December 14, 2016 will go down as a black stain in the history books. To borrow a line from my man Franklin Delano Roosevelt – the undisputed GOAT of American presidents (my personal opinion of course, but I will not listen to anyone that argues the contrary) – it is “a day which will live in infamy,” not because Pearl Harbor has been attacked again, but because it marks the reissuing of the Nike Air Max 97.
This should never have been allowed to happen. Not because I have anything against the AM97 – quite the contrary, it is, alongside the Air Max 1, my favorite Nike shoe ever, and a number of my colleagues here at Highsnobiety share that sentiment. This could probably be scaled up to the wider sneakerhead community at large, and with good reason: it’s a truly great shoe. But still, it’s one that shouldn’t have been reissued.
I have a sneaking suspicions that everybody reading this will disagree with me and aim some really derogatory comments my way, so let me explain my reasoning.
It’s easy to see why the Air Max 97 is so adored: it’s an incredible piece of design, one that takes its inspiration from high-speed Japanese bullet trains. As a design school graduate myself, I was taught that this sort of outward-looking conceptualism is an essential component to truly iconic designs, and this might explain, in part, some of the sneaker’s relentless appeal.
Not only that, but the 97 is also utterly unique to the rest of the Air Max range, completely unlike the models that preceded it. Sure, it may be rooted in the 95, but an incredible amount of imagination has been invested into its design, and there’s nothing that feels lazy or imitative about it.
Putting over-intellectualized navel-gazing aside here for a second, it’s simply a good looking piece of footwear – much better than the recent Supreme x NikeLab Air Max 98, which is far too chunky and overly reminiscent of late ’90s skate shoes for my tastes. That’s even before you take into account Supreme’s additions of faux snakeskin and patent leather, materials too closely associated to budget stripper attire for most people’s comfort.
The Air Max 97 may look immeasurably better than what Supreme and Nike recently offered us, but that still doesn’t justify a reissue, in my opinion.
It may not be a popular stance, but it’s one that I genuinely believe in. I’d love to own a pair of AM97s myself, but ignoring its aesthetic value, the main thing that I find so enchanting about the silhouette is how perfectly it reflects the era in which it was made.
Late ’90s futurism seeps from every stitch, and its metallic finish is so similar to other great designs of the era, like Sony’s MZ-E900 minidisc player. They look like they were made for one another, to match harmoniously as part of a single streamlined outfit. And this isn’t some mere coincidence, rather, it’s snapshot of a wider consciousness of the time, one that manifested itself physically in the products of that particular moment in history.
In the tail end of the ’90s people were obsessed with the future. They stood in the twilight of a century and at the dawn of a new millennium. The Y2K bug and potential electronic meltdown loomed large in the collective hive mind, breeding doomsday scenarios that were realistically a manifestation of a collective fear of the unknown, one that permeated a civilization teetering on the precipice of time.
We were entering the 2000s. Phonetically, simply reciting the date and pronouncing the word “thousand” simply felt so much weightier and more significant than plain old nineteen-ninety-whatever. It also signified a clear split from the past.
Futuristic cartoons and movies throughout the latter half of the 20th century were always inevitably set in the year two-thousand-and-something: The Jetsons live in 2062, Back to the Future II takes place in 2015, Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey in 2001. It was the era of Futurama, The Matrix, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The internet was proliferating and cell phones were accessible, music was going digital and flying cars surely weren’t far off.
All of this influenced and manifests itself in the Air Max 97’s design. The silver colorway, which mimics the appearance of metal, looks like a piece of futuristic tech. Similarly, many of Sony’s (another major influence on the dominant aesthetic of the period) products were constructed from plastics with shiny, metal-like finishes imitative of steel.
Futurism, when we look back at it from the actual future always looks so dated, and there’s something endearingly cliched about these designs – they look so predictably space age from where we stand now, and so unlike what the aesthetic of the future (our present) actually ended up looking like. And this is exactly why we should leave the ’97 fossilized in the late ’90s where it belongs.
Sure, I understand the appeal of vintage clothing and fashion revivalism but rarely is a piece of design so thoroughly thought through and so synchronized with its own particular moment in time. Obviously this is a huge part of the AM97’s appeal, but it’s also why it should remain sacred. I’m all for hunting down deadstock on eBay, but a reissue would cheapen it, and as we all know, exclusivity is such a huge part of a sneaker’s appeal.
I think that instead of looking backwards, we should look forwards and ask ourselves why is it that Tinker Hatfield’s recent Air Max designs pale in comparison to the 97? Last year’s iteration was completely forgettable, and I’ve never seen it worn by anyone with a shred of dress sense.
Instead of hoping for a reissue, we should expect and demand a modern Air Max icon, one that’s as conceptually and aesthetically complete as the ’97, one that embodies the contemporary zeitgeist as much as the ’97 reflects its own – our very own classic that future generations will lust after.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
- Lead Image: Bryan Luna