Nike Air Max 90

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    Nike Air Max 90

    Nike Air Max 90

    1045 articles

    A prominent 90s silhouette that had a remarkable impact on sneaker culture.

    Air Max 90

    The year was 1990, and Nike was benefitting from the success of its initial Air Max releases: 1987’s unforgettable Air Max 1 and its follow-up, the Air Max II (or Air Max Light). These designs had brought three years of growth, but with the new decade, it was time for the brand to evolve the budding Air Max line once more. Like with the Air Max 1 before it, this would lead to the creation of another era-defining sneaker, this time in the form of the Nike Air Max 90.

    Originally released as the Air Max III in 1990, the Air Max 90 became the first to be named after the year of its release when it was relaunched in the early 2000s. The fact that it could be successfully brought back as a retro design more than a decade after it came out was thanks to the creative vision of its designer, the one and only Tinker Hatfield. Tasked with advancing the Air Max line in both function and style, Hatfield equipped the Nike Air Max 90 with some of the latest technologies, many of which had been pioneered by its predecessors, while also gracing it with a particularly distinctive aesthetic that made it a product of its time. He added Phylon foam midsole technology, which the Light had shown to be less weighty than the polyurethane on the original Air Max, alongside a microfibre mesh and leather upper for improved breathability as well as solid durability. Modern-looking TPU panels similar to those on the previous design appeared across the upper and the heel, their contoured, grated appearance mimicking the aerodynamic fins of sleek supercars like the Ferrari Testarossa to add to the contemporary feel of the shoe.

    Like with previous Air Max editions, the Air unit in the heel was a key feature of the design. Whereas the transparent window in the Air Max 1 had sought to show off the brand’s technical advancement, the enhanced Air unit of the Nike Air Max 90 stood out for other reasons. The large, cassette-like TPU panel that surrounded it acted as a bold window, giving the Air Max 90 its own unique character and becoming a trademark of its look. In addition to its attention-drawing size, the piece of thermoplastic could be decorated in captivating colors to highlight the Air unit, and Hatfield was quick to illuminate it with a truly spectacular tone. The release model featured an almost fluorescent shade of orangey red which was originally called Hyvent Orange but later became known as “Infrared”. As well as being fundamental to the initial success of the Air Max 90, it came to be synonymous with the silhouette, many using it as the shoe’s nickname. The vivid red tone put the spotlight on the bigger airbag in the heel, something which Nike were keen to emphasize to those looking for increased cushioning and support. It also appeared on the AM90’s distinctive heel medallion, acting as a bold backdrop to accentuate the Nike Air branding embossed on top of it. In the years since the original came out, many different colors have been applied to these TPU elements, including Nike’s popular shade of lime green called Volt. However, the intensity of the Infrared shade has seen it remain a classic colourway to this day.

    Despite its memorable lifestyle aesthetic, the Air Max 90 was actually designed as a running shoe. Its sporting caliber was assured by the cushioning of the bulky heel Air unit, the supportive thick foam midsole, which provided impact protection, and the padded high ankle, tongue and collar, which offered ample support around the foot. While it was clearly a first-class piece of performance equipment, the AM90 was so much more, reflecting a paradigm shift in the language of Nike’s design approach.

    In addition to its practical functionality and its captivating use of color, it had a harmonious, flowing style created by the way the midsole merged into the enlarged mudguard, which itself extended upwards to rest against the swoosh. This won the Nike Air Max 90 fans from all sorts of backgrounds, including the club culture that burgeoned in the early nineties. This high-intensity movement brought with it the need for comfortable, stylish trainers that were also robust enough to withstand the rigors of the dance floor, a role that was perfectly suited to the Air Max 90. Meanwhile, in London and Paris, those in the underground hip-hop scene admired the shoe for its grittiness, and British grime artists like Dizzee Rascal helped popularize the sneaker through the 2000s. In the years since, it has continued to display the ability to appeal to people from a range of different cultures and subcultures, bringing it fame and success all around the world.

    The distinctive style and social adaptability of the Nike Air Max 90 has seen it become one of the most widely recognised and fully embraced sneakers Nike has ever created, and one of the most successful in the Air Max line. Its supreme levels of comfort and support gave it a distinguished reputation, while its characteristic use of vibrant colors made the hugely influential Air Max 90 a cultural icon that continues to garner new admirers to this day.

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