You never know where inspiration will come from. For Tinker Hatfield, a pit stop in a New York City furniture store selling high-end couches and bookshelves supplied the motivation needed to design the radically styled Air Safari shoe in 1987.
Equipped with a black and orange leather base with adventurous faux ostrich leather overlays that were patterned after the extremely pricey couch Hatfield spotted in the store that afternoon, the Air Safari was Nike’s first attempt at catering to the non-sporting crowd. After some coaxing, Hatfield was able to get the Air Safari included in the brand’s monumental “Air Pack,” which featured performance luminaries like the Air Max 1, Air Trainer 1, and Air Revolution.
But unlike those models, the Air Safari wasn’t actually a performance option. Playing the part of one aesthetically, the low-top was instead a casual, fashion-forward shoe that could be worn for, well, anything other than playing sports in. Think of it as the grandfather to all the performance-inspired lifestyle sneakers you wear now. The Air Safari hovered around the late ‘80s sneaker scene as something to be rocked as part of your off duty look. This was never more evident than when it appeared on the back of Biz Markie’s “Goin Off” album.
By 2003, however, high-profile rappers weren’t wearing the Air Safari anymore. Air Jordans and Air Force 1s were in, and it would take atmos’ historic Nike Air Max 1 collaboration to bring the “Safari” look back to the forefront of mainstream sneaker culture.
In the years since the atmos x Nike Air Max 1 “Safari” reintroduced the Air Max 1, Air Safari and “Safari” colorway to the masses, the decades-old ostrich-inspired design has appeared on more buzzy collaborations and shoes than just about any other look in the brand’s arsenal. As you’re about to find out, it’s not a stretch to say that there are few designs as inspirational as the Air Safari.
The original atmos x Nike Air Max 1 “Safari” begins out our list of noteworthy “Safari” designs. As we mentioned earlier, this is the collaboration that reintroduced the way-ahead-of-its-time Air Safari to a new generation of sneaker collectors in the early aughts. What’s more, atmos followed up with a slightly different version of this colorway for Air Max Day 2016. A year later, atmos, Jordan Brand, and Nike dropped the “Air Jordan x Max Pack,” which saw the Jordan 3 receive a very special “Safari” makeover for the first time ever.
As we just mentioned, for Air Max Day 2017, atmos and Nike reprised the “Safari” theme yet again, this time adding Jordan Brand into the fray for a special collection dubbed the “Air Jordan x Max Pack.” Alongside a re-release of the Air Max 1 "Elephant," an Air Jordan 3 overhauled in a “Safari” design made this a highlight of Nike’s annual celebration of Air in March. In fact, we made a case for the pack being the best Air Max Day release ever.
The Nike SB Dunk Low “Safari” is thoroughly inspired by the atmos x Air Max 1 of the same nickname. A near identical design, the Dunk of 2020 features the leather overlays, canvas toe boxes, and mismatched Swooshes of atmos’s collaboration.
Trending on various social media platforms in 2019, the #lebronwatch campaign kept everyone’s eyes glued to the feet of LeBron James during the 2018-2019 NBA season to see which new colorway of his Nike LeBron 16 he would debut next. When he showed up wearing the “Safari” design in low-top form, immediate parallels were made to the fact that atmos’s Air Max 1 “Safari” was released the same year James entered the NBA: 2003.
As you can see, the “Safari” look works on just about every Nike model. Even the normally composed Air Force 1 Low pulls off the colorway while retaining its timeless design.
Giving the boldly-styled Nike Air Foamposite One a “Safari” colorway was another unexpected stroke of brilliance on the part of the brand.
If you want to skate a “Safari” Nike but missed out on the previously mentioned Dunk, the skateable GTS Return also features a “Safari” design. It's just a bit easier to get, too.
Thanks to Virgil Abloh and his renowned “The 10” series, the Nike Air Presto has captured the attention of sneaker collectors all over again. This “Safari” colorway of the legendary performance runner didn’t receive as much hype as Off-White’s “OG” design, but is just as worthy of praise.