A brief history of the Nike Air Max 1

Nike Air Max 1

Photo: Nike

The Nike Air Max 1 is one of the most iconic sneakers,released in 1987, that over its 33 year history, has remained one of Nike’s most popular shoes. Dubbed the Air Max 1 as it was the first Air Max shoe to be released to the public, it was the catalyst for starting off a craze that was carried on by the Air Max 90, 95, 97, and 98, and more recently the Air Max 270 and 720.

The shoe is comprised of a colorful mesh and leather upper, originally coated in red and white, and featured a visible air unit in the mid sole. This is especially iconic, as although air had been used in Nike’s shoes for 9 years before the Air Max 1, it had always been hidden away in the middle of a rubber or foam. It was only when legendary designer, Tinker Hatfield, was inspired by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, that the idea of making the air unit visible came to mind. The Centre Pompidou features lifts, pipes and many other essential components of a building, on the outside for all to see, and so Tinker Hatfield had the idea of making the previously hidden air-unit, visible for all to see.

At the time, the Air Max 1 was seen as a very risky shoe to produce, with Tinker Hatfield himself saying that workers at Nike wanted him to be fired after he pitched the new Air Max idea. Luckily he had some support, and regardless of the fears that the shoes would be easy to puncture, they ended up releasing, to great success.

Since then, the Air Max 1 has been a top-seller and has seen many re-releases in hundreds of colorways. It has become a popular shoe to collect, thanks to its many rare editions, and area specific colorways, for example its USA colorway or the special Urawa edition it released in 2004. One of the reasons for the shoes success, as well as the air unit, is its basic yet unique design. Although the actual silhouette could be called simple by today’s standards, it it comparable to a blank canvas, that its vibrant colorways have turned into stunning pieces of art. Popular brands such as Patta, Parra, and Atmos have all chosen this model to collaborate with Nike on, creating some of the most sought after sneakers, that can now be found on resale websites for as much as $5000.

Three decades later, and the Air Max 1, is still being pumped out by Nike, satisfying the demands of the shoes cult following. The most notable Air Max 1 releases of this year, are the Air Max 1 “London,” and Air Max 1 “Amsterdam.” Both inspired by their respective cities. The London pair features a blue swoosh to represent London’s famous river Thames, and the Amsterdam pair has 3 X’s on the side of the shoe, referencing their famous Red Light District.

If their was a fall of fame for shoes, the Air Max 1 wouldn’t be in it, for the simple fact that the shoe is far from retiring. The 33 year old is a fans favorite that has inspired a whole generation of sneakers, and until it stops selling as well as it is now, Nike see no reason to stop making it.