Nike introduced its Air Cushioning Technology in 1979. It would change the life of athletes and many youngsters forever. Less than a decade later, the first Nike Air Max saw the daylight. It gained a lot of popularity within subcultures such as Hip Hop, Gabber and the working class. A few more years and new models were needed to transform AM into the fashion and streetwear icon it is today.
Throughout the years Air Max underwent a lot of changes. There’s one thing that remained the same and that’s the air. (Besides the fact that AM is still a sneaker, obviously.) Many versions have been successfully introduced and reintroduced. Behold the evolution of one of Nike’s most epic sneakers.
Air Max 1 – 1987
To relive the birth of the Air Max 1 we have to go all the way back to 1987. In the beginning of the 80’s Nike hired Tinker Hatfield as their architect to design buildings on one of their campuses. Putting him in the right environment apparently highlighted some other talents. In ’85 he began designing footwear upon request and it was Hatfield who created the first Air Max. Funny note: he was inspired by Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris when he created the sneaker.
Air Max Light – 1989
The Air Max Light a.k.a the Air Max II was released two years after AM1. Both look were more or less the same, the only major difference was the weight. AM2 was lighter thanks to the forefoot polyurethane midsole that was replaced with one made of EVA foam.
Air Max 90 – 1990
AM90 became mostly famous because of its well chosen combination of colors. The original colorway with infrared details was created to highlight the thickness of the sole air cushion.
Air Max 180 – 1991
After 5 years it was time to move forward and so the Air Max 180 was created. The Air 180 gets its name from the 50% larger air unit that is visible throughout a 180 degrees of rotation. Instead of being stuck between a midsole, rubber and the ground, it was solid enough to be exposed on the outsole.
Air Max 93 – 1993
In 1993 AM evolved from 180-degrees of cushioning to a 270-degree air unit. Instead of a small pocket, the heel was now fully filled with an air bag.
Air Max 95 – 1995
This will always remain an epic year for Nike Air Max. In the mid nineties Sergio Lozano got inspired by the human anatomy and this resulted in the design of AM95. If you have a good look you see that the spine of the shoe and the human spine have similarities. The chosen materials intended to represent skin, ribs, and tendons. AM95 became a worldwide phenomenon. In Japan even an entire new crime developed because of the sneaker called “Air Max Hunting”. People wearing Air Max were attacked and their shoes were stolen. Can you imagine…
Air Max 97 – 1997
Besides the new design, AM97 was the first sneaker with a full-length Air Max system. The air bag wasn’t divided into different small units but exposed on the entire sole of the shoe. Originally designed to reduce weight for runners, it also became an international fashion icon.
In the beginning of this summer Nike relaunched an innovative design of the Air Max 97 in new colorways. If you want to score your favorite pair, be quick! We waited a bit too long with the last drop and everything was sold out before we even noticed.
Air Max Plus – 1998
This one is also known as the Air Max TN and has recently taken over the streets again (more info about the recent street style revival in this article). The Air Max Plus had entire new features that were never seen before. The most notable being the alien-like cage covering the outer of the trainer. Also the air technology itself went through a change once again. Nike used a blow moulded rubber unit to contain the air bubbles, along with a new hemisphere technology.
Air Max 360 – 2006
After 19 years of technical improvements Nike finally managed to develop an Air Max technology that allowed the runner to stand completely on air. The AM360 officially had no more midsole and became the foundation for future Air Max designs.
Air Max 2014 & 2015
In 2014 the 360-degree air cushioning system with a thin midsole topline was introduced. Nike reconfigured the system in 2015 with a tubular construction and deeper grooves to make the tooling even more flexible. It really feels like walking on air, you should try it!
VaporMax – 2017
Earlier this year Nike introduced another technological masterpiece: the VaporMax. The rubber outsole has been replaced by a plastic one and the “air mattress” turned into unencumbered tubes. As most of Nike’s latest running sneakers, the upper part is made from one single piece of Flyknit fabric. As Nike always designs for performance and athletes first, this might not be the most stylish Air Max ever (our opinion). But there are definitely some street cred possibilities.
Photo credits: Nike, Youth Tales, The Sole Supplier, Hypebeast, Sneaker News, Rebel from Birth, Sneaker Bar Detroit, Sneaker Files, Sole Collector