Originally released in 1987, the Air Max 1 (also known as the Air Max ’87) is a lot like The Beatles or Miles Davis of running footwear. The Air Max 1 changed the way athletic shoes were designed aesthetically and technically, in the bold and subversive Nike way. Exceeding the athletic needs of the late ’80s, the AM1 went on to gain a cult following during the ’90s amongst shoe collectors and hoarders around the world, especially in Europe. That obsession gained popularity and momentum, spreading across nations without ever stopping.
So we find ourselves here in 2014, just over 25 years later from the original release and the Air Max 1 still stands as one of the most revered models from Nike’s extensive and innovative archives. It has garnered more attention over the last couple of years and is now one of the most ubiquitous designs on the market. Although it is just a shoe, a lot to people hold the AM1 close to their hearts and it has become the gateway shoe into this weird and wonderful world called “sneaker collecting”, or “trainer collecting”, for a lot of people. The AM1 seems to be subject to a more commercial appeal right now, with the once bystanders who were confused as to why you were wearing such athletic shoes for fashion purposes now becoming loyal consumers of every release. Hopefully this list will act somewhat as a reminder of just how great the releases really were a few years ago – and the list doesn’t even cover half of the great releases.
To coincide with today’s Air Max Day celebrations of this classic, we thought it would be a good excuse to get this top 10 list of some favourite AM1 colourways done. The mind blowing back catalogue of this special design is extensive, and we appreciate it all – old and new. This list is one example of how personal the Air Max 1 can be. We hope you enjoy it, and be sure to put your personal top 10s in the comment section below.
10. Nike Air Max 1 “Pinstripe” (2009)
Released back in 2009 as part of a varied Quickstrike release, which included a Footscape and Air Trainer II, this elegant make-up offers a generous helping of pinstriped materials in sky blue throughout the upper. The simplicity of the shoe is something to behold and you probably won’t see many of these around until the sun decides to make an appearance, being one of the most appropriate Summer Air Max 1’s ever. The vintage Nike branding on the heel is a nice alternative touch alongside the classic branding on the tongue. That gum outsole really doesn’t hurt either. The Air Max 1 “Pinstripe” is a serious Summer neck breaker.
9. Patta x Nike Air Max 1 “Lucky Green” TZ (2010)
Throughout the early 2000s the Air Max 1 slowly became a collaboration favourite. Amsterdam spot Patta were a regular collaboration partner with Nike and in 2009 we saw them complete a four-way shoe release that sent collectors footwear richter scales to another level. This subtle Tier Zero release, named “Lucky Green”, didn’t use colour for impact but rather focused on materials. Constructed of heavy duty woven canvas and ballistic nylon, this shoe really epitomised the idea of high quality running footwear and was a gem amongst the arguable quality of reissues, which was becoming more evident on standard releases. With minimal branding and green accents, this collaboration resulted in a subtle but ingenious make-up that showed you didn’t have to get maniacal with neon colours to get attention.
8. Nike Air Max 1 B “Curry” (2003)
Releasing exclusively in the US back in 2003, the “Curry” quickly became a cult favourite. The deep curry and wheat colour combo gave this release more of a formal edge that boded well for those favouring more of a toned down feel to their footwear. As with a lot of the earlier AM1 releases, the premium material choice is really brought out by the simplicity and power of this colourway. The suede, nubuck and mesh is so sweet, with those hits of white contrasting the “curry” colour combo all combining to hit the bullseye. Check that shape out too.
7. Atmos x Nike Air Max 1 “Elephant” (2007)
We enter the collaboration realm again and this time all eyes are on Atmos’ outstanding collaboration from 2007. This was an instant classic, mainly because of the use of the elephant print applied to an Air Max 1, but also because it’s just such a damn good colourway. Once again the material choice is premium, with suede and leather being utilised throughout the upper. The elephant print makes this shoe so recognisable, but it’s the black panelling that paves way for that bright aqua green to penetrate any field of vision, which really gives this shoe its charm. Say no more; if you see these you’ll know about it.
6. Ben Drury x Nike Air Max 1 “Hold Tight” (2006)
This list probably feels like it’s turning in to a top ten Air Max 1 collaborations list. That’s definitely a list of it’s own but the amount of collaborations in this one is testament to just how good they used to be, and how important they were for Nike and getting their innovative shoe design to another level of popularity. It’s also in recognition of the many artists and collaborators who have, and still are, contributing their unique skills and visions on to the canvas of the AM1. British artist & designer Ben Drury is a fine example of a collaborator applying a personal vision to the AM1 design. Celebrating 15 years of Nike Air (not Air Max), the design of this fan favourite is inspired by something very characteristic of London and UK underground music culture. Once you understand that the inspiration comes from London’s pirate radio culture, the shoe just makes so much sense. From the radio transmission waves to the “Hold Tight” title name, that 3M highlight with the dominant black and grey leather upper, it all just makes for a seriously tough Air Max 1 that embodies a specific and meaningful part of London and British counterculture.
5. Parra x Nike Air Max 1 “Amsterdam” (2005)
Designed by dutch artist Parra, this 2005 Tier Zero project bears a slight resemblance to the super hyped-up 2009 three-way collaboration between Parra, Patta and Nike. This was Parra’s first creative effort with the AM1 and is one of the most coveted Air Max 1’s ever, and it’s not hard to see why. The rich burgundy, pink and turquoise colour combination doesn’t sound too appealing on paper but when executed like this it makes for one of the most intense and beautiful colourways ever. The name “Amsterdam” takes after Parra’s place of residence, with ‘Amsterdam’ logos found on the tongue and heel and the insoles printed with Parra’s vibrant artwork. The materials are impressive and accent the overlaid panels of the Air Max 1 in a unique way.
4. Nike Air Max 1 B “Storm” (2002)
Part of the “Storm” pack from 2002, which included an equally as tough Air Burst, this Air Max 1 “Storm” really provided a much needed Winter alternative to the more elegant AM1 make-ups. Tough materials, dark colour tones, hits of ‘Tennessee orange” and that blacked-out midsole with speckled details allowed for this shoe to be worn in more demanding weather conditions without any worry, hence it’s popularity in the UK. Although a general release, the Storm’s are held high in prestige amongst many other heavyweight releases. It’s a pretty straight forward colourway, but one that oozes charm and an emphasis on quality.
3. Nike Air Max 1 Original Mesh “USA” (2002)
Another early 2000 gem. You might recognise this original colourway as it has been reissued recently, however this 2002 classic has the addition of another patriotic element which sets it apart from your standard retro. The replacement of the Nike branding on the tongue and heel with the American flag is fitting and really adds to, rather than take away from, the OG look and feel of this colourway. The nubuck application on the upper coupled with the ‘original mesh’ on the toe box is a sure fire winner. You won’t go wrong with most OG colourways in the Air Max 1, but this slight variant holds it’s own as one of the best Air Max 1’s ever.
2. Atmos x Nike Air Max 1 B “Viotech” (2003)
Arguably the best Air Max 1 collaboration ever, this 2003 cult classic is the real deal. The design looks like something out of Nike’s ACG division, with earth coloured tones accented by the “Viotech” Swoosh and some white to balance out the aesthetic. The gold embroidered mini swoosh on the toe box, heel and tongue adds a touch of vibrancy to the robust full leather and suede upper. There were two releases of these, with the 1 year anniversary edition featuring a special edition box. Both are very rare and hard to get hold of. The pleasure in seeing these is that they don’t grab your attention with flashy colours, rather with a tasteful palette of tones executed perfectly.
1. Nike Air Max 1 OG Sport Red & Blue (1987)
It’s the obvious choice, but these two get joint first place and for good reason. This design helped alter the perception of how running footwear looked and still to this day looks just as good as ever, when worn properly. The last really satisfying retro was the HOA’s and since then we’ve seen the Air Max 1 OG in sport red widely available, which is a great thing mostly. There’s no sign of the releases letting up anytime soon and sometimes it’s easy to forgot exactly why you loved the colourway in the first place. Like anything else, your senses can get numbed from seeing something regularly, but there’s always a way of seeing the beauty in these two colourways.