With Air Max Day here once again, we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to deep-dive into the silhouettes that have made Air Max sneakers some of the most iconic ever to release. Air Max Day landed on the 26th of March and was the day the OG Air Max 1 released way back in 1987. That day changed sneaker design as we know it forever.
Before we take a look at the sneakers that excite us most from the Air Max line, it is essential to know the history of the Air Max and how the one daring design became the fan favourite it is today.
Where did it all begin?
It all began with architect turned sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield. Nike brought the now-legendary designer in to help plan various building projects like outlet stores and office blocks back in 1981. Four years later, Hatfield was asked to lend a helping hand to the product design department. Hatfield brought with him a completely fresh take on how to design a shoe, implementing the process he would usually use for buildings to the world of sneaker creation.
Hatfield looked at the construction of a Nike sneaker, discovering an air bubble that featured in the sole to give the shoe both comfort and durability. Nike was in the process of making the air bubble smaller as they intended for this design aspect to remain hidden from customers. Hatfield, however, had completely different ideas. He would study the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, a building that essentially displayed its interiors on the outside. Hatfield would look to bring this idea to his first sneaker design, looking to expose the air bubble for all to see.
Nike executives were far from impressed, insisting the design had gone too far and was far too provocative. Fortunately, Hatfield pushed forward with the progressive design, and the Air Max 1 trainer was born. The finished design would release on the 26th of March 1987, dubbed simply the Air Max. As more Air Max silhouettes would drop, the name would change to Air Max 1.
The 26th of March would go on to be cemented in the history books as Air Max Day, a day dedicated to both Tinker Hatfield and his revolutionary design work. In recent years Nike has brought back some iconic silhouettes and some brand new shoes to commemorate the day.
We take a look at some of our favourites over the years.
Air Max 1 ‘Atmos Elephant’. 2007 + 2017
We start the list with an incredible version of the classic Air Max sneaker, where Nike joined forces with Japanese retailer and creative geniuses Atmos. The shoe has become a grail for many collectors over the years. This is due to the shape of the Atmos Elephant matching that of the OG Air Max 1 from 1987. Nike and Atmos executed the combination of patterns and colour hues perfectly, with the iconic elephant print rarely used on Air Max silhouettes before this release. The ‘Tiffany’ blue swoosh contrasts the monochromatic upper perfectly, making this one of the most eye-catching Air Max 1’s ever to release.
On the tenth anniversary of the sneaker, we were treated to a re-release on Air Max Day. The sneaker released exclusively on Nike’s new app SNEAKRS and was an instant sell-out. The Atmos Elephant remains one of the most sought-after Air Max 1 silhouettes Nike has ever released. Both the 2007 and 2017 editions fetching between £500 -£1000 in the resale marketplace. A genuinely iconic Air Max sneaker that has survived the test of time.
Air Max 90 ‘Bacon’. 2004 + 2021
The Air Max 90 ‘Bacon’ looks set to steal the headlines for Air Max Day 2021 this year. But, the deep-rooted history behind this legendary colourway makes the sneaker such a must-have for sneakerheads across the globe.
The 2004 release was actually a collaboration with the incredible Dave’s Quality Meat sneaker store in New York City. The storefront was disguised as an old school butcher, founded by Dave Ortiz and Chris Keeffe. The duo used this theme as inspiration for the Air Max 90 collaboration they released with Nike in 2004. The colour palette used matched that of strips of bacon, hence the silhouettes nickname. Unfortunately, Dave’s Quality Meat is no more, but the legend lives on through this unbelievable AM90 colourway.
The re-issue of this sneaker has been teased for many years. Several of us expected the ‘Bacon’ to drop on Air Max Day ’20. Although not an official collaboration with DQM’s, the re-release opens the door for new collectors to have a history lesson on just why the ‘Bacon’ is one of the most significant Air Max 90’s to drop in recent memory.
Air Max 95 ‘Neon’
Over the years, Nike has fallen back on the Neon colourway as a surefire way to sell sneakers. The combination of grey hues and that bright yellow pop catches everybody’s eye. No silhouette, though, has found more success with the Neon accents than the Air Max 95. The first version released way back in 1995, and 25 years later, Neon is still the go-to colourway for most collectors.
The silhouette has been retro’d many times in a range of sizes, something Nike does not always do with hyped sneakers. Nike continues to re-release, and the shoe keeps selling out. This just goes to show the importance of the AM95 ‘Neon’ within the sneaker community.
The Air Max 95 was re-released at the beginning of 2021 and was once again a smash hit. The shoe sold out instantly and began a massive year for Nike and Air Max. The fact this sneaker continues to sell-out as soon as it is released is a testament to how good the OG 95 design was. Hats off to designer Sergio Lozano for this one.
Air Max 97 ‘Silver Bullet’
The Air Max 97 shares an eerily similar beginning to the Air Max 1, in that the shoe was the first offering from a brand new designer. Much like when Hatfield went from architecture to sneaker design, Christian Tresser went from football to the world of design. He would join Nike and go on to create one of the best Air Max silhouettes ever.
The inspiration behind the sneaker was a water drop hitting the surface of a pond and rippling, hence the upper’s design. Despite the shoe’s nickname, ‘Silver Bullet’, Tresser has stated he drew no inspiration from the Japanese bullet train.
The sneaker took off not only within the sneaker community but also throughout fashion in general. One day you would spot World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro from the Italian National Team in the Silver Bullets. The next Giorgio Armani and Dolce and Gabanna would be either wearing or using them for runway shows. The Air Max 97 began a genuine cultural movement in Italy.
Everybody from sports stars to designers to graffiti artists opted to wear a pair of Silver Bullets. The sneaker completely took over. Nike has rarely re-released the Silver Bullet, much to fans of the silhouettes dismay. The most popular of the re-releases were a limited edition ‘Italy’ version, which featured the Italian flag on the heel pull tab. This release was a further nod to the importance of the AM97 to the Italian fashion and streetwear culture.
Air Max 97/1 ‘Sean Wotherspoon’
Nike set up a ‘Vote Forward’ campaign back in 2017, allowing all of us the opportunity to vote for one of twelve creatives to design a hybrid Air Max sneaker. The twelve designers, nicknamed the ‘RevolutionAirs’, were invited to Nike HQ to create a one of a kind sneaker.
Sean Wotherspoon and his team in LA eventually won with their corduroy drenched take on an Air Max 1 and 97 combination. The Round Two Co-Founder’s sneaker would release on Air Max Day ’18. The SW Air Max 97/1 went on to steal the show that year. Sneakerheads across the globe flocked to Nike stores and the SNEAKRS app to pick up a pair. The mix of pastel colour hues and corduroy on the uppers make these shoes unique enough. However, the ageing effect and the fraying of the corduroy is what made Wotherspoon pick the material. Wotherspoon sighted that the more consumers wore them, the better they’d look. The Air Max 97 upper mixed with the Air Max 1 sole unit was something we had never seen before. Nike has since embraced and used for general release silhouettes.
Air Max Day, Here To Stay.
So, there you have it. A breakdown of some of the best Air Max silhouettes we have ever had the pleasure of seeing designed and released. It is pretty easy to forget about the rich history of some shoes. This is due to the volume of releases we currently see every week. Even if you aren’t a fan of the Air Max Day releases, at least take this opportunity to find out the history of these iconic sneakers. Trust me; you will soon fall in love with Air Max all over again.