Looking Back on 10 Years of Air Max Day

Recapping the history of Nike’s annual celebration of Air.

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Few advancements in footwear technology have had as profound — and enduring — an impact as Air. Introduced with the Air Tailwind in 1979 as a revolutionary cushioning system, it went on to be attached to many of Nike’s most important silhouettes of all time — backing everything from the Air Force 1 to the Air Jordan 1. However, it wasn’t until the Air Max 1 that, through the genius of Tinker Hatfield, Air was made visible, transforming it from a newfangled technology into a cultural touchpoint. Drawing inspiration from the inside-out architecture of Center Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Air Max 1 has led to generations of Air Max history. Since 2014, the Swoosh has been celebrating that history with Air Max Day, a yearly “holiday” on March 26, the day the Air Max 1 was first released in 1987. In honor of Air Max Day’s 10th anniversary, we’ve assembled a comprehensive timeline of its journey thus far.

2014

At its inception in 2014, Air Max Day wasn’t a day for conspicuous consumption. Instead, its debut celebration centered around community — rallying sneakerheads worldwide to showcase their favorite Air Maxes and the stories behind them. Alongside its community efforts via social media, events like a special Shanghai pop-up and UNDEFEATED-hosted release event in Los Angeles took the time to remind aficionados what Air is all about — spotlighting its history and bringing together fans of the legendary line. While much of the conversation surrounded its legacy, the Swoosh did, however, oversee the release of a celebratory Air Max 1 “Air Max Day” colorway that revisited the silhouette’s OG “Sport Red” finish but added an electric “Volt” midsole and a special “3.26” callout on the tongue.

2015

Hot off of a successful Air Max Day debut, Nike kicked things up by utilizing the newly founded holiday to introduce a new silhouette: the Air Max Zero. A design that was once deemed too radical for the market was finally brought to life, 30 years after being imagined by Tinker Hatfield in his sketchbook (and bolstered by some modern upgrades of course). Elsewhere, regional installations were set up at the Paris Metro system, Los Angeles and at the VKHUTEMAS Gallery in Moscow, sharing the story of Air with fans across the globe.

2016

For its 2016 campaign, Nike placed an emphasis on activations, hosting Air Max Con, its own sneaker convention, in New York City, Tokyo and Hong Kong. The ultimate hub for everything Air Max Day, the pop-ups served as an opportunity to participate in the new “Vote Back” initiative and interact with the year’s special releases — all centered around the brand’s HTM line.

HTM — the mastermind trio composed of Japanese designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, sneaker architect Tinker Hatfield and then-Nike CEO/president Mark Parker — crafted three unique sneakers for the holiday. Known for pushing the boundaries of design, HTM did so with the introduction of the hybrid Air Max LD-Zero by Hiroshi, the Mercurial Superfly-inspired Air Max 90 Ultra Superfly by Tinker and the Air Classic BW flip executed by Mark’s Air Max Ultra.

Leading up to the holiday, Nike also asked sneakerheads to vote for which classic pair of Air Maxes should make a return the following year — featuring everything from the Air Max 90 “Warhawk” to the OG Air Max 1 “Sport Red,” with the atmos x Nike Air Max 1 “Elephant” eventually taking the crown. While voting occurred, Nike also shared a video titled “Master of Air,” featuring nine Air Max collectors worldwide.

2017

Whether you were excited for the return of legendary designs, the introduction of new ones or eager to participate in a new batch of campaigns, there was nothing quite like 2017’s Air Max Day celebration. Following the “Vote Back” campaign that was hosted the year prior, the atmos x Nike Air Max 1 “Elephant” returned to shelves alongside the introduction of a special atmos x Air Jordan 3 “Safari” pair, which are recognized as two of the holiday’s best releases to this day.

There was plenty more in store for the Air Max 1 as it returned in “Anniversary” form with its “Sport Red” and “Sport Blue” colorways. Elsewhere, a “Master” mash-up of 10 different Air Max 1 colorways was created. The sneaker also took on a new build for its 30th anniversary — bringing forth the lightweight Air Max 1 Ultra 2.0. Arriving in a “Sport Red”-inspired “Air Max Day” colorway, its thematic detailing made it the perfect pair to commemorate the holiday. Another “Ultra”-based design was introduced with the Air Max 90 Ultra 2.0 Flyknit — reinventing the silhouette’s upper with the flexible material while removing the midsole’s core for lightweight comfort.

Adding to the list of new Air Max silhouettes, the Air VaporMax served as “the rebirth of Air.” Its reimagined sole unit did away with a traditional midsole, instead strategically placing Air pods throughout — emphasizing flexibility and minimizing weight. Its combination of a Flyknit upper with the full-length Air coverage at the sole brought forth a balance of comfort and style that drew attention from sneakerheads and fashion enthusiasts alike. Industrial designer Marc Newson prepared a leather-equipped version of the Air VaporMax while Riccardo Tisci constructed his own Air Max 97 Mid, with both pairs touching down on shelves for Air Max Day. Additional takes on the Air VaporMax were showcased via Nike’s The Vision-AIRS: Experiments in Style program, where five designers representing Central Saint Martins, Domus Academy and the Parsons School of Design presented unique takes on the new silhouette.

Special SNEAKEASY pop-ups were hosted in key cities throughout North America as well, bringing forth exclusive NIKEiD builds while also highlighting the history of Air. Lastly, the Swoosh started a new Revolutionair voting campaign to determine next year’s special release, teaming up with 12 creators from around the world who designed their own takes on silhouettes from the Air Max franchise. On Air Max Day, it was announced that Round Two’s Sean Wotherspoon had won the vote with his corduroy-covered Air Max 1/97 hybrid sneaker design.

2018

2018 marked the holiday’s fifth year, and the Swoosh opted to draw out its celebration — presenting new silhouettes like the Air Max 270 over a month in advance while saving collaborations like the second Off-White™ x Nike Air VaporMax for days after the event.

Sean Wotherspoon’s hybrid Air Max 1/97 sneaker finally hit shelves after his Revolutionair victory in 2017, cementing him as a prominent collaborator in the sneaker space. Elsewhere, ACRONYM dropped off its “Johnny’s Icy Passage” colorway of the Air VaporMax Moc 2 while the Swoosh opted to restock its two “Anniversary” colorways of the Air Max 1 that had been reintroduced the year prior.

On the campaign side, the “On Air” design contest was held via workshops in six cities — New York City, Paris, London, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai — where creatives submitted their city-based designs for fans to determine which would be brought to life. The Swoosh also teamed up with now-defunct app HQ Trivia for a 15-question Nike-based trivia game. Rewards included a $100,000 USD prize pot and pairs of an HQ Trivia x Nike Air Max 270, limited to just 100 units. The final piece of 2018’s celebrations were the Air Max 270-inspired art galleries hosted in both Los Angeles and New York City under the “Air Moves” name.

2019

After two landmark years for Air Max Day, the Swoosh switched things up — bringing forth its “Give Fresh Air” campaign that postponed planned releases to focus on community-oriented efforts. In partnership with boutiques around the US and Canada, Nike encouraged new and gently-worn sneaker donations to those in need. However, two releases took place that day as well, with Berlin receiving its exclusive Air Max 180 “BLN” and size? dropping its Air Max Light collaboration.

Notably, the “On Air” campaign that started the year prior would see its six city-themed sneakers touch down on shelves less than a month later. Releases included the Nike Air Max 1 “Tokyo Maze,” Nike Air Max 97 “Shanghai Kaleidoscope,” Nike Air Max 97 “London Summer of Love,” Nike Air Max 97 “Neon Seoul,” Nike Air Max 98 “La Mezcla” and the Nike Air VaporMax Plus “Paris Works in Progress,” which drew attention from fans around the world by opting to tell hyper-local stories through the eyes of each city’s creatives instead of spotlighting established names..

2020

Despite headwinds caused by the global pandemic, Nike came prepared with a loaded lineup of launches for Air Max Day in 2020. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Air Max 90, the silhouette was central to its campaign that year and inspired the new Air Max 2090, which made its debut on the holiday. Nike also shared its The Story of Air Max: 90-2090 documentary, a 24-minute video that explored the roots of the Air Max line and the lineage of the 90, building up to the new silhouette’s launch.

In addition to the various 2090 releases, the Air Max 90 received plenty of attention with a trifecta of former Nike By You colorways returning via the “Metallic Pack.” Beyond this, atmos’ “Duck Camo” iteration of the silhouette from 2013 was flipped with the new “Reverse Duck Camo.” The Swoosh also oversaw collaborations with UNDEFEATED on the Air Max 90 and size? on the Air Max 95 in celebration of the European retailer’s 20th anniversary, combining elements from 20 different size? x Nike exclusives throughout the design. To the surprise of many sneakerheads, Nike had one last unexpected drop in store. Without warning, the Nike Adapt Auto Max hit the market — combining the power-lacing technology found in the Adapt series with visible Air cushioning situated at the heel.

2021

With the global pandemic still ongoing, Nike hosted its first-ever virtual event for the holiday with Air Max Day Worldwide, inviting fans to participate in an interactive journey that spotlighted how communities around the world embrace the Air Max line. Release-wise, Nike introduced the world to the ‘70s-inspired Air Max Pre-Day and dropped a myriad of major Air Max sneakers.

A new mash-up design was brought forth via the Air Max 1 “Evolution of Icons,” which combined elements from other Air Max silhouettes throughout the sneaker while incorporating the holiday’s “3.26” motif at the heel. As a bonus, its sockliner graphic displays the ten sneakers it drew inspiration from. The Air Max 1 would also be referenced across the “Sport Red”-inspired colorway of the Air Max Plus. Two sought-after sneakers made their grand return for Air Max Day with the Air Max 90 “Bacon” and an updated CLOT x Air Max 1 “Kiss of Death” hitting shelves. Last but not least, the Swoosh topped off its celebration by teasing a Travis Scott x Nike Air Max 1 project.

2022

As IRL activations started to appear once again, Nike kept its Air Max Day campaign rather straightforward in 2022. Absent a new Air Max shoe, the brand instead looked to the Air Max 1 for three regional releases to celebrate the silhouette’s 35th anniversary. For North America, a “Blueprint” colorway dropped in the region — featuring various grid patterns and a special globe graphic at the heel that notably is centered around the continent. Over in Europe, the Swoosh looked to “La Ville Lumière” — Paris’ nickname which translates to “City of Lights.” An iridescent finish was applied to the upper as various Air Max Day callouts were included across the tongue and with its special silver charms. The Japanese concept of “Wabi-Sabi” — one centered around the acceptance of imperfection — was embraced for the Asia-Pacific exclusive pair as an aged and mended aesthetic was channeled for this iteration, with its removable tongue patches including a “3.26” patch that references the holiday.

2023

Nike returned to the combination of releasing a new Air Max sneaker alongside a throwback colorway of a beloved pair for 2023. Backed with a point-loaded Air unit lifted from the Air Max 270, the Air Max Pulse found a precise balance between style and comfort, however, its time in the spotlight was short-lived as it quickly fell into place as a common sight at outlets. Thankfully for the Swoosh, the Air Max 1 picked up plenty of momentum after its special Air Max Day launch saw the return of the OG Air Max 1 ‘86 “Big Bubble” shape, prompting widespread use of the design in the months to come.

2024

In a similar fashion to 2023, the festivities have continued this year with yet another new Air Max silhouette joined by a holiday-themed iteration of the Air Max 1 ‘86. Initially introduced via a collaboration with Supreme, the Air Max Dn held its in-line launch, taking on a range of 10 colorways in both men’s and women’s sizing. The new silhouette was officially unveiled with its innovative Dynamic Air cushioning system at the start of February as the next chapter of Air. While the Air Max Dn looks to play a key role in the brand’s lifestyle lineup this year, the original Air Max 1 is continuing to make noise by flipping 2014’s “Air Max Day” colorway with a “Sport Blue” iteration across the Air Max 1 ‘86 silhouette, carrying the same neon green midsole and “3.26” tongue hit. Rounding out this year’s celebration, Nike has crafted shoe-themed wallets inspired by the Air Max 1 for sneakerheads to carry whatever cash remains after the festivities.

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