These are the Nike Air Max models you need to know about

These are the Nike Air Max models you need to know about

by Ollie Cox
7 min

Happy Air Max Day to all who celebrate. In case you didn’t know, the first-ever Nike Air Max model, the Nike Air Max 1, was released 36 years ago today. It set a precedent for some of Nike’s most exciting silhouettes, including the insanely popular Air Max 95, and even the most recent Air Max Dn, which releases today. The first Air Max Day took place in 2014, and this year, it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary. In honour of the shoe that started it all, we’ve rounded up some of the most influential Air Maxes below. So strap in and enjoy our list of all things Air Bubble. 

Air Max 1 

As the first official Air Max sneaker, it makes sense to start with this one. The product of sneaker design legend Tinker Hatfield, the now legendary Air Max 1 was initially met with a frosty reception thanks to its boundary-pushing design. Hatfield looked to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which subverts standard architectural design tropes, choosing to show its internal structure to the outside world. 

With the Air Max 1, Hatfield wanted to use the Nike Air technology introduced in 1978, using a compressed gas air cushion designed by former NASA scientist Frank Rudy. Rather than hiding the technology within the shoe, he wanted to expose it on the outside, which was met with criticism from his peers who feared the shoe would look weak. 

Hatfield persevered and gave the world the Nike Air Max 1, initially named the “Big Bubble.” To this day, it remains one of the most recognisable Air Max models and has been the feature of countless collaborations. Some of our favourites include the Nike Air Max 1 “Atmos Elephant” release from 2017 and last year’s ‘86 Original Big Bubble.

Air Max 90 

Guess what? This sneaker was also designed by Tinker Hatfield and released in 1990, but it was first named the Nike Air Max III. It is the third sneaker of the Air Max lineage and was referred to as the “sneaker that looked fast” when it was unveiled more than 30 years ago. 

This trainer promised fans an enhanced Air bag and arrived in a host of neon colourways, which was bang on trend in the early ‘90s. It was initially designed to support runners but was later adopted by ravers thanks to its cushioned sole and durability.  

Some of our favourite Air Max 90 models include the DQM x Nike Air Max 90 “Bacon,” and the Off-White x Nike Air Max 90. These sure-fire collaborations serve as a testament to the sneaker’s timeless appeal, which is why we’re still talking about them today. 

Air Max 180 

You know that we mentioned that ravers began to favour Air Max’s running-friendly technology. This was the sneaker that made Air Max a favourite of the two-stepping style set. The Air Max 180 was the first shoe to feature 180 degrees of visible air cushioning, enabled by a bold urethane outsole to the Air Unit. In 1991, the Nike Air Max 180 was released, following the Air Max 90, and was quickly adopted by Amsterdam and Rotterdam ravers, becoming a defining component of Gabber garb. 

The Air Max 180 showcased the progression of Hatfield’s pioneering designs, with the technology applied in new ways. Some of our favourites include the 2018 Air Max 180 Ultramarine, a perfect recreation of the sneaker’s retro appeal. 

Air Max 95 

The Air Max 95 is one of the most notable Air Max sneakers to release, thanks to its distinct profile and pioneering application of Nike’s Air technology. It was released in 1995 and designed by Sergio Lozano, who had previously worked on Nike’s outdoor-focused ACG division. 

The Air Max 95 is inspired by the human body, as seen in its lacing system, which mirrors a set of human ribs along with its spine-like outsole. Its suede upper is influenced by the muscle fibres of the human body, adding to the layered design that remains a classic to this day. The 1995 release was the first to incorporate Air cushioning to the forefoot, a feature that has kept fans returning to the shoe thanks to its tried-and-tested comfort. 

The Nike Air Max 95 can be spotted on the feet of fashion editors, streetwear enthusiasts, and celebrities, with its broad appeal serving as a testament to the sneaker’s lasting appeal. When it comes to our favourites, it’s hard to choose. You can’t go wrong with the classic Triple Black colourway, but we can’t lie, and the Corteiz x Nike Air Max 95 Aegean Storm is one we haven’t stopped thinking about. 

Air Max Plus 
Supreme ©

The Nike Air Max Plus, or TN as it is known, is another visually distinct trainer on our list. It is the product of sneaker designer Shawn McDowell. Originally, it was part of a project with Foot Locker, and McDowell was tasked with crafting a sneaker that incorporated Nike’s Tuned Air technology. 

The Nike TN uses a slimmed-down Nike Swoosh logo, which is the result of a free-hand sketch and is unique to this style. Reflective accents were placed on the front of the sneaker so that visibility was provided to athletes running towards traffic, nodding to McDowell’s own experience as a runner. A standout design detail of the Nike TN is its Shank detailing to the heel, designed to look like a whale’s tail but contributed to the shoe’s nickname as the “Shark.” 

The 2020 Supreme Air Max Plus is our favourite take on this silhouette, with its flame-like designs nodding to the sneaker’s trailblazing legacy. 

Air Max 97 

In the same year Nike introduced the TN, it also released the Air Max 97. The sneaker was designed by Christian Tresser and inspired by the ripples created when water drops into a pond. It turned heads as the first Nike sneaker to feature a full-length visible Air bubble, a showcase of how much Nike had accomplished with the visible technology implemented by Tinker Hatfield back in 1986. 

Its initial metallic-like silver colourway, which stemmed from its founder’s love of mountain bikes and their metal components, was visually striking. It’s shiny, reflective features earned it the nickname “Silver Bullet,” because of its likeness to the bullet trains used in Japan, and it hasn’t been able to shake it since. 

This visually appealing design struck a chord with some of the most fashionable people around. Still, when it comes to picking our favourite, it has to be the 2017 Skepta Air Max 97, which reflects the relationship between Grime and Air Maxes. 

Air Max Dn

This year, Nike has unveiled a new addition to the Nike Air Max line-up for Air Max Day, the Nike Dn. This sneaker sees Nike’s Air technology deployed like never before through two pressurised chambers in the heel and forefoot, which absorb impact as you move. The Dn reflects Nike Air’s legacy of merging fashion with function for over 40 years, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the sneaker. 

Ahead of today’s release, the Dn got a limited-edition launch courtesy of Supreme, first teased on the feet of its Spring/Summer 2024 lookbook models before selling out upon release. If this is anything to go by, the Dn is set for big things. 

More on Culted 

See: Meteorite bags & grape sliders: what are fashion’s weirdest materials?

See: What is all the fuss about Air Max Day? 

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