On Sunday, March 26, Nike and sneaker heads the world over will be celebrating a holiday largely unknown outside the shoe world: Air Max Day. It’s to commemorate the launch of the original Air Max 30 years ago, in 1987.
Although the Nike Air Max has stopped being considered a serious running shoe years ago (more on that later), it’s hard to dispute that it’s the most influential running shoe ever to crossover into athletic style and pop culture. Nike still sells thousands and thousands of them every year—we’re talking styles that are 20 to 30 years old. Needless to say, the designs have held up well, with successive generations coveting them just as much as people did in the ’80s and ’90s.
Never one to miss a marketing or sales opportunity, Nike is rolling out a lot of exclusive shoes in incredible colorways to celebrate (more on that later as well)—including an all-new Air Max that once again aims for performance. But Nike is also releasing a few sexy iterations of the very first version of them all: the Air Max 1.
Nike had been putting sealed air units in shoes since 1979, starting with the Nike Air Tailwind. The idea behind putting air in a midsole, proposed by a NASA engineer named Frank Rudy, was that it would be theoretically lighter than midsole foam, and would not wear out or break down like foam either. For the next eight years, as Nike grew, it expanded and promoted this easy-to-understand technology. But all that time, the “air” was buried inside the midsole. Nike’s designers, including the legendary Tinker Hatfield, who created the Air Max 1, wanted the technology to be visible. Plus, the thought went, the more midsole foam you replace with “air,” the better.
Nike Air Max 1, Photo: Courtesy of Nike
Hatfield, who, along with other Nike designers, takes inspiration from a fascinating array of sources, claimed to be inspired by the inside-out architecture of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. By moving the seams around on the air bag, they were able to create a “window” in the midsole, with the Air Sole on display, in the original Air Max.
The shoe was audacious looking—and an instant hit in a time when running biomechanics were less popularized and polarized than now (just look at the heel strike in this ad!).
30 Years Later
As running shoes have evolved and followed various design trends, the raison d’etre of the Air Max—the pursuit of a strictly air-filled, foam-free midsole—eventually found its performance limitations.
However, Nike is aiming to change that with the release of the all-new Air VaporMax on … Air Max Day. At $190, the shoe is blessed with Nike’s beloved Flyknit upper, and a full-length, segmented Air Sole solves some flexibility issues. It’s also unexpectedly light, at 8.5 ounces. We haven’t run in it yet, but it’s already gotten good reviews elsewhere from Swoosh-covered testers.
Nike Air VaporMax, Photo: Courtesy of Nike
Also dropping throughout the month of March are special-edition versions of those special old iterations of the Air Max. They’re happening online, at specialty sneaker shops, and at Nike’s Sneakeasy locations in several cities—New York, Toronto, Chicago and Los Angeles—which will also feature historical Air Max exhibits, bus rides, musical performances and more. You can follow each of Nike’s city handles on Twitter to learn more or get limited tickets to these events, or download Nike’s SNKRS app.
Everyone else on Air Max Day can create and order customized NIKEiD versions of the VaporMax and a Flyknit version of the Air Max 1 online. Choices include uppers in OG red and white, or an array of colors; midsoles/Air Soles in white, clear or bright yellow volt; and side graphics in a choice of heritage designs.
But even if you manage to live through Sunday without recognizing Air Max Day or swooping up a brand-new pair, they’ll still be available. Nike restyles them every season—and they obviously never go out of style.