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Just innovate: reinventing 90's Air
‘Innovation is not about creating for its own sake, it’s about creating something better, designing with a purpose’- Mark Parker, President and CEO of NIKE, Inc.
As the biggest brand in the world, today Nike are many things to many people. Through slogans they’re motivators; as sponsors they’re the lifeblood of athletes across the globe; and to 74,000 people they’re a vehicle for financial stability and career success. To high-profile collaborators like Acronym and Off-White, they’re the gatekeepers of major mainstream appeal. Whichever hat the brand is wearing, it sits on a refined mind finely tuned for innovation.
For 31 years the Air Max line has been at the forefront of Nike’s cushioning technology. Until Nike’s potentially game-changing ‘React’ cushioning unveiled in late January, Air units were still at the pinnacle of performance (and popularity) for the brand; the success of the VaporMax last year is testament to that. With Air Max day on the horizon, Nike are dropping two of the most important styles in the history of Air technology, the Air Max 180 and the Air Max 93.
First released in 1991, the Air Max 180 was the most advanced running shoe of the time – with its air unit worn by Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan the summer after its release at the 92 Olympic Games. The Air bubble was 50% larger than the Air Max 90, and was the first time the actual Air bag made contact with the ground rather than the shoe’s outsole. Designed by Air Force 1 alumni Bruce Kilgore and Tinker Hatfield, It’s just as well the 180 is one of the most beloved silhouettes of the Air Max franchise, because it was one of the most difficult sneakers to make (according to Nike’s director of cushioning innovation, Dave Forland).
The vibrant pops of colour highlighting the meaty air unit made the 180 a street favourite – and If rumours are to be believed was an early contender for Kanye West’s collaboration with Nike pre- 2009. There’s a shoe we’d love to see.
Thankfully, Paris fashion week gave fans of the silhouette a glimpse of the upcoming Comme des Garcons collaboration. Rei Kawakubo took the OG colourway’s pops of colour to the extreme: Laser Pink and Solar Red make up the majority of the sneaker this time around, making the 1991 classic as relevant in today’s climate of statement footwear as it was as a cutting-edge piece of design 27 years ago.
In '93, Tinker continued the bigger-is-better theme and, inspired by a milk jug (of course), designed the biggest air bubble the line had ever seen - again. The standout feature of the Air Max 93 was 270 degrees of blow-moulded exposed air in the heel, and the first ever coloured Air unit. In an email published to the world via twitter in 2014, Hatfield reflected on the model:
‘Air Max 93, one of my personal favourites. Probably the best actual ‘running’ shoes of the lot. … The first of the Air Max series to have ‘dynamic fit’ plus, we threw in ‘wrap around’ visible air. … I wish there had been a more breathable dynamic fit tongue material in 1991/92 when it was designed. All in all though, a good composition.’
The inner bootie and generous air bubble meant the 93 was comfortable, bouncier and more protective for runners, and quickly became a long-distance favourite. The understated, modern colours of the OG ‘Dusty Cactus’ colourway still hold up well today.
Both silhouettes went on to inspire the Air Max 270 the newest addition to the Air Max line - including Nike’s first ever lifestyle Air unit. It utilises the 270 degree Air bag, but makes it even bigger (a towering 32mm tall) and gives it full contact with the ground like in the 180. Importantly, despite being designed for the demands of all-day wear rather than for running, the technology was developed with the same rigour as all previous models.
Pushing the envelope of cushioning technology in the Air Max line has consistently birthed market-leading running shoes, and subsequently rebirthed streetwear classics. Now, Air is by-passing the track and being designed expressly for all-day comfort. Less glamorous than leading innovation for athletes? To some, maybe. But Nike know - perhaps better than anyone- that innovation never goes out of style – whoever it’s for.
Stay tuned for updates on the Air Max 270, and Shop our range of Air Max sneakers here.