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Highly recommended! It was once used to create astronaut helmets for the Apollo missions and later enabled Rudy to design a hollowed-out midsole in which he embedded polyurethane pouches filled with dense gases. Rudy patented the design in In the beginning, consumers had to trust Nike on this air-cushioning claim, as the Nike Air technology was invisible in the original Tailwind shoes. One could ostensibly tear the shoe apart to find it hiding above the patented Waffle outsole, but it would be a few more years before Nike would put its new trick on display.
But the company continued to innovate and take Nike Air technology to new levels.
Nike became a billion dollar company in , around the same time that it was putting the finishing touches on a massive upgrade to its line of air-cushioned shoes. The following year, the company released the Air Max 1 running shoe , featuring a much larger air pouch and a little window into the cushion on the side of the heel. This involved a little bit of reengineering. What had been a thin, foot-shaped container for the air cushion would be redesigned to resemble a squished Klingon starship, the edges of which held the visible air.
In the middle, there was a beefy pouch with supports for primary cushioning. Air Max shoes put the technology on display without offering too many clues about how it worked. That simplicity remained key to the overall design. The original Nike Air Max I, designed by the now-legendary Air Max maestro Tinker Haven Hatfield , established a formula that would help Nike bring in billions of dollars in the decade after it was introduced.
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The evolution of the Air Max lineup hinged on a pretty straightforward set of design principles for the next decade. The sneaker was not only marketed as extra air-filled but also rather unique yet personalized, since each model came in multiple different colorways with new releases. Nike changed the shape and composition of the Air Max technology over the years, selling the public on the feigned innovation that came with each subsequent generation of Air Max sneakers.
Suddenly, sneakers felt a little bit less like slabs of foam and rubber that you strapped to your feet and more like a gadget that made you a better athlete. Indeed, the technology made sneakers look futuristic. As to whether or not Air Max shoes delivered on that performance promise is a subject of great debate. This claim has proved to be rather dubious in recent years. Experts say shoe companies like Nike are to blame. Along those lines, the main thrust of Air Max innovation boiled down to the grand American ideal that more means better. This philosophy is wonderfully expressed in the now iconic Air Max ads from the s.
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Even the aesthetic of simple black text on stark white backgrounds emphasizes that simple but bold formula. You can see this Madison Avenue tradition as far back as the Mad Men-era Volkswagen ads and continues to this day with pretty much every Apple ad in the past ten years. While the original Air Max from brought more visible air volume into the mix, subsequent brought brought both more visibility and more volume. The Air Max 90 pictured above to the left included a slightly larger air pack and a very slightly bigger window.
It gets crazier from here on out. Then came the Air Max 93 with visible air that wrapped around the whole heel of the shoe. This pouch looks like a more symmetrical Millennium Falcon. But did the Air Max technology really make them run faster and jump higher? He was not wearing the Air Max 93 sneakers when he won, of course. So continues the steady march of marketing: Nike uses star athletes to promote new technology without clearly explaining how the benefits.
The message always seems to emphasize how more air equals better shoes. Visible air looks cool, for sure. Nike made a breakthrough with the Air Max 95 , not only in terms of technology but also design. Footwear designer Sergio Lozano took a dramatic turn away from the simplicity of the earlier Hatfield-designed sneakers, and things got weird.
The Air Max 95 featured a thin wafer of visible air in the front of the show as well as a bulbous new pocket in the heel. With the original grey and neon green colorway, the whole getup resembled a prop from the popular scifi thriller Alien. In addition to edgy design, the extra Air Max technology made the shoes a real fashion statement. Nike-sponsored athlete Michael Johnson wore custom-made gold spikes that had virtually no cushioning.
By the end of the 90s, trends in the running shoe industry were heading more towards the sensible than the sensational. New Balance and Asics emphasized things like quality construction and increasingly personalized options for stability and cushioning. Nike, on the other hand, went off the rails with the Air Max technology. The Air Max 97 came with one giant air pouch that stretched from the heel to the ball of the foot. Then Nike introduced something called Tuned Air—apparently different types of pressure in different parts of the shoe did something—in the Air Max Plus.
Tuned Air involved adding mechanical elements to the shoe that would provide the right amount of support in the right areas.