The Simpsons, Red Bull, Final Fantasy, and the Nike Air Max 1; 1987 was a good year to start a legacy. Like those other enduring cultural hits, the Nike Air Max 1 (AM1) showed up and changed everything. The difference between Nike AM1 and every other sneaker ever was one you had to see to believe, or maybe not seeing was the point.
The AM1 was the first sneaker to show you it was full of air. The air cushioning in the sole was visible from the side. What had been a functional feature saw the light of being a design feature. Those visible bubbles might now seem ubiquitous and perhaps passé, but somebody had to be the first. That first person to come to this realization that air is invisible was legendary sneaker designer, and current Nike VP of design and special projects, Tinker Hatfield.
AIR MAX 1 SC "NOISE AQUA" & "LIGHT BONE/VIOLET DUST"
Hatfield was inspired by Paris’ Centre Pompidou, an art museum famous for its controversial architectural design that shows off the internal structural workings of the building (like pipes and metal frames) as visible design features. It looks like a building that had its walls turned inside out. Like the AM1, it was designed with nothing to hide.
It needs to be reiterated how big it was to have a visible air cushion. It changed sneakers forever. Forget the silhouette, the colourways, the toe box, and the upper. If Nike released the AM1 sole alone, sans shoe, it might have been as big. Every sneaker company spent the following years chasing this groundbreaking innovation. It was a bold experiment that expanded the collective imagination of fashion design as a whole.
Hold up. If AM1 was released in 1987, why did they call this year’s release the Air Max 1 ‘86 OG? Think of the ‘86 OG as a prequel to the AM1, based on earlier designs from the AM1s production process. It has a larger visible air bubble that Nike had to make smaller for the official ‘87 release because it was too awesome. Also it was prone to cracking, but word is Nike fixed that at some point in the last 36 years.
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Also in the last 36 years since the AM1 debuted there have been many, many more Air Max models, collabs, highs, lows, high-tops, and low-tops. For better or for worse, each model pushed the Nike Air design further and built the Air Max series into a sneaker dynasty with a following of true fans. Since 2014, Nike has even celebrated “Air Max Day'' every March to show off new and upcoming models and colourways.
AM1 and the Air Maxes that followed it endure as one of the most important sneakers in all of snearkerdom for its innovation and dedication to always showing off that when you put them on, you’re walking on air. It’s no wonder that the first ad that Nike ran for the AM1 said “Nike Air is not a shoe.” They knew what it was, and decades later they’ve been proven right. Air Max 1 wasn’t a shoe. It was a beginning.