Perhaps it was a design that was almost esoteric. Maybe it was the almost-ludicrous marketing campaign that followed. But one thing's for certain, any sneaker aficionado old enough to remember 2000 recalls the grand unveiling of the Nike Air Presto.
Will all fears of Y2K dispelled by the apparent turn of the millennium, all sights were on all things new and innovative. And the Air Presto certainly scratched that itch.
Noted for its one-piece upper, the challenge with the model was find an ideal upper material that was stretchy and cushioned like neoprene but also breathable. (Neoprene is designed to keep heat in.) After some trial and error, the Nike design team landed on spacer mesh, and were officially off to the races, literally.
The Air Presto's roots stem back to a very indistinguishable, unreleased prototype shoe created in Korea four years prior to its formal release. Tobie Hatfield, Nike Senior Director of Athlete Innovation, who was serving as a footwear developer at the time, set out to create a shoe in response to a focus group of runners' two requests – to receive a pair with an outstanding fit and a comfort level comparable to slippers.
Hatfield, in turn, constructs a prototype featuring what he dubbed a "V-notch," a carved-out area by the ankle intended to improve fit. While the slip-on access didn't perform as expected (pairs gapped during performance), a chance encounter for a runner with a size 11 foot to test out the size 9 sample did spark a revelation.
The runner didn't notice the difference in size, which gave Hatfield the idea to create a shoe with a range as opposed to half sizes.
Now we're back in 2000, and Hatfield's original vision manifested into the Air Presto, a shoe available in sizes ranging from extra small to extra large. The tagline, "T-shirt for the Foot," suddenly made a lot of sense. "A midfoot cage and external heel counter lent the necessary support, while a toe bumper provided loft in the forefoot for added comfort."
Like all things great, Nike reintroduced the Presto to a new generation in 2015. Since then, we've seen the groundbreaking design be integrated with new technology.
SG walks you through the modern day history of the Air Presto.
The Genesis (2000)
"We had the idea to crowd-source the name from the design and development community," Tobie Hatfield explained. "I think we received more than 300 submissions, one of which was Presto Magic. When you put the shoe on, it fits so perfectly that it's almost like a magician saying: 'Presto.'"
And just like that, the Air Presto was born.
Introduced to the world in the year 2000, the Air Presto was immediately synonymous with comfort upon its release. Constructed with spacer mesh, the shoe is not only highly breathable, but it also stretches in every direction – an ideal characteristic for runners.
Like most Nike products created with athletes in mind, the Air Presto also had limitless potential as a lifestyle shoe, as it introduced digitally-printed graphics to uppers (i.e. "Abdominal Snowman" edition).
Updated silhouettes like the Air Presto Chanjo, Air Presto Roam, and Air Presto Cage followed, earning cult classic status.
The Retro (2014)
The Air Presto never went away, per se. However, we saw Nike make a major push in 2014 to set up an even grander release schedule the following year.
The "Genealogy Pack" (released summer 2014) featured a clean black version of the model. On year later, the good folks at the Swoosh brand delivered pairs released during the inaugural run 15 years prior. That includes the "Lightning" shoe in the photo above.
One of the most iconic Air Presto colorways ever, this original version featuring a bold lightning graphic saw its first-ever retro, along with a handful of other classic editions. The electric Prestos were a welcome sight for all fans of the classic "t-shirts for your feet."
Needless to say these pairs sold out quickly.
Nike Air Presto Flyknit Ultra (2016)
After a successful run of retro releases, Nike delivered a version of the Air Presto constructed with Flyknit.
The Air Presto Flyknit Ultra maintains the TPU caging and lace construction we've come to know and love on the Presto for. However, along with the Flyknit, this model introduces a heightened ankle collar in a mid-top look that would define later, more ambitious releases.
ACRONYM x Nike Air Presto Mid Utility (2016)
German men's brand ACRONYM has separated themselves from peers through creating products with technical functionality. That includes their own releases and forward-thinking collaborations.
If we're discussing the latter, the ACRONYM x NikeLab Presto Mid affected sneaker culture in a way that few releases can. Credit that to its dynamic design, which, in three colorways, appealed to every kind of sneakerhead – Hot Lava being the most vibrant, Medium Olive providing just enough color, and the Black and Bamboo pair holding down the most practical spot.
Technical detailing like dual zippers on the ankle collar an fused overlays on the midfoot only accentuated ACRONYM's futuristic design.
Nike Air Presto Mid Utility (2016)
The ACRONYM x Nike Air Presto collab introduced the mid-top version of the Air Presto, the colorways that followed solidified the model as here to stay. Soon we saw pairs release in wider quantities like the Obsidian shoe above. Anchored by mesh construction, a weather resistant coating, reflective detailing and side zipper are the Air Presto Mid's defining characteristics.