Not many sneakers can tug at so many heart strings as much as Nike’s Air Max can. Part of that longevity is built on the fact the Air Max is reinvented every year. In a testament to the strength of its design, the sneaker seems infinitely adaptable—every release subtly different from the next and yet wholly complete and able to stand on its own.
That continual evolution, every single year, gives the Air Max an in-built ability to lodge into people’s memories more so than perhaps any other item of clothing. After all, if you’re sticking your feet into it for 30 years, the relationship’s gonna be pretty intimate; provided you’re born after 1986, there’s an Air Max for you.
So with that in mind, we gathered together and shared our favorite Air Max releases in honor of a design marvel (and the greatest 30-year-old we know). Of course, we’ve presented ‘best of’ selections to you in the past, many of them curated by our friends or respected heads in the sneaker game. But this one’s different. This is our selection: 100% unique and personal to us.
Nike Air Max 90 Hyperfuse Independence Day White (2013)
Combining over two decades of sneaker history with the then-relatively recent Hyperfuse construction was always going to benefit the Air Max 90. Transforming the bulkier aspects of the original into a sleek and monochromatic silhouette, incorporating Hyperfuse was the streamlined innovation the 90 needed. While the pack’s solid red and blue renditions are great colorways, it’s hard to top the pure white-on-white.
Nike Air Max 1 OG (1987)
The Air Max 1 is definitely my favorite. Not only does it fit my current sensibilities as it relates to the shoes that I favor as an adult, but I remember when I picked up a retro pair of the blue colorway back in the ’90s and felt like I was absolutely killing it when pairing it with pieces that were hype at the time like Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica. While Nike will always continue to push the boundaries – and place technological innovation at the forefront – I have a lot of respective for the shoes that helped build the empire and came first.
Nike Air VaporMax (2017)
Are we allowed to talk about the future here? Specifically future classics? Maybe it’s because it just released, but I’m a huge fan of the silhouette. I love the chunkiness of the sorta-360 degree outsole, contrasted against the streamlined, Flyknit upper. All told, it’s a striking contemporary creation that’s bound to be a classic.
Nike ID Air Max 1 “AM95 Neon” (2006)
Nike ID was groundbreaking when it launched in the mid-2000s. The footwear maker’s ID program was a collector’s dream, allowing for individuals to paint their own colorways of coveted Nike silhouettes. For a very short window in 2006, Nike put the Air Max 1 and Air Max 90 into ID. I immediately scanned the color palette and saw my chance to reinterpret the original Air Max 95 “Neon” colorway on two earlier silhouettes. I clicked the buy button and hoped for the best. When they arrived, I was beyond elated with how well the color matched the original AM95. I often do wonder how many collectors took the opportunity to make up the 1s and 90s in the AM95 color – I certainly could not have been the only guy to make these. If not for Nike ID, these may not have seen the light of day.
Nike Air Max Triax 94
The underrated and oft-forgotten model of the Air Max family, the Air Max Triax 94 is what the ’90s was all about. A simple, to-the-point design that should’ve got more credit back in its era. However, I’m glad to see other ’90s models making a comeback this year – the Air Max 96 and the Air Max 96 II XX, for example. #DADCORE to the max.
Nike Flyknit Air Max “Multicolor” (2015)
Nowadays, it seems like the mark of a great sneaker is often measured by comfort. For many sneakerheads, being uncomfortable isn’t an option, especially with all the futuristic technology we have access to. Don’t get me wrong, the Nike Flyknit Air Max is really comfortable, but that’s not why I like it. With this shoe, Nike hits on some great synergy between the Flyknit upper and full-length air bubble. The versions with a gradient sole and multicolor upper just look great.
Nike Air Max Plus OG “Orange Tiger” (1998)
I’m aggressively obsessed with the Nike Air Max TN Orange Tiger that first dropped in 1998. Let’s face it, this techsperimental silhouette is utterly timeless and its infectious cool will never wane in my humble opinion. Hot like fire.
Nike Air Max Plus OG “Hyper Blue” (1998)
1998 was a banner year for Air. In addition to underrated shoes like the AM 98 and Tinker Hatfield’s revolutionary Zoom Talaria, the Air Max Plus stands out as my personal favourite. One of the first shoes worked on by unsung sneaker design hero Sean McDowell, currently the VP of Design & Innovation at Converse, the Air Max Plus introduced the concept of “Tuned Air,” providing strategically-placed air bags at the heel and forefoot. Technology aside, the gradient upper embodied the neon clubwear styles of the time, and the sneakers found a second life as a the go-to kicks of seedy European hooligans and youthful ravers alike. I’ve always appreciated the tasteful colour fade, preferring the more versatile Hyper Blues to the other OG colorway, the bolder Orange Tigers.
Nike Air Max 95 “Greedy” (2015)
Okay, here’s the thing: this isn’t actually my favorite 95 drop. I could’ve picked any or all of the colorways. Cos the point is with the 95, it’s not about the colorway, it’s about the shape. To me, the sneaker’s aggressive-organic presence at the end of your leg looks less like a sneaker and more like some futuristic footwear device designed by H.R. Giger. But it was a young Sergio Lozano’s truly experimental design, the first to feature Air support in the forefoot and which took inspo from the human body, that truly pushed the boat out. The 95 served as a vital aesthetic stepping stone to every important Air iteration that followed. Designed both for the hard nuts on the streets and the utopian kids in the clubs, sack your TNs, your 97s or 98s, this is the original bad boy raver.
Nike Air Max 97 OG (1997)
The ’97 isn’t merely the most aesthetically pleasing Air Max model, it’s also the most conceptually complete. There’s the reference to Japanese bullet trains, which I have to admit is a bit tenuous, but what I really love is how perfectly it nails the Y2K aesthetic. The AM97 looks like it was designed to match the Sony Minidisc players of that era. It’s a snapshot of turn-of-the-millennium futurism that looked so forward-thinking then, but is so endearingly dated now – which is precisely what makes it so era-defining. It looks the way that Bomfunk MC’s Freestyler sounds, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a shoe so in sync with the zeitgeist of its time.
The Air Max 97 is an absolute masterpiece purely for the fact that it barely even looks like a shoe. It’s shaped like a space ship, or some sort of missile. Of course it’s the roadman connotations that made it a classic in the UK, but the real reason this shoe is so iconic is because it just looks absolutely mad.
This sneaker was not only the first shoe that kickstarted a lifelong obsession with footwear for me (sneakers, heels, flats – you name it) it is perhaps the first fashion item (or branded item) I was obsessed with. My uncle had a pair he wore with a bright yellow Nautica parka and I thought it was the coolest look – East-European-by-way-of-America roadman steez. I was never lucky enough to own a pair back then, but I managed to grab a pair during the first OG re-release in December, and I’m still smiling.
Nike Air Max 1 Patta x Parra (2010)
The Nike Air Max 1 Patta x Parra was the first Air Max ever that I felt I needed. The design is just so clean, it looks really premium but at the same time it’s pretty understated. I was super into Parra and Rockwell at the time, because of the whole 2k7 bloghouse-era graphics he was doing. The allure of this particular Air Max wasn’t helped by the fact that I couldn’t get my hands on a pair, they became more of an aspirational goal than a sneaker.
Nike Air Max 360 (2006)
The Air Max 95, 97 and Plus have all made a comeback recently riding a wave of heavy ’90s nostalgia. And while they’re all innovative in their own right, the Air Max 360—by being completely foamless—was a long-awaited breakthrough almost 20 years in the making. I also love that the 360 took aesthetic inspiration from the Air Max 1 and 95, two other personal favorites. The Air Max 360 might be under appreciated right now but its moment is coming, mark my words!
Nike Air Max 1B atmos “Viotech” (2003)
By far my favorite Air Max collab. In fact perhaps my favorite sneaker collab full stop. I love the tonal colors set against the purple Swoosh, and the gold detailing and mini-Swoosh add a bit of class and further help to set this one apart. It’s got a bit of an outdoorsy-vibe, which I like and looks great with some good denim. They should have brought this atmos back instead of the elephant print…
Nike Air Max 1 “Urawa Dragons” (2004)
Initially made for a Japanese football team, this is my all-time favorite Air Max! Shape-wise it’s a beast, it has a mesh toebox and a large-ass tongue. Everything you need! Unfortunately, there are not many wearable pairs left as it’s from 2004. But if you got a US7 lying around, hit me up!
Nike Air Max 1 x KidRobot (2005)
I tend to idolize sneaker heat from the mid-2000’s, and the Nike Air Max 1 x Kidrobot is definitely my favorite Air Max icon from the era. Buttery black leather makes it a modest and wearable shoe, but the pink and gold hits add the right bit of flair. The 2005 in me would still love to rock a pair of these with an Ice Cream hoodie (don’t act like you didn’t want one).
Nike Air Max Plus “All-Black” (1998)
I could say I love the Air Max Plus (TN, we call it in the UK) for its so-ugly-it’s-beautiful design or its spongey comfort. But that wouldn’t be whole the truth. I love the TN because it became almost synonymous with the “bassline” music scene exploding in my city, Sheffield, when I was a teenager. It was about more than fashion, it was a signal of shared belonging — it was our own subculture classic.
Nike Air Max Zero “Air Max Day 2015” (2015)
When I look back on the various pairs of Air Maxes I’ve obsessed over during the years—from the OG Neon 95s and Silver 97s to Stash BWs, atmos AM1s and the entire Patta range—I have to admit I’ve enjoyed the majority from afar. With this in mind, I’d have to say my true favorite of all-time is the one Air Max sneaker I’ve worn the most, and still can’t stop wearing: the Air Max Day 2015 Air Max Zero. From climbing mountains in Hawaii to skateboarding in Brooklyn (I wouldn’t recommend skating in Air Maxes to be fair, but really wanted to hit the pop-up Nike park), they’re a tried and tested go-to for any situation.
- Artwork: Stephen Cheetham