For thirty years Nike’s Air cushioning system has been a pillar of the sneaker community. Fan favorites like the Air Max 1, Air Force 1 and Air Jordan 1 laid the foundation for the line to grow into a muti-catagorical technology. The technology’s always been closely associated with running and models like the Air Max 90, 95 and 97 which receive the lion’s share of attention. In recent years Nike has reintroduced more niche silhouettes like the Air Max Plus and Air Max 98 but some heavy hitters in the Air game have been largely forgotten. In the spirit of Air Max (month)Day lets take a moment to appreciate some of Air’s criminally underrated silhouettes.
Air Max Day celebrates the birth of Visible Air, the kind used on the Air Max 1, Air Trainer 1 and Air Revolution. Air technology existed for a decade before it became viewable. The concept of using pressurized air bags came from NASA engineer M. Frank Rudy. In true Nike tradition, resting on their laurels after the running company’s initial success wasn’t an option. The Air unit Rudy was experimenting on would make its debut within the midsole heel of the Nike Air Tailwind in 1978. Ninja like in execution – no one could notice an Air unit even existed until purchasing the shoe. Banking on the technology paid off though, runners became believers and Air technology proved itself to be more than a gimmick.
Air Max 360
If you’ve been into the sneaker culture for awhile then the Air Max 360 should sound familiar. Released in 2006, the 360 built upon, and drew inspiration from it’s predecessors. So many of Nike’s newer designs fulfill ideas and technologies that were impossible to execute in years past. Incrementally, Visible Air expanded to extend from the heel to toe. By the early 2000’s Nike refined their Full-length Air Max unit, birthing the Air Max 2003 – but beyond the forward thinking upper, the Full-length Air unit hadn’t really changed much since 1997. Expanding the feel and function of Air couldn’t come to fruition until foam could be removed from the midsole. Years of relying on a layer of foam for structure ended when Nike finally perfected a way to attach an upper directly to Air. Executing this was tricky, to make the long Air unit stable without foam, Nike used 28 separate Caged Air units across the shoe to maintain evenness and support. Slap on a clean, futuristic, upper and you get one of the best Air Max models to date.
Flyknit Air Max
Full-length Air was common by 2013 when Nike first introduced an Air Max shoe with full Flyknit across the upper. The ‘heritage’ air bag seen below hasn’t changed much since its introduction on the Air Max 2009. But unlike previous iterations, the Flyknit Air Max offered a gradient fade from heel to toe that instantly makes the sole pop. Fading the sole color is now used on various Air models because of this shoe. Using Flyknit allowed for endless color possibilities. Nike constantly experimented with the upper; using fades, weaves, and various multi-color patterns to maximize the strengths of the upper and sole. With flagship Air Maxes releasing every year, the Flyknit Air Max got lost in the shuffle and continues to be slept on. Unlike most Air Max models Nike didn’t retool the Flyknit Air Max annually and is on a hiatus right now.
Which Air Max is underrated to you? Tell us in the comments below!