It's been 30 years since Nike introduced its seminal Air Max sneaker. The shoe has seen many innovations and iterations in the decades since — so, it's celebrating its pearl anniversary with a month-long series of launches that look back at different milestones in its history. These festivities are anchored on the launch of the new Nike Air VaporMax, which will be the first sneaker in its family to feature a totally exposed Air cushion sole, from heel-to-toe, and will drop on the sneaker's official anniversary: March 26. On that day, NikeLab will also release three limited-edition riffs on the Air Max from designers it dubs "Vision-airs" — including one shoe from the recently-unaffiliated designer and frequent collaborator Riccardo Tisci.
Clearly, the Italian-born creative went back to work quickly after handing in his notice at Givenchy. Tisci, along with industrial designer Marc Newson and architect Arthur Huang, were tasked with reinterpreting some of the most well-known Air Max silhouettes in honor of its big 3-0.
Tisci picked the Air Max 97, bringing up the rise and adding in a hidden zipper to inject the athletic silhouette with a streetwear sensibility. Huang, meanwhile, retooled the Air Max 1 to its lightest-ever construction (manufactured from post-consumer materials). NikeLab veteran Newsom, then, combined the VaporMax and FlyKnit technologies to reinterpret the Air as a moccasin/sneaker hybrid.
Kathy Gomez, Nike's vice president of innovation, told Refinery29 that bringing outside collaborators into the company's design studio brings a different perspective they might not be exposed to, being so athlete- and performance-focus when they dream up new footwear. "They’ll notice things that we don’t highlight; they'll interpret things [in a new way] and things take different shape because of it," she said. That, in turn, pushes Nike's in-house team to think differently and be more risky. "It opens the aperture of the possibilities. We put our signature on it, they put theirs, and it creates something that you couldn’t do individually."
The one constant through all these design partnerships, Gomez explained, is that performance is at no point sacrificed. "[The shoes] have to work," she noted. "When we figure out how to make something [though], then you can pull it in different ways. Some of these collaborations — and even the internal design we do — they help you find where the edge is."
The style Tisci reimagined for the big anniversary — the 97 — is, in Gomez's opinion, the Air Max that opened consumer's eyes to its fashion potential. "You saw women wearing them with different things," she told us. "When you see early adopters taking something and treating it [in a new way], that’s when you know that something’s going to catch on."
The allure of the Air Max is something that transcends the athletic/lifestyle divide, though. "There’s a purity about [the shoe] and an identity around it that is sophisticated and yet so simple — the idea of cushioning with air, which is so magical," Gomez observed. "The interpretation is clean and sophisticated."
Part of it has to do with how Nike designers work, according to Andreas Harlow, Nike's vice president of footwear and creative director of Running & Core Performance. "We design with emotion; it’s not all about data — there's data, athlete insight, trial and error," he told us. "When we do it right, it expresses what it does." He went on to note that successful design allows a consumer to "project emotions, thoughts, and style onto" a product, which allows for folks to ascribe their own meaning to each shoe.
Plus, "we're in an era where the crossover appeal of performance product to the street is at an all-time high," Harlow said, so that opens the door for new shoppers to experience the technological advancements of the Air Max — even if they don't find themselves running on a daily basis. That, combined with Tisci's massive following and Kardashian association will certainly make this Air Max issue one you'll want to collect.