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Footwear March, 25 2014

The 27 Best Air Max Models of All Time

The release of the original Air Max 1 twenty seven years ago made the invisible visible, opening a window to the sole like never before. Runners were hooked. The world was intrigued. When the marathons ended, the revolution carried forward. What began as an experiment in cushioning by engineer Frank Rudy quickly evolved into something more thanks to the vision of then-developer Mark Parker and designer Tinker Hatfield. The introduction and subsequent development of visible Air forever altered the future of footwear. Tinker’s background in structural design allowed him to architect a new dynasty in sportswear. Postmodern Parisian towers, with transparent walkways and bold pops of color, would prove instrumental to the final Air Max design.

To commemorate the sneaker’s unchallenged legacy, Nike will be celebrating “Air Max Day” for the first time on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. One of the industry’s most knowledgable sneakerheads, Masta Lee of Patta, walks us through his favorite models of all time, while artist Dan Freebairn of KickPosters.com provides original illustrations. Celebrate “Air Max Day” with us by sharing your favorite pair of #AIRMAX and check out all 27 kicks with descriptions below.

Nike Air Max 1 (1987)

The Centre Georges Pompidou by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini served as a great source of inspiration for Tinker Hatfield’s original design, incorporating architectural elements such as construction methods and color blocking to the visual aesthetics of the ’87 masterpiece. The cultural significance of the resulting model is second to none. For many in our generation, this is the one pair of shoes that set it off and changed the way we look at footwear ever since. At the time my feet were too small to get the red ones, so I had to settle with the blue women’s version.

Nike Air Max 1B atmos “Safari” (2002)

Before collaborations were a regular thing, the words “special edition” held a lot of weight. From the land of the Rising Sun came the “Safari,” designed by the atmos crew. Aside from the eye-catching safari mudguard, this pair packed many other never before seen features on one AM1, such as a canvas toebox, differently colored Swooshes on the medial and lateral sides, an off white midsole and a fresh gum bottom. Another outstanding characteristic was the sparingly used mini Swoosh, a detail we decided to bring back for our Patta x Nike collaborations years later. Around these parts, the Safari’s were released together with the Viotech AM1, forcing many enthusiasts to choose between the two. Unfortunate for some but convenient for others such as myself.

Nike Air Max 1B atmos “Viotech” (2003)

Another atmos creation in collaboration with Nike. Again, a unique combination of various elements previously unseen together on one pair. The leather and suede uppers are applied in beautiful khaki and mocha earth tones, sitting atop an off white midsole and sticky gum outsole. Finished off with the mini Swoosh and main Swoosh in Viotech, I always thought these were kind of reminiscent of ACG styles from the past. As if it weren’t already a tough enough decision to choose between these or the Safari’s, matters were made even worse for the true fanatics who tried to get a hold of the Grey One Year 1 anniversary edition, which featured special packaging created by artist and designer Dez Einswell.

Nike Air Max 1 “Urawa” (2004)

Sometimes inspirations and themes used on projects can generate some sort of educational experience as well. Though I knew the Japanese can cook up a mean Air Max 1, I never heard of the Red Diamonds before the Urawa’s. The shoes paid homage to the successful J League Division 1 football club from Saitama, translating the Red Diamonds home kit to the classic Air Max 1 silhouette. Aside from the powerful colorway and winning combination of material choice, two other details stood out for me. The Urawa’s are one of few pairs not bearing the customary Nike Air logo on the back of the heel, and they look excellent with either black, white or yellow laces. Both of these distinctive attributes served as an influence on the Air Max 1 projects we have worked on.

Nike Air Max 1 Patta “Lucky Green” (2009)

In celebration of Patta’s 5 year anniversary, Nike offered us the opportunity to create a collection of Air Max 1′s. The Tier Zero “Lucky Greens” as some people call them, are my favorite of the bunch. Looking back at our favorite Air Max 1’s from the past, we combined the stand out details that we like, such as mini Swooshes and gum soles, and aimed to blend that with something fresh, yet timeless. We went with sturdy canvas and ballistic nylon, inspired by luggage. Like many Patta products, we often throw something Dutch in the mix, in this case a sockliner design featuring artwork based on the old Dutch currency, the beloved 5 Guilder coin. Black and green are also the signature Patta colors.

Nike Air Max Light (1989)

Following up on the Air Max 1 is not an easy task, but the Air Max Light (or Air Max II) did a great job at expanding upon the signature design of it’s older sibling. As the name already suggests, the shoes were lighter than their predecessor, shaving off some weight in certain areas, utilizing EVA foam in the forefoot area and keeping the laces in place with thermoplastic eyestays which would return on the Air Max 90. The fact that the Air Max Light didn’t reach the insane Air Max 1 level popularity only made them that much more desirable among sneaker devotees in search of the obscure and underrated.

Nike Air Max Light “Grey/Photo Blue” (2011)

The design of the Air Max Light lends itself to some great color blocking, but sometimes less is more. I just love the simple and crisp look of these. They’re kept very clean on the front end, but by slipping in some pop in the back the shoe gets a slightly different look and feel, kind of reminiscent of the Nike Air Flow. Of course, grey and blue always mingle together nicely. Add in a solid black Swoosh and some neon lime accents and you got yourself a winning combination that doesn’t need to be a special collaboration to be appreciated.

Nike Air Max Light size? “Urban Safari” (2013)

This sand-based Air Max Light by UK retailer size? hones in on the ACG Mowabb colorway, transferred properly with a Safari Swoosh and speckled midsole. In true size? fashion, this pair keeps it simple with bits of crimson and hyper blue placed in the right places. The choice of mesh here is ace too. size? has become well known for their exclusives over the years, often prompting Dutch locals to journey across the North Sea for the weekend to pick up some hard-to-obtain treats.

Nike Air Max 90 “Infrared” (1990)

The iconic Air Max 90 model (known as Air Max III until 2000) carried the torch and characteristic hints of its two predecessors, but became a legend in its own right in the blink of an eye. To exaggerate the thickness of the Air unit, a “Radiant Red” color was used, nowadays simply known worldwide as “Infrared.” While the Air Max 1 and Air Max Light had a streamlined shape, the Air Max 90 was a bit more bulky, thus making it a favorite among European hip-hop enthusiasts who religiously combined their baggy denim or sweatpants with a pair of crisp 90’s. To this day, the groundbreaking Air Max 90 remains one of the most popular models in the Netherlands.

Nike Air Max 90 JD Sports “Bison” (2006)

Similar to size?, British sports retailer JD Sports has quite a lengthy resume of exclusives and (sometimes) slept-on colorways. I think the “Bisons” are definitely one of them, as I managed to pick up a few pairs of these in my size from their sales racks wayback when. These are definitely one of those pairs that I never mind coming across while going through my old stockpile.

Nike Air Max 90 “Python” (2002)

The Python Series released more than a decade ago consisted of a set of Air Trainers and an Air Max 90 all bearing eye-catching faux snakeskin uppers, not a commonly used material on sports footwear back then. Of course, us Europeans favored the runner instead of the trainer, and were not smart and/or wealthy enough to double up on these for later. The Air Max 90 “Python” still looks powerful in 2014 and deserves a retro reissue.

Nike Air Max 90 “Escape 2” (2003)

These came around the time when the Patta store was born, a time when earth-toned sneakers were highly sought after in our neck of the woods. While the first installment of the Escape Series was nice as well, I thought they were a bit too heavy with the leather upper. This sophomore release had a more sporty look, partly due to the lighter shades of brown and blue slate Swoosh. Plus you had to have them to complete the unofficial set with the Huarache’s and 93’s in a similar colorway.

Nike Air Max 180 (1991)

The arrival of the Air Max 1 blew me away and I couldn’t imagine how Nike and designer Tinker Hatfield could top that first impression. Though the 1’s remain a favorite, the Air Max 180 made a near-identical impact when the shoe with the 180 degrees of visible cushioning was introduced. The front upper was kept very understated in terms of coloring to emphasize all the innovation going on in the back. The fact that members of the Dream Team were seen wearing this model during off-court time at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona made them even harder to find.

Nike Air Max Terra 180 “Oreo” (2013)

This recent release from the 180 lineage has all the main features from the original, but is injected with Lunarlon technology in the forefoot area, giving them a slightly updated look. As I get older, I tend to lean more towards things simple and tonal, which makes these perfect. Of course, the “Oreo”-like make ups have been executed on various models in the past, but it’s a first on the stylish 180. Also, the subtly speckled midsole is a welcome detail.

Nike Air Classic BW (1991)

The Nike Air Max BW showcased a fresh design featuring the large Air unit aka “Big Window,” extra padding, innovative lacing system and a memorable color combination, which made them quite desirable from the get-go. Just like the word “Infrared,” when you mention “Persian,” heads already know what you’re speaking about. In the Netherlands, this particular model was quickly picked up nationwide by all enthusiasts of the then-popular gabber music culture, completing their tracksuit and bald head look with a comfortable pair of BW’s to match.

Nike Air Classic BW “Stash” (2003)

The Air Classic BW is usually not the go-to shoe to collaborate on, but New York graffiti artist Stash pulled it off in style and created a memorable version of the Big Window runner for Nike’s Artist Series. The pair features Stash’s distinct usage of blue shades on ripstop nylon and nubuck. The tongue is embroidered with his tag to make these official.

Nike Air Classic BW “Paris Saint-Germain” (2007)

I couldn’t care less about football (as in soccer), but the Air Classic BW “Paris Saint-Germain” are dope to me and you don’t have to be Parisian to sport a pair. These came along after a long hiatus for the Air Classic BW, so it was quite a refreshing appearance. I like the simple color blocking applied, accented with the closely compacted speckled midsole. Much like the Dutch gabber movement in the early ’90s, the BW had a loyal following in the streets of France.

Nike Air Max 93 (1993)

Building on the technology of Air Max shoes from the past, new blow-molding technology allowed room to apply 270-degrees of Air on the Air Max 93. Neoprene construction was used for a tight, sock-like fit. Though the shoe was quite successful, much like the Air Max Light, I would like to see the Air Max 93 enjoy the same level of popularity as other siblings. Nevertheless, a very, very desirable model among dedicated sneaker enthusiasts with a keen eye for design. An underrated classic I hope to see more colorways of in the near future.

Nike Air Max 93 “Escape” (2003)

The Air Max 93 has a sock-like fit similar to the Air Huarache and was also the first Air Max to have a colored Air unit. When the Air Max 93 was reissued in 2003, these two features were nicely highlighted on the “Escape.” The well balanced colorway combined with the trademark blue Swoosh gave these a clean and sporty look. These, along with the Huaraches and Air Max 90 in “Escape” makeups, are essential in every serious sneaker collection.

Nike Air Max 95 (1995)

For the AM95, designer Sergio Lozano drew inspiration from the human anatomy, with the back of the shoe referencing the human spine. It was also the first Air Max shoe to have multiple Air units, compressed in different pressures for the heel and forefoot areas, providing superior cushioning as well as support. Due to the high technology, the 95 carried a high price tag to boot. This didn’t stop this model from getting highly popular, with the flagship neon original becoming an instant classic.

Nike Air Max 95 “Stash” (2006)

Following up on the Air Classic BW released in 2003, New York graffiti artist Stash applied a similar palette of blue and grey shades on the 95. The ripstop nylon material made another guest appearance and the otherwise black bottom was brought to life with a speckled midsole. The few pairs we had available in store at Patta were gone in no time. It’s also worth mentioning that the 95 was the first Air Max with very subtle branding as opposed to a big Swoosh.

Nike Air Max 95 atmos “Viotech” (2003)

Japan-based retailer atmos once again showed and proved that they can take an existing model and give it new life. Material-wise they left it all untouched, sticking with the original suede and mesh combination, but by utilizing the same color palette used on the Air Max 1 “Viotech,” the Air Max 95 atmos “Viotech” became a peculiar mismatch that somehow still worked out in a lovely way. Also, gum outsole. Another atmos sure-shot.

Nike WMNS Air Max 95 “Valentine’s Day” (2000 version)

The Portland-based brand is known for annually releasing theme-based designs such as the Chinese Lunar Year and Valentine’s Day. This has been a tradition for well over a decade and has given us many memorable releases. I have a very weak spot for red shoes and the Air Max 95 for Valentine’s Day 2000 is no exception. Though it’s produced as a women’s model, I’ve seen more guys than ladies sporting a pair of these lovely sneakers.

Nike Air Max 97 OG (1997)

After all the Air cushioning innovations in the Air Max lineage, the next logical step to introduce was the full-length Air unit, laying yet another foundation for other models to build upon. It’s not a coincidence that the Christian Tresser-designed runner model looks fast, as the futuristic design was inspired by Japanese high-speed railways. The 97 was particularly popular in Italy, where it’s still hard to find a metallic silver pair.

Nike Air Max 97 Country Camo “Italy”

What do France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom have in common? They are all countries with a very loyal Air Max following. To pay tribute to the places that have made the Air Max an international icon, Nike created an elaborate collection of Air Max’s featuring country-specific camouflage patterns. It’s only right that Italy gets the Air Max 97 paired with an excellent pattern from the early ’90s.

Nike Air Max 360 (2006)

After more than two decades of Air technology and innovations, Nike’s initial vision of Air was finally realized with the release of the Nike Air Max 360, designed by Martin Lotti. Revolutionary, because as the name already suggests, the thermoformed Air unit sole featured an all-encompassing 360-degree visible Air cushioning. The laser-cut upper completed the full look and last chapter of the Air Max Volume 1.

Nike Air Max Flyknit (2014)

If the Air Max 360 was touted as the last chapter of Air Max Volume 1, I think it’s safe to assume that the Nike Air Max Flyknit is the next revolution and new chapter. Flyknit has proven itself since it hit retail, providing people worldwide with the ultralight technology that contours to your feet for a comfortable and supportive fit. Add maximum cushioning and I’m looking forward to seeing where Nike will take us next.

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