Journal / Nike Air Max History And Guide

Stadium Guides: Nike Air Max - History and Vital Stats of the Iconic Series

Air Max 90 Infrared

Happy Air Max Day! Celebrations of Nike’s Air Max collection are underway throughout the sneaker world today, and we’re here to shed some light on what makes the transcendent performance running collection one of the greatest lineages in sneaker history. Keep reading for a look at all the essential facts of the most significant Air Max models of all time, and watch our latest Stadium Guides video featuring the Air Max series below.


Nike Air Max 1 OG Red

Nike Air Max 1
Designer: Tinker Hatfield
Original Release Year: 1987
Advancement in Air: First visible Air window
Sizing Guide: True to size

We’ll start things off by debunking a myth in sneaker culture. Contrary to popular belief, the Nike Air Max 1 wasn’t the first sneaker to feature the brand’s Air technology; that distinction belongs to the Air Tailwind. Models like the Air Force 1 and the Air Jordan 1 helped popularize Nike’s Air campaign, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the brand unveiled its most tech-laden shoe: the Air Max 1. Inspired by the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris which features an "inside-out" design, the early Tinker Hatfield masterpiece was the very first sneaker with a visible Air unit in the heel.


Nike Air Max 90 Infrared

Nike Air Max 90
Designer: Tinker Hatfield
Original Release Year: 1990
Advancement in Air: Largest Air unit to date
Sizing Guide: True to size

The next significant advancement of Nike’s Air Max series came in 1990 with the Air Max 90, which featured a bulkier build and larger Air window for even more cushioning. Here’s a fact about the shoe that has been lost to time: the Air Max 90 was known as the “Air Max 3” when it was released, as it followed the Air Max 1 and Air Max Light.


Nike Air 180 Ultramarine

Nike Air Max 180
Designer: Tinker Hatfield
Original Release Year: 1991
Advancement in Air: 180º visible Air unit
Sizing Guide: +1/2 up from your normal size

Nike would follow up with another home run soon thereafter. The Air Max 180 was the first model with a visible Air window in the outsole of its design. Touting 180 degrees of pressurized air inside of a pliable bag, the rest of the Air Max 180, especially in its OG “Ultramarine” colorway, falls in line with the aesthetic of the early-90s Air Max range. We’d be remiss not to mention a famous supporter of the Air Max 180: Michael Jordan. He was seen wearing the sleek runner for media appearances leading up to the 1992 Summer Olympics.


Nike Air Max 93 Menthol

Nike Air Max 93
Designer: Tinker Hatfield
Original Release Year: 1993
Advancement in Air: 270º blow-molded visible Air unit
Sizing Guide: True to size

The Air Max 93 offered the most amount of Air in any sneaker of its time—270 degrees worth to be exact. Nike geared their marketing of the Air Max 93 towards lifelong runners seeking comfort and support—and the 93 had plenty of that to offer. It was the first true mid-top performance runner and provided ample amounts of ankle support and protection.


Nike Air Max 95 Neon

Nike Air Max 95
Designer: Sergio Lozano
Original Release Year: 1995
Advancement in Air: First visible forefoot Air units
Sizing Guide: +1/2 size up from your normal size

While both the Nike Air Max 1 and 90 were two of the most popular performance runners throughout the early ‘90s, it was the Air Max 95 that was lauded as the first true Air Max model with crossover casual appeal thanks to the bold styling. Each succeeding Air Max featured a new tech element to differentiate its design and the Air Max 95 is certainly no exception, as it was the first silhouette with a visible Air unit in the forefoot. It was also the first Air Max model with a black midsole.


Nike Air Max 97 Silver Bullet

Nike Air Max 97
Designer: Christian Tresser
Original Release Year: 1997
Advancement in Air: First full-length visible Air unit
Sizing Guide: +1/2 size up from your normal size

Remember how we started off by addressing some untruths about the Air Max 1? Allow us to rewrite history and correct a misnomer about the beloved Air Max 97. The look was inspired by water drops making ripples in a pond, not by the Japanese bullet train. But wait, there’s more! The original and most popular colorway of the Air Max 97, the “Silver Bullet,” mirrors the silver sheen of mountain bikes. We’ll let that sink in a moment as we hit you with a final note about the shoe: the Air Max 97 featured the first-ever full-length Air unit.


Nike Air Max 98 Gundam

Nike Air Max 98
Designer: Sergio Lozano
Original Release Year: 1998
Sizing Guide: +1/2 size up from your normal size

The Nike Air Max 98 picked up where the previous year’s model left off by including a full-length Air unit atop a sleek upper. Wallowing in obscurity for years, the Air Max 98 got new life when Supreme lent its hand for four luxurious patent leather colorways in 2016. Celebrations of the Air Max 98’s 20th anniversary in 2018 saw the runner finally receive the recognition it deserves as original colorways like the “Gundam” helped recirculate the sneaker amongst a new generation of Air Max fans.


Nike Air Max Plus

Nike Air Max Plus
Designer: Sean McDowell
Original Release Year: 1998
Advancement in Air: First model to feature Tuned Air
Sizing Guide: True to size

The second cornerstone Air Max release of 1998 is the Nike Air Max Plus. Mother Nature, specifically the scenic landscape of Florida beaches, inspired the look of the wavy upper. In an ironic twist of fate, the shoe actually became most popular in a place far from the radiant Sunshine State, both geographically and metaphorically: the bustling streets and underground nightclubs of London. It remains a staple in the city’s Grime culture to this day. The Air Max Plus, also known as the Air Max TN, was the first model to utilize Tuned Air technology, which featured support pillars built into the heel’s Air unit for more stability.


Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit Pure Platinum

Nike Air VaporMax
Original Release Year: 2017
Advancement in Air: First Air Max model with no foam midsole
Sizing Guide: True to size

Nike Air Max models evolved at a steady pace from the late-90s throughout the first two decades of the 2000s until the Air VaporMax fast-forwarded Air Max tech by introducing standalone Air chambers that completely altered the course of sneaker technology history. Like many new Nike offerings these days, the VaporMax does everything at speed. There now stands an extensive family tree of looks all inspired by the original silhouette: the VaporMax Plus, VaporMax Flyknit, VaporMax 2 and 3, and VaporMax 2019.


Nike Air Max 270

Nike Air Max 270
Original Release Year: 2018
Advancement in Air: Biggest Air unit designed specifically for a lifestyle model
Sizing Guide: True to size

A shift in focus from performance to lifestyle aesthetics has been an important part of Nike’s Air Max collection more recently. The Air Max 270 takes inspiration from the Air Max 180 and Air Max 93, but is still a thoroughly modern lifestyle design. The Air Max 270 would be followed up a year later by the Air Max 720, which expanded the giant bubble around the length of the shoe. How much more Air can they fit into a sneaker next?

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