Tag Archives: nike air max

THE OTHER AIR MAXES

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With all the current Air Max talk, it’s worth talking about the oddities that are kept out of the celebratory storytelling time and time again. The Nike Air Max line was far broader than simply revolving around six or so silhouettes and some of the less-popular instalments and spinoffs are some of the maddest Nike design of the last decade and a half. While we were losing our minds over small swooshes on Air Max 1s and obsessing over 1985 basketball designs, Nike’s performance divisions got really really strange post-2000, building on the madness of the Alpha Project initiative.

As a result, some truly bizarre Air Max models that have never been seen since their debuts made brief appearances that have never been looked at with any real fondness. Much of it is ugly-looking on first glance, but these these things look like concept models rather than anything even mildly commercial. As far as I’m concerned, that’s something admirable. In an era of “WTF LOL” social media feedback and Emojis weeping with laughter, there’s a conservatism at work and if a shoe does’t sell out within six minutes, it’s a flop. The odds are against freakish footwear unless it has a high-end co-sign.

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2002 was a strange year for shoes. Nobody talks about Tube Air any more. They pretend it never even happened, but it was at the heart of one of 2001’s Air Max and the Air Max 2002. It’s like the eccentric uncle that nobody wants at the family gathering because he’s going to get slaughtered and start morris dancing or playing a ukulele. While 2001’s main instalment in the series is considered to be a strange deconstructed oddity with only half the lacing that was just one of two flagships that year — an agreeably ambitious Air Max with Tube Air at the rear and a more conventional forefoot Visible Air unit, plus horizontal and vertical embossed on the upper, (the MAX on the toe was a bad move) that superseded it later that year can be considered an Air Max 2001 too. That model was accompanied by other weird models like the Air Max Tremble which was officially part of the Presto range. The Air Max 2002 expanded the Tube Air to minimise the standard forefoot visibility and had a mono-fit tongue/collar combo — barely anyone talks about it, at all. You might recall fleeting glimpses on the unpleasant C-Phaze and not-so-bad P-Phaze basketball designs around the same time.airmax2002

Even stranger was the Air Max Dolce — at the start of 2002, this was the flagship Air Max of the moment and it was a laceless creation that looked like performance Hush Puppies with its tech-loafer look. Ambitious and peculiar, it’s odd, but managed to spawn the Air Max Dolce Light the following year that looked a little less troubling. In fact, the loafer concept was on several models of the era — the zip-up Fantaposite Max, Air Trainerposite Max (to a lesser extent), Air Max Specter and Air Max Amplify.

While for many, the 1998 Air Max Plus aka TN is one of the finest Air Max models ever (I concur), it’s easy to forget that the Air Max Plus spawned a series. The Air Max Plus 4 was truly unappealing and blocky, but the Air Max Plus 5, that carried a technology that looked like the flop Tube Air but was actually a TN unit is another bold entry that’s hardly attractive, but at least it’s agreeably unconventional compared to its predecessor, with that sock-like Turbulence-esque forefoot. That early 2003 release got plenty of shine when it was 50 Cent’s workout in lab conditions shoe of choice in the In da Club video that ran on every key music video channel almost permanently for a couple of months that year.

I’ve long assumed that Shox became a focal point for cushioning over Air Max in the early 2000s, and when the boing had been brought back to earth, Nike stripped things down and dropped the comparatively dull Air Max 2003 (an air unit from six years prior, really?) and seemed to scrap a modification to that same unit in early samples of the 2004. The 360 jump started things again. I’m not surprised that these curiosities aren’t used in a marketing narrative. Time has been unkind to them and we weren’t too enamoured with them in the first place. They’re tough to shoehorn into a sense of evolution too, but if you strip away the preoccupation with design from the past from this point, these are a perfect time capsule for a time when shoe design seemed to go insane. But we need to unearth these things on the off-chance that a 2025 audience decides that they’re ready for robo slip-ons all over again.

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PRESIDENTIAL

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“That’s shoe business! Bill Clinton wears two kinds of shoes for running: New Balance model 1500 athletic shoes, size 12EE, made in Maine with the words “Mr. President” stitched in them, retailing for about $160; and Asics GT-2 sneakers, which are made in Asia and retail for about $50. He gets both kinds of shoes as gifts from the manufacturers.”
(St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 10th, 1994)

I see you getting excited about celebrities co-signing shoes, but collaborations are played out. Special makeups for world leaders are still powerful though. New Balance handed Obama a personalised M990 last year, but every image I’ve seen of him exercising has him down as a Nike and ASICS man. The early 1990s was something different though and images of Clinton jogging from his time in office — including his short-short outings with Al Gore (who seems to favour the M997) — are an NB and ASICS affair and the M1500s crop up a few time, even though the Mr. President lettering isn’t visible. New Balance’s golden era performance tech was a good choice though. What’s even more intriguing is the SMU of the Nike Air Max 90 made for George H.W. Bush. Images of these from the Department of Nike Archives have drifted around for a while (the image above has cropped up periodically on message boards for a while and it would be nice to be able to credit the originator), with their own AIR PRES branding and a colourway which I believe was exclusive to the big man. Post Gulf War, Bush Sr. took regular runs in his own variant of this Nike classic and there’s plenty of images of him wearing it (I’m certain that I saw an Air Max BW in a similar makeup at some point too) in 1992 for election era photo opportunities. The elder bush broke out some Reebok before that. Back before his presidency, George W. Bush had been seen in Nike Air Challenge Pro Lows in his younger days, but a charity auction had him donating a pair of Mizunos. So what have we learned? Expensive New Balance was for Democrats and one-of-one Nike Air Max became the Republican pick, and American Presidents have better taste in footwear than rappers do.

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Here’s a quick digression:

The problem with some of the most interesting contemporary movements has been that everybody assumed they’d never end and that somebody else was doing the documentation. In great movements everybody is living for the moment and there’s a glorious lack of nostalgia. As the years pass, we’re all liable to develop a nasty case of retrospect and with the magazines of the time collapsing, late 1990s and early 2000s scenes are left to live on conversationally and become myths. That descent into apocryphal storytelling is no bad thing — bearing in mind that a lot of crazes sound better than they look — but in the case of UK garage’s few glorious years, it was one of the few truly visual moments in youth culture on these shores. From crispy clothing to prison lacing, as champagne hedonism mutated into tracksuits and street DVDs, a fascinating aesthetic was present throughout. Salutes to Ewen Spencer for capturing that scene in style in both 2005’s Open Mic and the forthcoming Brandy & Coke book (covering the glossier years preceding Open Mic). This Vice interview with Ewen is excellent. Having attempted to source images from these eras recently, I can testify that images don’t come easily, because they pre-empt the cheap digital device and phone camera eras. After that, we’ve got too much information. One day, people will pay a lot for books like Open Mic (which is already out of print), so appreciate them while they’re around.

THE OTHER RALPH

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The closest I could come to anything relevant to this time of the year is these Ralph Steadman illustrations for Nike from 1982, 1984 and 1991. One features a rabbit (actually, maybe it’s a hare, but that’s still relevant to March), so it felt right. Was Nike UK’s decision to use his art to promote their involvement in the London Marathon back in the early 1980s one of the earliest uses of an artist like that on a campaign? I always thought that the 1991 Nike 180 commercials with Industrial Light & Magic, Guido Manuli, David Cronenberg, Caleb Deschanel and other equally offbeat partner picks, plus Ralph on the print ads (as well as French satirist and cartoonist André François, plus graphic design dons like Alfons Holtgreve, Charles S. Anderson and Takenobu Igarashi) were the first time Nike had gone wild with it like that, but it transpires that British running magazines were riddled with unorthodox ads that fitted the irreverent tone of the time for the brand.

The man responsible for Gonzo’s aesthetic evidently liked drawing Nikes a great deal, because, while I’d like to put my frequent Nike fixation down to hip-hop or sports, it’s actually down to the aura of the swoosh back when I was becoming aware of what was on my feet and the shoes on the cover of Ralph Steadman’s 1986 children’s book, That’s My Dad, which I spotted in the school library and lost my mind over. Back when trainers were misrepresented in comics and books, Ralph went in — there were closer looks at dad’s shoes inside as well. Presumably, the recent Nike commissions meant the artist/writer felt comfortable drawing their shoes when the time came to draw trainers. I think this book (which was aimed at an audience half my age back when I first spotted it) might be one of the key reasons I talk about nonsense like this now — 27 years later.

Steadman’s ability to wallow in the mainstream as well as the murkier subcultural waters during his career is always something worth celebrating, but his contribution to fueling my sports footwear preoccupation is something I hadn’t thought about properly until a recent flashback. I mean, Quentin Blake was another personal favourite of the time, but he wasn’t arming his paternal depictions with strong shoes like Ralph was.

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Cheers to Exposure, Protein and Nike for letting me write a foreword for the Air Max Reinvented publication to coincide with the weekend’s exhibition of Max reinterpretations. I particularly liked the inclusion of the Dave Swindells triptych of a tripping man in Infrared Air Max 90s who’s on one at RAGE at Heaven in its proto-jungle 1990 heyday. Here’s two of the three shots they selected. That’s a strong tracksuit going on there in the background. Dave’s website has a great selection of his work, which is as essential as a document of British style as it is as history of club culture. I think this shot from Soul II Soul at Brixton’s Fridge in 1989, with Air Max Lights, Torsions and Coca-Cola clothing is equally tough too. This is the part of Nike Air Max history that hasn’t been fully explored for the current campaign. Maybe it will be in months to come.

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Taken from Dave Swindells’ site.

Reading Nicky Haslam’s Redeeming Features, which namedrops like nothing I’ve ever read before, I noticed that, in his digression regarding the Countess of Kenmare, he trumps the niche nature of the Hermès apple holder, with talk of the Countess’ bespoke Louis Vuitton creations: “…giraffe-shaped cases in which to transport her baby giraffes, regardless of quarantine, to London for her seasonal sojourn at Claridge’s.” Please bear that one on mind next time you feel the urge to write #swag after a picture of your Goyard card holder.

All praises to Tokyo’s Oshman’s store for their work with Champion. It’s undisputedly odd to find yourself begging friends who are Japan-bound to pick up some replicas of American college team tees for you while you’re there, but the new collection of the almost sweatshirt weight thick cotton of the American-made T1011 tee with the binding process that makes it less prone to stretch (though, as a word of warning, they fit pretty boxy) with an official UCLA print, plus AFA and United States Naval Academy editions look great. They’re exclusive to Oshman’s by the look of things and there’s no bad egg in the whole bunch. Converting to around £33, they seem affordable, until you consider the £20+ shipping, £20 import tax and Parcelforce’s £10+ processing fee — the murderers of many a bargain. These arrive at Oshman’s in April and if anyone’s heading there and back with suitcase space, all assistance is appreciated. Theoretically, at this time of year, heavyweight fabrics shouldn’t be too much of a consideration, but because spring has forsaken us, I’m taking no precautions.

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