The Air In There

Celebrate Nike Air Max Day by learning about the window to the sole

What started out as a performance running shoe in 1987 has evolved into a culture unto its own. Bow at the altar of Tinker Hatfield, the architect who started out designing shops for Nike and went on to create the majority of Nike’s game changers. While it was the Nike Air Tailwind that first introduced air cushioning back in 78, it was always hidden away in the foam outsole. Tinker’s Nike Air Max, inspired by “inside-out building,” Le Centres George Pompidou in Paris, offered a window into this Nike Air technology. While there have been numerous iterations of the Nike Air Max sneaker, these are the shoes where the Air Sole technology pushed things further.

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Nike Air Max 1 (1987)

Air Sole units like the one used in the Air Tailwind were becoming thinner and thinner to make the manufacturing process easier. Meanwhile the design team at Nike were talking about “visible air,” “maximum air” or “Max-Air” – where more air was injected into the sole – achieving a strong cushioning sensation under the foot, with a cutout in the midsole that allowed this technology to be seen. 

Nike Air Max 90 (1990)

The goal here was to better the previous model and unveil more air. Ribbed panels and pops of colour drew attention to the enhanced Air Sole unit, while sharp angles evoked forward motion and speed.

Nike Air Max 180 (1991)

The aim was to make the Air Sole unit larger, which Nike did by eliminating the foam underneath and connecting the outsole directly to the Air Sole unit.

Nike Air Max 93 (1993)

A breakthrough in blow-moulding technology gave Nike the ability to create Air Sole units that were three-dimensional and held their own shape. The result was the 270 degree curvature of the heel, inspired by plastic milk jugs!

Nike Air Max 95 (1995)

The first Nike sneaker to use two air cushions, the Air Max 95 created by Nike ACG designer Sergio Lozano, referenced the spine and sinews of the human anatomy. This boldly provocative silhouette needed to hold its own against the Nike Basketball sneakers that were dominating the market at the time. It managed to, of course, gaining popularity in its own right.  

Nike Air Max 97 (1997)

Wishing to connect the Air Sole units in the heel and forefoot, for the first time, a full-length Max-Air spanned the entire outsole of the shoe. Inspired by Japan’s ultra-aerodynamic bullet trains, this was a running shoe built for speed.

Nike Air Max Plus (1998)

By adding mechanical hemispheres to the medial side of the Air Sole unit (think marrying Nike Shox and Nike Air) the Air Max Plus not only increased stability, but also provided a blend of comfort and style. The sweeping lines, lightweight upper and full-length Max-Air cushioning brought a new edge to the style. 

Nike Air Max 360 (2006)

For 20 years Nike had wanted to make a fully foamless shoe in order to create the sensation of "running on air." The result was Caged Air. The 360 silhouette is the only Air Max sneaker that employs what is now used in Zoom Air applications. Nike celebrated their landmark achievement with a colourway that paid homage to the Air Max 1.

Nike Air Max 2015 (2015)

While foam eventually breaks down, air doesn’t lose its properties and with less foam there’s, well, an opportunity for even more air. Deep flex grooves created the most flexible Max-Air cushioning and the gradient colourway signified speed, while a backwards swoosh showed the sneaker’s rebellious side. So how has the Nike Air Max been interpreted for 2016? Click this.