1969. However, around the same time, he and Knight began to work with a Japanese factory to produce their own line of sneakers. They used to call it Nike. And do you know which was one of the first models? Cortez Nike.
“The Swoosh” was designed by a local student named Carolyn Davidson and Nike charged her just $35. For her job, Knight gave Davidson, over a decade later, “a gold Swoosh ring embedded with a diamond and an envelope containing Nike stock.”
And so, the clever marketing and borderline trickery Nike’s tradition had begun. Early on Knight and Bowerman realized they weren’t actually selling a special commodity. They also sold a concept. The Swoosh, the endorsements from celebrities, the slogans— all added up to a brand that inspired people to believe in goods rather than results.
ORIGINS – BIRTH OF AIR MAX TECHNOLOGY
Marion Franklin Rudy was born in Ohio in 1925 and left his profession of an aerospace engineer at NASA at the end of the 1960s to pursue being a designer. One of his boldest thoughts was to put small airbags on athletic shoes so that it can mitigate the impact. He approached 23 shoe companies with his airbag innovation; all of them shut him down. He subsequently gave Phil Knight his vision in 1977. Phil took an aerial concept on a test ride around the Beaverton campus and returned to his workplace, fascinated. Nike had found it’s air!
The first Nike shoe using the technology was the AIR Tailwind, which was launched in 1978 and specifically designed for running because of its weightless nature and comprehensive support. Upon the first release of the Tailwind, there were just 250 sets, distributed for the Honolulu Marathon between running stores in Hawaii. The US $50 shoe was outsold in 24 hours. Well, that was a very long, exhausting year for hypebeasts of first-generation.
Air was checked by runners and research. In the mid-80s, what was left was for more joggers to grab the spotlight. This is when design, along with a great deal of boldness, arrived.
What is air max technology and how does it work?
This tech was used once to create astronaut helmets for Apollo missions and later, Rudy built the hollowed out mid sole in which he embedded polyurethane bags that had thick gasses, which was Aeronautics technology called blow rubber mashing. Later, The Air Max Light shed some of that Air Max 1 fat by replacing polyurethane with Phylon technology which helped runner’s breathability and thermoplastic straps kept the sneaker stable.
The cornerstone of Air technology is to place pressured air in a strong yet flexible bag. It is achieved by aeronautical process called blow rubber molding, offering durability and springiness without compromises in structure.Nike uses dense gasses that can not escape from the polyurethane layer of its pack, to ensure that the gas does not spill from the Air Units.
Each Air Unit is then placed in the midsole of the trainer in different positions, depending on where the cushioning needs to be emphasized. It is usually on the foot, where safety and coating are most required to take the next level of comfort. Pressure is added to every step on the air units that absorb and release energy as you step off. Then the air unit reverts to its original form.
Over the years, Nike has changed the shape and composition of Air Max technology and marketed to the public the incredible innovation that comes with each Air Max sneaker generation.
TINKER HATFIELD – MAN BEHIND AIR MAX’S WINDOW DESIGN
There’s no name other than Tinker Hatfield that is more associated with the past of Nike Air Max, the brand’s sportswear approach to cushioning. A man responsible for various significant inventions, Hatfield has re-told the story of his visit to Pompidou Center in France countless times and how it inspired served as the inspiration for making Nike Air technology visible.
Nike employed Hatfield for the construction of buildings on Oregon’s campus as a corporate architect. Four years later, in 1985, he started the designing of shoes on request. Hatfield took these architectural signals back to Oregon from the Georges Pompidou Centre, a multicultural complex in Paris showcasing the building’s interiors–inner-workings of the building, plumbing, electric, etc. The outcome was the first sneaker to have an exposed Air bubble and and with it began a revolution in running sneakers and footwear design.
“I don’t know if I was thinking, well now I’m going to design a shoe based off of this, I just remember being super influenced by it and having my architectural senses turned upside down.”
In the above lines, Tinker refers to the Georges Pompidou Centre, a building that took all its functional and structural elements and put them on the exterior. Even today, it remains unusual in the typical architecture of Paris. Hatfield feels he could never have proposed an iconic air pouch had he not seen the building.
“I thought let’s make the bag a little bit wider, make sure it’s stable, but then let’s go ahead and remove part of the midsole so we can actually see it.”
Dave Forland, Director of Cushioning Engineering, was another veteran crucial to launching the visible air movement, who began working on the project to eventually bring the Nike Air Max back in 1985. The noticeable era in the air was to open this sole and give customers a clear image of Nike’s technology. The moment was extremely significant for Nike as it allowed the company not to rely on better figures and promises of improved results but to provide a strong visual message about its innovation and that’s how air pouch was introduced.
AGE OF 90S: DAWN OF AIR MAX 90
” Big windows. Forefoot Air. Full-length Air! Tuned Air. These were some of the astounding changes to both the make and aesthetic that put the Max in Air during the ’90s, and its evolution mirrored the tenor of the decade. ” – as said by nike!
Although Nike’s iconic sneaker, originally named the Air Max III, is well known for being one of a kind of sleek silhouette, Nike Sportswear’s initial color scheme would never be so much loved if the Air Max 90 color scheme still wasn’t being emulated today by Nike Sportswear.
Now dubbed the “Infrared” edition, the original Air Max ‘ 90 went through a variety of red hues before reaching the vibrant look that we’ve all grown to love today. The original Air Max III made its debut back in 1990 with “Hyvent Orange” bringing them to life, while today’s Hyperfuse Air Max ‘ 90 features a true “Infrared” hue almost 23 years later i.e in 2012.
When the Air Max 1 exposed the air unit and gave you an opportunity to peek within a sneaker’s job, the Air Max 90 strengthened the air unit with a powerful infrared window and made it impossible to miss. While the Air Max 1 was stuck with its initial drops with primary red and blue colors, the Air Max 90 played with its initial “Infrared” colorway to the sensitivities of the time. The neon red/pink concoction of the early’ 90s — better known as, you guessed it right, “Infrared “— was as bold as the new approach to air, and was contrasted in the shoe by black, white, and grey.
REVIVAL OF AIR MAX 90 AND COLLABORATIONS
The original Air Max 90 colorway lay dormant as other colorways released and the Air Max line continued to grow over the ensuing decade. It wasn’t until 2005 that the OG Air Max 90 got a full retro update with the update of Nike’s History of Air, 15 years away from its launch. A pair of the original ’90s released in Australia in 2002 and 2003 saw exclusive Asia and Europe releases, but it wasn’t until 2005 that they made their way to States. The 2005 release did its utmost to remain true to the original concept, but the Air unit was much smaller.
Nike re-mixed the Air Max 90 in 2006 for its “One Time Only” Pack with a new Air Max 360 single. The “One Time Only” Pack took original designs from Air Max 90 and combined them with the Air Max 360 air unit that took up the entire shoe frame. Although it was a bold effort to merge the old school style with its new technology, the shoe was regarded as a miss.
Air Max 90 returned to its original form in 2008, 2010 and 2015 with a positive response. The retro versions were similar to the original except for a slightly more pink infrared filter and the smaller 2005 retro Air package. Nike debuted the Air Max 90 Hyperfuse in 2012, which had received a very unexpectedly positive response. While the concept remained largely the same, the Hyperfuse technology infusion drastically altered the shoe’s material, both in shape and weight. In 2010 the Hyperfuse system was originally introduced in basketball shoes by Nike in order to cope better with normal wear and tear. Nike developed a product that had proven to be lighter, more breathable and more athlete resilient. The Hyperfuse Air Max 90 was a major hit! and Nike later released other colorways of the Air Max 90 Hyperfuse, including the sought-after Independence Day pack.
When Virgil Abloh tapped 10 classic Nike silhouettes for his iconic “Ten” drop, the Air Max 90 was one of them. His original take featured an icy sole with a white and a sailing theme. It featured on the side Abloh’s signature quotation marks motif and deconstructed design showing the Air Max 90’s inner-workings on the outside of the shoe itself. Like every other product from the initial drop, it quickly sold out and on the resale market fetching crazy prices.
30 BUOYANT YEARS TO AIR MAX 90
Although the original Air Max 90 may be the most successful and recognizable of all colorways, over the years, Nike has released a ton of colors, some of which are super-rare grails. There was the colorway of KAWS black and volt (as well as a colorway of white and volt), and the colors of “Warhawk” and “Bacon.” Collaborations were with Atmos and Patta. Not to mention the hundreds of generic colorway releases that are extremely popular among Nike heads over the years.
If Nike’s legendary Air Max line ever had to be abbreviated for the long, brilliant 32-year history, which sneakers would feature only at its most significant moments highlighted? Obviously the first sneaker ever to have a visible Air unit is the original Air Max 1. With its wavy gradient style and double airbags, there is the groundbreaking Air Max 95. And a sandwich right between these two crucial moments in the history of sneakers the Air Max 90, one of the most commercially popular Air Maxes ever and undeniably one of the most important shoes in the nineties.
The roots of the Air Max 90s are in the audacious and showy development of running sneaker technology.
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