Sought after by hype beasts, music moguls, and fashion icons alike, the Nike Air Max has had one of the richest histories in the sneaker world. Created by the legendary shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, the Nike Air Max celebrates its 32nd anniversary on March 26.
Since it first launched in 1987 with the Air Max 1, the shoe with the unforgettable airbags in the sole has transformed into a cultural movement. While its original intention was to lessen impact for runners, the Air Max design has had one of the biggest crossover appeals in sneaker history.
The Air Max wouldn’t exist without Nike’s Iconic air technology, which was originally developed in 1977 by Marion Franklin Rudy, an aerospace engineer. Rudy wanted to put tiny little air cushions in the soles of athletic shoes to soften impact.
Rudy had pitched the potentially groundbreaking technology to 23 shoe companies, all of which rejected the idea. Eventually, he presented the idea to Nike co-founder Phil Knight. After taking the never-before-seen prototype for a test run, Knight was sold.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville tested multiple runners and found that they used less energy running in the Air shoes rather than conventional running shoes. The shoe was backed by science, and all that was needed was to put the technology on full display for the public to see.
In 1987, Tinker Hatfield designed the first Nike shoe to boast a visual air cushion in its heel: the Air Max 1. Over 30 years later, the shoe has stood the test of time.
“The shoe was designed to breathe, be flexible and fit well, but the fact it had the air window in the sole and the frame color around it meant it looked a lot different than other shoes in its day,” Hatfield told The Guardian in 2013.
The Air Max would take many forms over the next several decades. Some of the more notable releases included the Air Max 90, released in 1990, boasting increased air volume. In 1997, the Air Max 97 marked the shoes 10th anniversary with an extremely popular redesign that included a full-length air unit.
After 32 years, the Air Max has transcended the Nike brand, mixing the perfect blend of style and performance. It continues to have a cultural impact to this day.