History of an Icon

Together with Nike we celebrate 36 Years of the Iconic Sneaker


Marion Franklin Rudy - Inventor of Nike Air

Marion Franklin Rudy (1933-2015) was an American inventor and entrepreneur who is best known for inventing the Nike Air technology used in Nike's athletic shoes. Rudy's invention involved placing a gas-filled bag in the sole of a shoe to provide extra cushioning and shock absorption. He developed the idea while working as an aerospace engineer for the U.S. government in the 1970s.

He eventually pitched the idea to Nike, and the company signed a contract with him in 1978 to use the technology in their shoes. Rudy's invention revolutionized the athletic shoe industry, and Nike Air technology has since been used in countless Nike shoes, becoming a signature feature of the brand. In addition to his work on Nike Air, Rudy also held over 50 patents in other fields, including a system for inflatable structures used in emergency shelters.

In December 1978 Nike unleashed its proprietary cushioning technology, Nike Air, with a limited production run of 230 pairs of the Air Tailwind model for the 1978 Honolulu Marathon.


Tinker Hatfield - Designer of the Air Max 1

Tinker Hatfield is an American designer who was born on April 30, 1952, in Hillsboro, Oregon, USA. Hatfield started his career as an architect, but his passion for sneakers led him to switch to shoe design. He joined Nike in 1981 and worked as a shoe designer for the company.

He is credited with designing some of the most iconic sneakers in history, including the Air Jordan III, Air Max 1, and numerous others.
He has won numerous awards for his work in shoe design, including induction into the Footwear Hall of Fame in 2014. Today, Hatfield is considered one of the most influential and innovative designers in the sneaker industry. His designs have not only revolutionized the look of athletic shoes but also contributed to the evolution of streetwear fashion.


The Centre Georges Pompidou, also known as the Pompidou Centre, is a modern art museum and cultural center located in the Beaubourg area of Paris, France. It was named after Georges Pompidou, who was the President of France from 1969 to 1974 and played a major role in establishing the museum.

The Pompidou Centre was designed by architects Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Gianfranco Franchini and opened in 1977. Its distinctive architecture, with its exposed pipes and colorful exterior, caused controversy at the time but has since become an iconic landmark in Paris. The museum's collection includes works by many famous modern and contemporary artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol.

It also hosts many temporary exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year, including concerts, films, and performances. The Pompidou Centre is one of the most visited museums in France and is considered a must-see destination for anyone interested in modern and contemporary art.

The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, France, played a significant role in the design of the Nike Air Max 1 sneaker. Tinker Hatfield, the designer of the Air Max 1, was visiting Paris in the 1980s and was inspired by the unique architecture of the Pompidou Centre.

The building's design features an exposed skeleton of steel and brightly colored pipes and ducts, which are visible on the exterior of the building. Hatfield was fascinated by this design and decided to incorporate some of these elements into the design of the Air Max 1.

Specifically, he added a visible air bubble to the sole of the shoe, which allowed wearers to see the technology inside the shoe. This was inspired by the visible pipes and ducts on the exterior of the Pompidou Centre. The Air Max 1 was the first shoe to feature this technology, which has since become a defining feature of the Air Max line of sneakers.

The insight of Frank Rudy and joint efforts of Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker would go on to revolutionize running and sportswear as a whole.
Featuring a window into the latest footwear cushioning technology, the Air Max 1 showcased Air like never before, amid a striking red and white canvas. 
The first Nike Air Max has been produced in Korea.

The Nike Air Max Light expanded upon soon-to-be signature Air Max design language while maintaining the pace of the original.
The ridged underlay and dual density midsole evolved the initial design without drastically altering the formula - a hint of what would soon follow.

The insight of Frank Rudy and joint efforts of Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker would go on to revolutionize running and sportswear as a whole.
Featuring a window into the latest footwear cushioning technology, the Air Max 1 showcased Air like never before, amid a striking red and white canvas. 
The first Nike Air Max has been produced in Korea.

Themed around speed and stealth, the Air Max 90 would go on to define European street culture’s aesthetic from 1990 to the present day.
The design was particularly lighter, with a slightly larger Air unit, and boasted a superior fit. Now iconic, the pops of Infrared coloring on the molded side panels made the Air Max 90 hard to miss - and even harder to ignore. 
Since 1990 the midsole of a running shoe was predominantly white. The Air Max 90 and its infrared accents changed that in a drastic way and made the Air window even more visible.

Big window. Bigger impact. The Air Max BW delivered more support, more padding and more Nike Air than all previous models.
In fact, it was such a success overseas that it hassn’t gone out of production since its debut.
Similar to its predecessor, the Air Max BW would be defined by its lead colorway, officially titled "Persian Violet".
The so to speak Air Max 4 was at release simply called Air Max and in later years Air Classic BW.

When faced with the dilemma of how to fit more Nike Air into a running shoe, the Air 180 design team started at the bottom-literally.
The new system took Air beneath the midsole for 180 degrees of visible cushioning. The design would aslo deliver 50% more Air than previous mdodels. An emphasis on flex and fit sensured comfort, white the slimmer fit made a statement on the streets.

The Air Max ST incorporated a footbridge technology to improve comfort and cushioning. As the Air 180 it came also with a neoprene tongue.

In 1993, the concept of “Max Air” reached a new, well, maximum. Breakthroughs in blow-modling technology afforded room for 270 degrees of Nike Air.
The massive Air unit struck fear into some, who falsely assumed the sole would pop. The Air Max 93 would go on to be known for its resilience as well as its neoprene-aided upper.

The Air Max 94 came with the same sole unit as its predecessor but lost the neoprene inner-sock design.

The Air Max 94 came with the same sole unit as its predecessor but lost the neoprene inner-sock design.

The Air Max 94 came with the same sole unit as its predecessor but lost the neoprene inner-sock design.

Ahead of its time in form, function, and fashion, the Air Max 95 drew design inspiration from human anatomy - namely the spine, ribs, ligaments, and muscles. Huge applications of visible Air in the heel and forefront were complimented by a gradient grey upper popping with neon yellow accents. 

The Air Max 95 was the first to include not only visible air chambers in the forefoot, but coloured chambers. Depending on their position in the midsole, the air bubbles came with varying PSI (pound-force per square) pressures.

To easily spot an original Vintage Air Max 95 you can either check the PSI numbers printed on the outsole or the single-stich pattern of the upper lamelle. After several retro versions both features were first reintroduced with the 2015 version of the Air Max 95.

This model is an absolute masterpiece in Design and Technique.


The subtle Mini-Swoosh on the heel can also be explained through the design background of Sergio Lozano who was in charge of the ACG line as well.
Famous ACG Models like the Air Mowabb, Air Escape, Air Moc, Air Mada and Air Revaderchi which came out before 1995 were all models with either no swoosh or a small one.

The Air Racer Max was a lightweight and responsive shoe, designed to provide a comfortable and efficient ride for runners.
The colorway and its sleek design reminds us of the Air Mariah from 1981, but equipped with an Air Max cushioning.

The Air Max 96 also came with different pressured air chambers. The one in the heel was divided into 5psi in the middle and 25psi on both sides.
It has been designed to provide cushioning performance tailored to natural foot movement with more stabilibty compared to the Air Max 95.
The teardrop mesh windows were included to increase breathability.

The Air Max 96 II came as a bit of a surprise in March of 1997. The tongue label date read a Vietnam produced model with the date of October 1996 though.
The OG colorway Midnight Navy/Black-Goldenrod offered a completely revised and stabilzed upper compared to the first Air Max 96 and a more prominent Swoosh emblem on the side. 

The famours Air Tailwind which introduced Nike Air became its first successor with the Air Tailwind II in 1997. As its paragon which featured a lot of mesh for breathability the Air Tailwind II picked up on that and offered mesh windows right above the midsole and also adopted the classic Air Max look with its visible air bubbles in the heel.

The Air Max 97 was designed by Christian Tresser who found inspiration in the Japanese high velocity Shinkansen or Bullett trains. This also led to its nickname “Silver Bullet”.
Introduced during an era of unrivaled flash and flamboyance, the Air Max 97’s shining, metallic silver silhouette served as a sign of the times. Much like the bullet train it was themed around, the design was built with speed in mind. I also showcased the first full-length visible Air midsole for a true marriage of performance and street style. 

The reflective upper was officially explained for its purpose in night time running but one cannot deny the feeling that what started with the Air Max 90s infrared aggressively highlighted Air Chamber and the Air Max 95 grey neon gradient design was here taken to the max as it looks simply put: very fashionable.

The Air Max 98 OG colorway is nowadays known as “Gundam”.
This nickname derives from the colours used for a giant robot of a Japanese science fiction media franchise.
The term "Gundam" itself does not stand for anything specific, but it is a portmanteau of two words: "Gun" and "Freedom."
The "Gun" part of the name refers to the weapons and combat aspect of the series, while "Freedom" refers to the underlying themes of the franchise, such as the struggle for independence, the fight for personal and societal freedom, and the desire to break free from the constraints of oppressive governments or systems.

The Air Tailwind III, sometimes also credited as Air Max Tailwind III offered outstanding cushioning and durability. It featured a full heel and forefoot Air-Sole which was only visible in the heel though. The outsole was made of BRS 1000 which is a type of rubber compound. The acronym stands for "Blown Rubber System 1000", which refers to the high level of abrasion resistance of the material.

The Air Max 98 TL or Air Max Total 98 came with a layered upper made of leather, mesh, and synthetic materials, with a distinctive textured pattern that runs across the upper. The Air-Sole unit extends throughout the length of the shoe, offering maximum cushioning and shock absorption.

The Nike Air Max Plus, also known as the Air Max TN or Tuned Air, was first released in 1998. Designed by Sean McDowell, the Air Max Plus was another groundbreaking iteration of the Air Max line. It combined comfort, performance, and striking aesthetics. The model quickly gained popularity not just among athletes, but also as a lifestyle sneaker.
The Air Max Plus introduced Nike's Tuned Air technology, which combined individual Air units with a Tuned mechanical system to offer enhanced support and stability. This setup allowed the shoe to provide targeted cushioning and support for specific areas of the foot, depending on the needs of the wearer.
One of the most iconic aspects of the Air Max Plus is its visually striking upper, which features a gradient colorway and wavy TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) overlays inspired by palm trees swaying in the wind.

Sean McDowell about the design process of the Air Max Plus: 

“One evening, it was turning to dusk, so the very blue sky was starting to fade to dark blue, and the palm trees were blowing in the wind. I sketched that out, and I thought, ‘It could make a quarter panel, like you could hold your foot down with those palm trees.

I did a sunset. I did a blue one. I did a purple one. I tried a couple of different colors and sky versions, some palm trees were a little more tech-y and very geometric, and others were waving. The shank is a modified whale tail. That tail coming out of the water is so iconic.
I wanted to put some emphasis on the top-down view. The palm trees looked good on the medial and lateral sides, but when it came to connecting them on the top it looked weird to have a straight line connecting them, so I thought, ‘What else could I do that’s a little more interesting?’

No one had given me any guidance because it was my first few days. The shape is a little bit off, and I put the border on the inside, when technically all the brand guidelines say to go outside.” “I drew the fade and everyone was like, ‘You’ll never be able to do that, you can’t find a material like that.’ And I said, ‘We’ll just sublimate it.’ They were doing it in apparel, so I thought it would be pretty easy. The first sample was perfect. I suggested making the whole shoe out of thin welded TPU.

I was told, ‘Fly to Asia, make the samples, and hopefully the meeting goes well. They told [me] it was too big to weld. It would take too much power and either melt the fabric or wouldn’t bond.”

The Air Tailwind IV introduced Air Max cushioning in the heel and forefoot area of the Tailwind series.
The shoe was released in several colorways, including the iconic "Volt" colorway, which featured a bright neon green and black color scheme.

The Air Max Deluxe was one of the most avant-garde designs of the Air Max Line.
It came with full-length air cushion that matched the 97 and 98 models and was one of Nike's first shoes to feature a full-length digital print on neoprene. Along with the streamlined reflective design and wide stitching, the shoe made bold announcements.

The Air Tuned Max featured a unique cushioning system called "Tuned Air", which was a series of small air pockets placed strategically throughout the sole of the shoe first introduced by the Air Max Plus the year before.
This technology was designed to provide a customized level of cushioning and support for the wearer, depending on the pressure points of their feet.
One of the most distinctive features of the Air Tuned Max was its color-design, which featured rarely seen gradient panels and futuristic-looking detailing on the upper.
In a bold move, comparable to the design step between Air Jordan 1 and 2, the Swoosh disappeared from the side panels completely and was only visible in a mini version on the heel of the model.

The Air Max Plus II was designed by Sean McDowell, who also created the original Air Max Plus.
Like its predecessor, the Air Max Plus II featured the signature "Tuned Air" cushioning system, which was designed to provide targeted support and cushioning to the foot. The upper of the shoe was made from a combination of synthetic materials and mesh, which provided breathability and support.
The shoe also had a "floating" plastic cage around the midfoot that was meant to provide additional support and give the shoe a futuristic look.

The Air Tailwind V was designed by Aaron Cooper, who also created the Air Tailwind IV, as an updated version of that popular model. It came with pre-shaped structured mesh upper.
Although the Air Tailwind V was not as iconic as some of Nike's other Air Max models from that era, it remains a classic sneaker in its own right.

The Air Max 2003 was designed by Sergio Lozano, who also designed the iconic Air Max 95 model.
The shoe had a seamless monochromatic upper with minimal overlays.

The Nike Air Max Plus III was designed by Sean McDowell, who also created the original Air Max Plus and the Air Tuned Max.
The model had a plastic exoskeleton that wrapped around the midfoot for added support, it gave the model a futuristic look.

The Air Max 360 was a breakthrough release from David Forland, Director of Cushioning Innovation at Nike and offered a complete see-through 360 degrees air unit.

The Air Max 360 was the realization of Nike’s initial vision of running completely on air. A dream achieved, a goal accomplished.
The flexible, thermoformed Air unit - delivered without the excess of foam - was complemented with a laser-cut upper that drew inspiration from the Air Max’s original red, grey and white colorway.

This model was the only Air Max model featuring Caged Air. A technology which is traditionally only used in Zoom Air cushioned soles.
The insole offered a graphic design which showed the history of the Air Max line so far.

The Air Max 2009 featured full-length Max Air cushioning but came with more flexibility through deep flex grooves integrated into the outsole.
It also featured the new Flywire technology, which consists of strategically placed, lightweight filaments that wrap around the foot like cables on a suspension bridge.

The Air Max 2010 was like and upgraded version of its predecessor. It also featured a full-length Max Air unit for maximum cushioning and impact protection. The upper came also equipped with the latest Flywire threads. The midsole of the Air Max 2010 incorporated Cushlon cushioning which is a lighter but more responsive phylon foam.

The Air Max 2011 introduced Nike's Hyperfuse technology on its upper. It fused three different layers of material together to create a seamless and durable upper. This helped to reduce the weight of the shoe while also improving its durability. It also offered runners to place the Nike+ sensor in the sole to track their running performance.

The Air Max 2012's upper is inspired by the anatomy and muscles of the foot. The aim of the Hyperfuse construction was the creation of a barefoot running feeling.

The 13s were lighter, more flexible and bouncier. They came with a sleek mesh and a fully transparent midsole.
Kathy Gomez, Vice President, Footwear Innovation about the Air Max 2013: "By the time we got to the Max 13, the shoe was 15 percent lighter, had more air under the foot, and was two times more flexible in the forefoot than the one that came before it."

After the Hyperfuse years, the upper of the Air Max 2013 was completely revamped. The Flyknit technology, which Nike introduced in 2012 was now ready for the Air Max line.
The Air Max Flyknit featured a full Flyknit upper and not only a sock-like fit but a increasement of this model's breathability.
The colors used on the upper were extended on the full-length Air unit and thereby united performance and style in a fashionable look.

The Air Max Zero was inspired by Tinker Hatfield's original sketch for the Air Max 1, which he created in the 1980s. Therefore it was marketed with the slogan "The One before the One".
Back in 1987 Nike decided that this design would be too futuristic for a running shoe in the 1980s. So it premiered on the second Air Max Day, in 2015.
The Air Max Zero is the first Air Max to feature Tinker Hatfield's signature.

The Air Max 2015 continued the Flyknit made upper from its predecessor but included 5 strings spanning from the lacing area to the midsole for more stability. It was equipped with taped seams previously only known from performance apparel and showed a mirrored large Swoosh on the heel panel. The midsole see-through air chamber was labeled with the Air Max logo.

With only a thin film separating your foot from the cushion, this shoe is the closest you can get to walking on air.
It was the first Air Max model going withouth foam or rubber in the midsole or outsole. Instead it featured several air filled pouches which were not connected to each other.
Comparable to the Air Max 360 "One Time Only" models it outsole was attached to "hybrid versions" of the Air Max 95, 97, and 360.

The Nike Air Max 270 was designed by a team led by Dylan Raasch and Jesi Small, who were inspired by Nike's iconic Air Max models from the 1990s. The Air Max 270 is named for its unique Air-Sole unit, which measures 270 degrees around the heel and is the largest Air-Sole unit in Nike's history.
Dylan Raasch started working at Nike in 2009 as part of the Running team, where he also created the Roshe, one of the most commercially successful Nike models.
The Air Max 270 was the most successful Air Max launch in the brand’s history.

The Air Max 720 brought back the extended visible Air unit and the most voluminous one yet. Pre-shaped lines on the upper, which form a wavy pattern, give the Air Max 720 a futuristic look. The first models came in a Northern Lights inspired colorways.

As its name suggests, the Air Max 2090 can be seen as a look into the future of an Air Max 90 design approach which can be seen on the heel counter, mudguard and the silver highlighted area around the visible Air unit.

The Air Max Pre-Day which was introduced on Air Max Day 2021 is a modern take on Nike's classic running shoes from the 1970s, featuring a mix of vintage and contemporary design elements.
The fully visible Air unit is a classic example of reductive design, a practice that removes elements from an item to highlight its most vital component.
The name is inspired by the legendary Steve Prefontaine (1951-1975). He  was an American long-distance runner who is considered one of the greatest runners in American history. Prefontaine was born and raised in Coos Bay, Oregon, and began running competitively in high school.
After graduation, he enrolled at the University of Oregon, where he continued his running career under legendary coach Bill Bowerman.
Prefontaine became a three-time NCAA cross-country champion and set numerous American records in middle- and long-distance events, including the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Prefontaine's competitive spirit and fearless approach to racing made him a fan favorite and earned him the nickname "Pre". He was known for his aggressive front-running style, pushing the pace from the beginning and daring his opponents to keep up.
The OG colorway of the Air Max Pre-Day could be a hint to Steve Prefontaine's Oregon Waffle colorway which was yellow and green. These colors mixed come out to a mean green as featured on the upper of the Air Max Pre-Day.

The Air Max 2021 continued the idea of reductive design as it also showed a partly detached Air bubble in the heel of this model. Reductive design is often associated with the philosophy of minimalism, which values simplicity, functionality, and efficiency.

The Air Max Motif found its inspiration in the initial Air Max 1 design by Tinker Hatfield. The "Sport Blue" is also a hat-tip to an OG colorway of the Air Max 1.

The Air Max Scorpion was created in just 18 months, the Air Max Scorpion implemented 3D VR design software, computational design, engineering tools and decades of vertical Air Manufacturing Innovation (Air MI) knowledge to bring the revolutionary design to market.

The result of all this innovation leads to the most Air offered in terms of pounds per square inch, pressure graded across all sizes. In addition to the Air unit, the latest Air system is balanced by a Flyknit chenille upper in which short fibers are held perpendicularly in place by two twisted vertical core yarns to form a soft pile texture, leading to a sensation of comfort in every step.

For Air Max Day 2023 Nike is bringing back the Air Max 1 in its original form and colorway from 1986. But wait, didn't the Air Max 1 come out in 1987?
Yes and no: The first Air Max 1 which was released for the general public did come out in 1987. But the first prototypes were produced in November and December 1986.
These prototypes featured a different midsole including a much bigger Air unit. As Tinker Hatfield revealed in an interview with Robbie Williams the material didn't hold up because of the size of the Air unit. The Air Max 1 had to be redesigned.
This new updated version with a more stable midsole and reduced Air bubble was then manufactured in September and October 1987 and finally released the same year.
Now, 36 years later, Nike releases the Air Max 1 like it was originally designed including the initial midsole design and bigger bubble.

Honorable Mentions: Air Burst, Air Stab, Air Max Dolce, Air Max Ultra, Air Max Ultra, Air Max Current, Air Max Tavas, Air Max Dia, Air Max LD-Zero

Photos via Nike, Christian Tresser, Sean McDowell, Denys Nevozhai, Huân Lê, Jon Kosenick, GOAT, Namutaku, SneakerFreaker, Modern Notoriety, BOON


We can't wait to see how the AIR MAX legacy continues

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