Legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield celebrates his 67th birthday today. The Mozart of athletic footwear design, Hatfield is irrefutably the greatest shoe architect the world has ever seen. Name one of the most iconic Nike or Air Jordan models of all time, and more than likely he made it happen. The inventor of Air Max and the man responsible for the Air Jordan line becoming the biggest force in sneaker culture, Tinker's innovation and amazing style have known no bounds since he first started working for Nike in the mid 1980s. From the Air Max 1, to the Nike Air Raid, to the Air Tech Challenge II, he's designed classics across virtually every category of the brand. And he certainly isn't finished yet.
In celebration of the living legend's birthday, we're taking a look at his four most essential, timeless, and impactful designs from his early days with Nike, all of which illustrate how amazing of a sneaker designer he was from the beginning. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hatfield's rich design resume, but the following styles are a few that should be in every self-respecting sneaker collector's closet.
Hatfield's first hit was the Air Max 1, the first Nike shoe to feature a look inside at the Air technology. He was inspired to create the visible Air window by the Centre Pompidou art museum in Paris, France, which was designed with a unique "inside-out" architectural style. A revolution in sneaker design at the time, the bubble has only gotten bigger and bigger throughout the years, all the way to the giant Air Max units we now see in models like the VaporMax and Air Max 720.
The Air Safari was a landmark model not for its technology, but its style. The Safari can be considered one of the first true "lifestyle" athletic sneakers by Nike. Even though it is technically a running shoe, it was designed more for casual style than actual running performance. It also introduced the Safari print, which would become a reoccurring motif in Nike's design throughout the years. Now with models like the Nike React Element 87 and adidas NMD, athletic-inspired casual sneakers that emphasize both comfort and style are a common occurrence in the industry, and much of that concept started here with the Air Safari.
As the story goes, Michael Jordan was considering leaving Nike to sign with another sneaker brand after his contract was due to expire in 1987. Then he saw Tinker's incredible design for the Air Jordan 3, and decided to stay put. We think he made the right decision, don't you? The Jordan 3 was Tinker's first of many iconic Air Jordan designs, and it may just be his most important considering it kept MJ with Nike for the models that followed it to even exist. In 2018 Jordan Brand decided to drop this alternate edition of the Jordan 3, featuring side Swooshes that were in the initial sketch of the shoe.
We'll skip a few years ahead to 1995 for the sneaker masterpiece you know as the Air Jordan 11. Considered by many to be Tinker's greatest achievement, the Air Jordan 11 is hands down one of the greatest pieces of footwear ever created. It changed the game with unmatched style and performance, featuring a patent leather upper that literally made them shine. It also introduced a carbon fiber support shank at the midfoot, an element of design that would be found (and later evolve into the Flight Plate) in many Air Jordans to follow. A new gold standard for basketball shoe design was set when Jordan hit the court in a pair in the 1995 NBA Playoffs. Today, the annual holiday re-release of the Jordan 11 is the most anticipated event of the year in the culture, proving that it's just as impactful now as the day it debuted.