3.26, the legendary “Air Max Day”. This day we celebrate the anniversary of our greatest love. On March 26, 1987, the Nike Air Max 1 as we know it today was officially born. The most beautiful sneaker silhouette we know with the iconic air unit. And not just an air unit, but a visible one. What makes the Nike Air Max 1 so special is that the air unit can be seen from the outside of the sneaker for the first time, instead of just feeling it under your feet.
NASA inventor and engineer Marion Frank Rudy invented the air unit. He found a way to pump gas into a bag, which could then be placed in the sole of a shoe. His idea was that you could give a sneaker extra cushioning in this way. He had no idea that it would ever become visible. It was purely a consideration for comfort. Marion Frank Rudy then visited many shoe brands to sell his idea. Nobody wanted to know about it until he came to Nike. Phil Knight, co-owner of Nike, saw the benefit of this “air”. One of the designers at Nike was probably able to make something out of that. Tinker Hatfield had now worked at Nike for four years and had been promoted to the position of designer. He incorporated this air in 1985 in the Air Jordan 1. A year later another pair would follow…
You can imagine that Tinker Hatfield is the greatest legend that exists for us. Okay, we like the Jordan 1, but the Air Max 1 is just insane! A visible air unit, how do you come up with it?! Obviously, he didn’t get this idea just like that. A trip to France preceded this. He was inspired by Paris’ building Center George Pompidou. The architects of this building came up with the idea of turning a building inside out. Tinker also wanted to do that with a Nike sneaker. That resulted in the Nike Air Max 1 in 1986. This sneaker did not come alone. The AM1 would come as a pack with sneakers like the Air Trainer 1 and Air Safari. Great pairs as well!
That was by no means an immediate success. At first, Nike was not charmed by the appearance of the Air Max 1 at all. Nike was mainly concerned with how they could reduce the size of the air unit. Most of the employees at Nike thought the design was ugly, or went too far. Hatfield insisted, even though it almost cost him his job. Fortunately, Tinker Hatfield did not give up and the design came anyway! Thank you Tinker, otherwise we would have no hobby.
The Nike Air Max 1 is a real ‘runner’. What’s in the name, this sneaker was released as a running shoe. You can no longer imagine that today, but that is the reason that this sneaker was released with air. What many people don’t know is that the first Nike Air Max 1 a.k.a. 87 is not from 1987. 1986 was the year that the very first Nike Air Max 1 released. The differences on the 1986 is the larger air unit, with three dots visible above it. In addition, there were no grooves / stripes on the side of the midsole. These were only applied on the back. The AM1 “Sketch to Shelf” release is a tribute to this pair from ’86.
After making a number of concessions on the appearance of the AM1, the 1987 variant was launched. This is the sneaker as we know it today. The Nike brand became bigger and bigger and they used a incredible marketing budget to introduce the Nike Air Max 1. Well-known athletes such as Michael Jordan and tennis player John McEnroe were used for this. Nike produced some iconic commercials, even using the Beatles’ controversial ‘Revolution’ song. The sneaker was really thrown into the world like a sports shoe. Nike changed that image in 1988, when they launched the first leather AM1. As we know today, the Nike Air Max 1 would never become a real sports shoe.
The Air Max 1
The basic qualities of the Air Max 1 are flexibility, the good fit and the cushioning of the foam sole with an air unit. For the Air Max 1 the air unit is placed at the heel of the sole, to provide optimal support. The first Air Max 1 from 1986 has an upper of mesh and suede, as in the picture below. In 1987 Nike released the AM1 in in the colors red and blue: the Sport Red and Varity Blue. The shoe had to be remarkable from a distance, that’s why these primary colors were chosen. Today these colors are called the ‘OG’ colorways. After these originals, Nike released leather versions of Air Max 1s from 1988 to 1992. These leather ones would be more mainstream.
Nike was experimenting to find out the perfect Nike Air Max 1. That’s why there were a couple of years without using mesh and suede, the materials we see the most nowadays. Multiple Air Max variations were released these years, Nike even introduced hybrid Air Maxes. In 1989 Nike launched the Nike Air Max 2, today known as the Air Max Light. The Nike Air Max 90 followed in 1990. 1992 was the year of the first AM1 retro OG colorways. A few months later in 1993, Nike combined the ’90 sole with an AM1 upper. A huge flop! Other variations followed. In 1996 the swoosh was slightly reduced to the size as we know it today. That year there was even a release with a small shiny “jewel” swoosh. Not a great success. Another try, a miniswoosh in front of the sneaker… Not a great success neither. Ironically, these are the sneakers that are selling incredibly fast today. From the late 90s, the Nike Air Max 1 finally stabilized. Leather, mesh and suede were used and many colorways would follow. Obama, Kanye West, 50 Cent or our own Dutch Kraantje Pappie, even among celebrities, the AM1 turns out to be the ultimate killer pair.
Air Max in the Netherlands
The Air Max is nowhere as popular as in the Netherlands. The ‘gabber’ culture (hardcore scene) in the early 90s was essential in this. However, that also meant that the sneaker was seen as rebellious. Later in the 90s, Air Max was mainly worn in other rebellious underground scenes. For example, we saw more and more hip hop artists walking on Air Max. In addition to the AM1, the BW and ’90s became more and more popular at the time. After a few years the ‘gabber’ culture decreased and the average Dutch person became more open minded. This resulted in the Air Max gaining acceptance among mainstream fashion divas. The Nike Air Max 1 in particular gained popularity and dominates among sneaker enthusiasts for years. Sneakers have now become so normal that you can even get away with a colorful pair under a suit. With AM1 sneakers on your feet you are always in style.