Nike’s Air Max Plus is one of its most recognizable silhouettes — the shoe has a silhouette and details like no other and perfectly encapsulates the Swoosh’s late-nineties design ethos of pushing progressive running shoe tech. Sean McDowell, the shoe’s designer, explained the origin and conception of the sneaker.
On the initial inspiration:
“One evening, it was turning to dusk, so the very blue sky was starting to fade to dark blue, and the palm trees were blowing in the wind. … I sketched that out, and I thought, ‘It could make a quarter panel, like you could hold your foot down with those palm trees.”
On the design process:
“I did a sunset. I did a blue one. I did a purple one. I tried a couple of different colors and sky versions, some palm trees were a little more tech-y and very geometric, and others were waving. The shank is a modified whale tail … That tail coming out of the water is so iconic. … I wanted to put some emphasis on the top-down view. The palm trees looked good on the medial and lateral sides, but when it came to connecting them on the top it looked weird to have a straight line connecting them, so I thought, ‘What else could I do that’s a little more interesting?’”
On the shoe’s unusual Swoosh:
“No one had given me any guidance because it was my first few days. The shape is a little bit off, and I put the border on the inside, when technically all the brand guidelines say to go outside.”
On overcoming challenges:
“I drew the fade and everyone was like, ‘You’ll never be able to do that, you can’t find a material like that.’ And I said, ‘We’ll just sublimate it.’ … They were doing it in apparel, so I thought it would be pretty easy. … The first sample was perfect. … I suggested making the whole shoe out of thin welded TPU. … “I was told, ‘Fly to Asia, make the samples, and hopefully the meeting goes well. … They told [me] it was too big to weld. It would take too much power and either melt the fabric or wouldn’t bond.”
On memorable tributes:
“I saw somebody who got their whole foot tattooed in the pattern of the Tuned Air. The bottom of their foot has the outsole. … The stripes and Swoosh on the sides, black all the way up the back with the Tn logo on the back. It’s wild.”
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