Behind the HYPE: How the Nike Air Max 1 Became One of the Most Iconic and Influential Sneakers of All Time

The Tinker Hatfield-designed shoe has reigned supreme for nearly 35 years.

Footwear 
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When legendary Nike footwear designer Tinker Hatfield introduced the concept for the Nike Air Max 1 in 1987, it was not well received by his colleagues. Like many ideas that are ahead of their time, others thought the running shoe was too risky and that Hatfield had pushed it too far. Cut to today, over three decades later, and the Air Max 1 is one of the most iconic and beloved silhouettes in Nike’s arsenal. It’s popular among celebrities and athletes, has been refreshed with numerous collaborations and colorways, and even has a day that’s dedicated entirely to celebrating the model. The latest installment of Behind the HYPE shares how the Air Max 1 went from a controversial running shoe to one of the most influential sneakers of all time.

In the mid to late ’80s, there was pressure to innovate at Nike. The company feared that Jordan would leave his partnership and other footwear brands were rapidly gaining popularity. Hatfield’s response was the the Nike Air Max 1. The shoe was inspired by the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris. The building’s design placed its internal workings on the exterior, exposing pipes and structural details. Hatfield applied the idea to a shoe, placing a window in the midsole to expose the sealed bag of air that Nike already embedded as a cushion in its sneakers. This detail was unlike anything previously seen, and would lay the groundwork for future silhouettes and footwear technology. 

Needless to say, the Air Max 1 was released in 1987 with much fanfare. From that point, Nike harnessed its global appeal by experimenting with different colorways and variations on the design in the ’90s. It wasn’t until 2002, however, that the first collaborative iteration of the sneaker was released with Japanese retail company, atmos. Today, the model’s extensive catalogue spans collaborations with Parra, Patta and Travis Scott, and classic colorways like the 2003 “Curry.” The Air Max line now includes over 20 silhouettes, and the visible air unit has been integrated into a number of their other styles. The Air Max 1 was a pivotal turning point within Nike’s approach to technology at the time of its release, and the shoe itself is now primarily seen as an acclaimed silhouette in both fashion and footwear.

For a deep dive into the history of the Air Max 1, check out the above episode of Behind the HYPE. Previous installments of the series have covered other heavy hitters in fashion, like the Rolex Submariner and fragment design

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