Understanding the cultural relevance of the Air Max 1

The Nike Air Max 1 is one of the most revolutionary sneakers to ever release, changing the way we look at a midsole, helping Nike become the brand it is today, and starting the Air Max line that has such a significant impact on the popular shoes of today

The model was created by Tinker Hatfield, a world-renowned sneaker designer who has worked at Nike since 1981. What was so revolutionary about the sneaker was that the Nike Air technology, which had previously been hidden away, encased in rubber or foam, was on full display on the proposed Air Max 1. Hatfield was said to have been inspired by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which was built with many of the necessary features of the building on the outside of the walls. It wasn’t easy for Hatfield to win his seniors over, with the revolutionary concept putting his job on the line, but he was eventually given the green light and the rest is history.

But does a cool creation story and commercial success mean a sneaker is culturally relevant? Plenty of shoes have been popular for a time, but haven’t been able to make a lasting mark on sneaker culture, take the Pony City Wings for example. It was worn by Spud Webb when the 5’7 NBA athlete won the 1986 dunk contest, but the shoe has fallen out of favor as of late. So why is the Air Max 1 any different?

Firstly, its legacy is remembered in the form of Air Max Day, a special day celebrated on the 26th of March of every year, the date the Air Max 1 originally released back in 1987. It is a day where sneakerheads come together to show off their pairs of Air Max sneakers, as well as try their luck at obtaining new pairs on Nike’s SNKRS app.

Additionally, the Air Max 1 was the start of a shift in direction for Nike, and its commercial success led to the continued use of a visible Air bubble. That same year, a visible Air bubble was used on the Air Jordan 3, and in 1990, the Air Max 90 (Formerly the Air Max III) was released, going on to be one of the most popular silhouettes of the next 30 years. The Air Max line is now known worldwide, from Melbourne to New York, Tokyo to London, and it all started with the Nike Air Max 1.

Lastly, the Air Max 1 is culturally relevant because of its collectable nature. Its simple color blocking and style that is yet to go out of fashion has resulted in hundreds of different colorways being created. Plenty of these colorways’ have been collaborations, and plenty have reached legendary status. It’s this history which not only causes sneaker connoisseurs to collect the Nike Air Max 1 but it’s also another reason why recent collaborators like Virgil Abloh and Travis Scott have gravitated towards the model.