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The Iconic Edition
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|26 Mar|8 mins

The Nike Air Max 90: Celebrating 30 Years of Perfection

Tinker Hatfield’s revolutionary design remains an icon in sneaker culture.

This year, Nike are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their legendary Air Max 90, a sneaker design that still looks as fresh today as it did back in 1990. 

Image with thanks to Nike

From runners to ravers, football fans to fashionistas, the AM90 has crossed boundaries and defied passing trends to remain in the hearts and minds of style conscious sneakerheads all over the world. While a multitude of colourways and collaborations have transformed the Air Max 90 over the past three decades, to fully understand the universal appeal of the groundbreaking design, it helps to go right back to the start.

The Origins
The arrival of the Air Max 1 in 1987 was seen as a huge breakthrough in sneaker design and technology. Taking inspiration from the inside-out aesthetic of Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield came up with the idea of exposing the shoe’s air cushioning technology to the world. 

Former aerospace engineer Marion Franklin Rudy developed the shock-absorbing Air tech in the late 1970s, but for years the gas-filled urethane cushions were hidden within the midsoles of sneakers such as the Air Force 1 and Air Jordan 1. 

Thankfully, Tinker believed that revealing the inner workings of the sneaker would capture the attention of sneakerheads and athletes, so the Air Max 1 featured a visible Air unit within its midsole. Despite its eye-catching red/white colourway, and game-changing design, the AM1 wasn’t a huge hit on its initial release, and was succeeded a year later with the similar-looking Air Max 2 – now known as the Air Max Light.

The Revolution
Keen to improve on his first two Air Max silhouettes, it was third time lucky for the former architect-turned shoe designer Hatfield, with his vision for the Air Max 3. 

Image with thanks to Nike

While the AM2 was a remix of the AM1, the Air Max 3 was a complete redesign altogether. Comprising of a white duromesh upper, grey suede panels, thermoplastic lace straps, and an enhanced midsole Air unit, the bold lines of the sneaker were designed to give the impression of speed and motion. Whereas its predecessor offered a small glimpse into the shoe’s inner tech, the AM3 boldly drew all attention to its Air bubble by surrounding it in a huge eye-catching block coloured midsole window.

An alternative ‘Laser Blue’ option also released the same year, but it’s the now infamous orangey-red that remains the all-time classic colourway associated with one of the most recognisable styles of the 1990s.

The Evolution 
The 90s were a home-run decade for Nike innovation, particularly within the Air Max line. Groundbreaking silhouettes such as the Tinker Hatfield/Bruce Kilgore collaborative Air Max 180, Sergio Lozano’s Air Max 95, Christian Tressler’s Air Max 97, and Sean McDowell’s Air Max Plus have all gone on to become hall of famers in the sneaker archives. Heading into a new decade with their Air Max line running on full steam, Nike decided to bring back a retro version of the 1990 classic AM3. 

In 2001, the original Air Max 3 ‘Hyvent Orange’ colourway was fine-tuned to a slightly lighter reddish shade and renamed ‘Infrared’. Along with this updated colourway, the sneaker was retitled the ‘Air Max 90’ after its initial release year. This first Air Max 90 retro hardly set the sneaker world ablaze and, apart from some hardcore enthusiasts, the release kind of flew under the radar. Continuing their faith in the classic silhouette, Nike dropped region-exclusive releases of the iconic sneaker in Australia in 2002, then Europe and Asia in 2003. With each release, the Air Max 90 ‘Infrared’ gained a stronger cult following as a true classic for sneaker connoisseurs. 

By the time Nike’s ‘History of Air’ collection released in December 2005, thirst for the iconic ‘Infrared’ AM90 was at an all-time high, especially in the United States. Despite a slightly smaller heel section, the ’05 retro was considered to be the most faithful rendition so far, and instantly sold out.

Following on from this success, the Swoosh took the opportunity to remix and rethink the Air Max 90 in a multitude of releases with varying degrees of success, including the Air Max 90 360, the Air Max 90 Current, the Air Max 90 Premium Ostrich, the Air Max 90 Hyperfuse, and the Air Max 90 Leather.

Over the years, there’s also been some incredible collaborations on the Air Max 90, including from DQM, Dizzee Rascal, atmos, Off-White and Patta, plus excellent colourways such as the Escapes, Crepes, Pythons and Powerwalls.      

The Legacy 
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Air Max 90, the beloved design has been brought back and restored to its former glory thanks to Nike’s ‘Recrafted’ collection. 

Image with thanks to Nike

Taking the DNA of Tinker Hatfield’s original shape and construction, Nike product manager Reggie Hunter and footwear designer Juliana Sagat aimed to recapture the vibe of the OG for a new generation. 

Key features that helped to retain the sleek look and feel of the 1990 classic included slimming down the shoe’s upper and toe box, resizing the Swoosh, refining the side stitching, and sourcing softer materials.

The Nike Air Max 90 ‘Recrafted’ collection is available now! 

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