From the ground up

The most technically advanced Air Max shoe to date, Nike’s VaporMax is the current flavor of the week. The product is a culmination of decades of research and development that started with the Nike Tailwind, now resulting in a shoe that is bare of any midsole cushioning, and rather is comprised of a Flyknit upper fused directly onto an air bag outsole. Nike revealed that the design process produced over a dozen prototypes and samples, which were created over many years.

However, sneaker savant and Highsnobiety contributor Gary Warnett recently brought another archival Nike model to light.

Still cool to me that Nike was basically experimenting with something vaguely VaporMax around 1981ish.

A post shared by Gary Warnett (@gwarizm) on

What appears to be an early version of the Nike Air Mariah, the primitive sneaker could very well feature an early form of today’s VaporMax sole. The shoe’s tread is mapped with hexagonal nodes that we can presume were the result of Nike experimenting with Air technology in the early 1980s.

Of course the sneaker never made it to market, but an inline version of the Mariah was released in the navy and white color scheme pictured below, making its official debut at the Moscow marathon trials in 1980.

Nike Mariah (1981)

Marathoner Alberto Salazar also laced up the Mariah in 1982, helping him secure his third New York Marathon win. Later, the silhouette was reintroduced to modern sneakerheads in 2014 as the Nike Air Mariah PR TZ, then via a Lunar-equipped Mariah SP.

As we now know, Nike’s experimentation finally brought us the Air Max 1 in 1987, the first example of visible Air, and the source of a rich legacy of Nike sneakers.

To celebrate the Nike Air VaporMax, Nike projected a huge video on the facade of the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris, check it out here.

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