Air Max. The first technology you think of when you think of Nike. Ever since sneaker design savant Tinker Hatfield first thought to display a visible bag of compressed air on a shoe (the Air Max 1) in 1987, Nike’s Air technology has held a special place in sneaker culture, with sneaker collectors and fashionistas still showing their love for the unique style 30 years later.
Don’t get it twisted: Air Max has never gone anywhere. But the technology is enjoying a banner year in 2017 due to clever marketing, great releases (both new and classic models) and hyped collabs. Shoes with the iconic bubble are riding higher than ever this year … and you can trace their steps back to January/February when all of this year’s hype started.
Let’s be blunt: 2016 was not the best year for the Swoosh from a cultural standpoint. Long the coolest brand in the footwear industry, they faced stiff competition for the first time in a long time from archrival Adidas, who pushed themselves to new levels with their revolutionary Boost technology and the hurricane of hype surrounding Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers. Coming into 2017, many a sneakerhead was all aboard the Three Stripes train, and it was up to Nike to strike back with their own innovative shoes and limited releases.
Comme Des Garçons Vapormax
So what did they do? They brought their most iconic technology to a whole new level. The Vapormax, a new wave of Air Max sneaker and true high-tech competitor to Adidas’s Ultra Boost in the premium running market was released. A collaborative Comme Des Garcons edition (pictured above) was released, and blew off shelves both physical and virtual faster than you could say “Rei Kawakubo”.
And Nike took the hype around their annual Air Max day (March 26th, the original release date of the Air Max 1 all the way back in 1987) to levels never seen before. In the past, Air Max fans were allowed to vote on what famous archival model should be re-retroed (the Atmos Air Max 1 was the winner of the 2016 vote-off), but for this edition of Air Max Day, Nike brought the consumer’s choice to another level.
They tagged 12 creatives (dubbed “revolution-airs”) from around the world, and let them each design their own Air Max sneaker. Each creative was given full access to Nike's extensive library of silhouettes and materials, and granted full creative freedom to design whatever they saw fit, from practical to whimsical. The 12 designs were then made live to the public, who could vote once a day for their favorite design until the contest was over.
Sean Wotherspoon's Air Max 1/97 hybrid
The contest was nothing short of a huge success. Over the 2-odd weeks it ran, it was the talk of the sneaker world, as sneakerheads discussed and debated the designs, voted in the polls, and monitored the results until Round Two’s Sean Wotherspoon and his hybrid corduroy Air Max 1/Air Max 97 was named the winner. The contest was a huge success, and the Air Max was once again the shoe of the moment.
Air Max 97 "Silver Bullet"
Nike didn’t let the hype generated by the contest die off either. They struck while the iron was hot with the release of some of the very best pairs from their archives. The beloved Air Max 97, a Euro style staple returned in the famous “Silver Bullet” colorway, and then a gold colorway as well. The Atmos Air Max 1 returned, both individually and in an extremely limited pack with a Jordan III boasting the same colorway. The Air Max TN, a roadman favorite saw a re-release in a wide variety of colors for both men and women. The Vapormax became a favorite among the style-conscious for its sleek look and extreme comfort. And even on the basketball front, the Air More Uptempo, a chunky 90’s classic originally worn by Scottie Pippen enjoyed success, due to a solid slate of GR colorways and a must-have collaborative effort with Supreme.
Fast-forwards to late July, and the Air Max is undoboutledly the cool-kid shoe of the moment. Nike is gearing up to drop 13 new colorways of the Air Max 97 in the next few weeks, the collaborative CLOT Vapormax will be releasing this upcoming weekend, and Nike is hinting at more heat dropping soon.
It’s truly the year of the Air Max. From the old to the new, the sleek to the chunky, the loud to the subtle, there’s pairs to suit all tastes … and the sneaker community seems to have rallied around the beloved technology. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen over the next 5 months in sneakers, but the first 7 have been all Air Max, and that’s thanks to Nike’s careful hype-building and excellent branding/releases. Athletic wear is becoming more and more ingrained in modern society, and there’s nothing that screams “athletic wear” more than a crispy pair of Air Max, even after 30 years in the game.
What’s your favorite Air Max that’s dropped this year so far? What other Air Max are you looking forwards to the rest of this year? Hit us up and let us know on Twitter, check our Facebook page for updates, and, as always, be sure to follow us on Instagram for all the fire pictures you can handle.
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