A complete history of the most influential Air Max sneakers ever

Source: Nike

The Air Max 1 Released in 1987, on the 26th of March, and was the first ever Nike shoe to show the Air bubble in the sole. Although Air cushioning had been implemented since 1978, it was only when Tinker Hatfield took inspiration from the Centre Pompidou that a window was put in the midsole to show the Air unit inside. This idea was very unpopular at first, but Nike decided to take a risk on the Air Max 1, and it’s safe to say it paid off.

3 years later, in 1990, the Air Max 90 was created, which was an updated version of the sneaker that had a more modern look to fit the new 90’s style. Originally called the Air Max III, the sneaker’s bold colors and TPU accents made it stand out from the crowd, and 30 years later, the shoe is still one of Nike’s best-selling models. Since then, the shoe has been re-released and reworked, most notably by Virgil Abloh in 2017 as part of Nike and Off-White’s “The Ten” collaboration. 

The Air Max 180 was released in 1991, and its name came from the fact that the Air bubble could be seen from 180 degrees. This was because the air unit was not only visible on the midsole, but it also sat lower in the shoe, so it could be seen from the outsole too. The shoe did not receive the same attention as others on this list, but its design was undeniably ahead of its time, as a similar Air unit has been used in more recent Air Max’s such the 2090, almost 3 decades later. 

The Air Max 95, as its name suggests, was released in 1995, and showed Nike’s change of plans for how Air Max’s were going to look. It was the first of its kind, as unlike previous models that had focused on making the Air unit visible in the heel, the Air Max 95 featured a window in the heel, but also in the front half of the sneaker. Furthermore, the shoe has a much sleeker design, as after all Air Max’s were originally intended for running, so as running shoes started to become lighter and more streamlined, so did the the Nike Air Max’s. 

The Air Max 97 is one of the most adored Air Max’s to date, thanks to its sleek design, and full-length Air in the sole. It was created by Christian Tressler, and its leather stripes were said to be inspired by the ripples in a pond when a pebble is thrown in. The shoe is also the subject of mystery, as it is commonly thought that one of the sneakers most popular colorways, known as the “silver bullet” was inspired by Japanese bullet trains, whereas in actuality, the colorway is inspired by the finish on mountain bikes. 

The Air Max 98, although less popular than the Air Max 95 and 97 that released before it, was still loved by the sneaker community, and was one of the defining shoes of the 90’s. It was designed by Sergio Lozano, who was also behind the Air Max 95, however it shares more of a resemblance with the Air Max 97, especially thanks to their almost identical mudguards. Originally releasing in a blue, red, and white colorway, that was very quickly nicknamed the Air Max 98 “Gundam,” the shoe was iconic from the start, hence why 2 years later, in 2000, the sneaker was retro-ed. 

The Air Max Plus was released in 1998, having been designed by Sean McDowell, who was inspired by Florida’s sunsets. As a result, the shoes caging is supposed to be reminiscent of palm trees blowing in the wind, and the bright gradient on the upper is meant to resemble the sunset. These were the first Air Max shoes to feature Tuned Air, a version of Max Air that used two semicircular peace’s of foam to hold itself up, rather than using foam shaped like pillars. Although the technology wasn’t too useful, the shoe was a smash-hit, and the Tn branding was one of the main reasons behind its success. 

The next influential Air Max to release was the Nike Air Vapormax, that debuted on Air Max day, 2017. The shoe was unlike anything we had ever seen, thanks to its use of the brand new Vapormax technology, as the entire sole was comprised of Air bubbles. With no foam to hold it in place, or pillars to give it structure, the shoe was designed to make the wearer look like they were floating. Designed by Kathy Gomez, the silhouette was a hit, completely selling out on its release. 

After releasing very recently in 2018, the Air Max 270 is a perfect example of where Nike is taking the Air Max line. It is designed solely for lifestyle use, rather than for running, and features a large Air unit that sticks out from the back of the shoe. It got its name as the Air Bubble is designed to be visible from 270 degrees. The 270 is not only known for its cool gimmick however, as it is also known for its domination of the sneaker market in the last few years. In 2018, even though it released in February, it was the second best-selling shoe in the world only behind the Nike Tanjun in sales, but in 2019 it was able to take the crown. Whether it can keep this title is yet to be seen, but with the shoe clearly not halting its mass scale production, its likely the Air Max 270 will be sticking around for the foreseeable future.

Most recently, Nike created the Air Max 2090, an updated Air Max model, with the Air Max 90 used as a template. In a promotional video, Nike stated that the new generation weren’t around when Air Max sneakers were first created, and specifically for the release of the Air Max 90, so they wanted to make an updated model, specifically for them. Covered in a translucent plastic material, and a nylon lining underneath, the sneaker has a very futuristic look, but the similar TPU accents and mudguard as the Air Max 90 also keeps its Air Max identity intact.