The OG Nike Tailwind was one of the most significant models in Swoosh history, having been the first to feature an Air unit in the sole. That silhouette made a triumphant return as the Air Tailwind 79 toward the end of 2018, and now it appears a sneaker from the same lineage is set to join it. Following several leaks and teasers, signs point to the Air Max Tailwind 4 being the next Supreme x Nike collaboration.
Supreme, of course, has a longstanding partnership with Nike, dating back to 2002’s SB Dunk Low. In recent years, Supreme has made a point of reviving forgotten or less heralded Nike silhouettes, including the Air Streak Spectrum Plus, Uptempo, Air Max 98, and Humara. Now, with those Air Max Tailwind 4 rumors swirling, that approach looks set to continue into Spring/Summer 2019. But there is more to the Tailwind story than a potential Supreme collab.
The Air Max Tailwind line reached the height of its popularity in the ’90s, although it has lived on in the 21st century as the Air Max Tailwind+ range. Tailwinds were never as celebrated as their cousins the Air Max 97 or Air Max 1, but the Air Max Tailwind 4, first released in 1999, did get a stint on NIKEiD as a customizable option. However, the model never really stuck around in the same way as other Air Max models.
Nike Tailwind OG
Back in the ’70s, NASA aerospace engineer Marion Franklin Rudy (aka Frank Rudy) was working on encapsulating dense gases in rubber membranes when he realized his invention could be used as foot cushioning. Adding an “air bag” to a shoe’s midsole would decrease a footstep’s impact on the body. Rudy’s idea was apparently rejected by several footwear manufacturers — until he brought it to Nike in 1977.
Nike used Rudy’s technology to create the first sneaker with an Air unit hidden in the midsole (visible airbags would come in 1987 with the Air Max 1). That sneaker, the Nike Tailwind, got a limited release in Hawaii ahead of the 1978 Honolulu Marathon. The sneaker sold out and subsequently got a full release in 1979, hence last year’s retro being named the Air Tailwind 79.
The OG Tailwind’s successor took more than a decade to appear. In 1992, Nike released the Air Tailwind 92, complete with visible Air bubble in the heel and a more modern, tech-focused design with a breathable leather and mesh upper. Four years later, Nike rebranded the Tailwind into the Air Max line, starting with the Air Max Tailwind 96, whose bulky, technical design was an evolution of the Tailwind’s look and, perhaps more importantly, a sign of things to come.
In 1997, the Air Max Tailwind 2 took a more streamlined approach, in line with the direction Air Max models were taking at the time. That year, of course, saw the debut of the not dissimilar Air Max 97. Like its contemporary, the Air Max Tailwind 2 had a “wave” effect on the upper and a mini Swoosh (a hallmark of several ’90s Tailwinds).
The next in line, 1998’s chunkier Air Max Tailwind 3, received an asymmetrical design on its reworked upper. It also featured hints of the “ribs” we’d see on the next Tailwind model.
Nike Air Tailwind 4
When it hit in 1999, the bold Air Max Tailwind 4 was a massive leap from what had come before in terms of design, with its standout ribbing along the sides and breathable mesh/synthetic combination on the upper. For the first time, visible Air bubbles were included in the forefoot, a design feature that had debuted on the Air Max 95.
According to Vice, in a curious subplot of the Tailwind story, such was the popularity and expense of the Air Max Tailwind 4 in Australia, it became known as “the most stolen shoe in Australian shoplifting history,” earning the shoes the nickname “Jailwinds.” Another theory is that the nickname stemmed from the sneaker’s ribbed sides looking like prison bars.
Former inmates interviewed by Vice said that, along with the high price making them covetable, the Tailwind 4’s comfort was important in prison. As one inmate put it, “Everyone wanted them because they were so comfortable and in jail there’s nothing to do all day but cut laps of the yard and stretch the legs. We’re on our feet all day, so you want to be in something comfy.”
From marathons to prison yards and now a Supreme collaboration, the Tailwind has come a long way. The Air Max Tailwind 4 might not have pulled up many trees in its first life (apart from in Australia, it seems), but there’s no doubting it deserves its place in sneaker history, even if it didn’t change the game quite like the OG Tailwind. With ’90s-style runners trending right now, it’s easy to see why Nike and Supreme are looking to bring the Tailwind 4 back. Just don’t steal it.
If you want a deeper dive into Nike’s Air Max shoes, watch the video below.
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