THE ANATOMY OF AIR – NIKE AIR MAX 95 gives us an insight into the history of the iconic silhouette which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.
There’s no denying that when it first released, the NIKE AIR MAX 95 was a performance running paradigm shifter, with its distinctive pop of neon yellow giving off a rare air of confidence… almost as though it knew about its soon-to-come acclaim. It looked like nothing else on the shop shelves, which meant it demanded attention, but also meant that its conception wasn’t an entirely smooth one.
Similar to the Air Max 1, the design by Sergio Lozano met its fair share of resistance. In the words of the man himself, “The first concept review for the Air Max 95 wasn’t a success across the board, some people thought it was good and others didn’t like it at all.” Fortunately for fans around the world, Lozano, with the help of a supportive team, followed through on his vision and created a trainer with a legacy worthy of the AIR MAX name, as the designer humbly states, “There were some great champions who stood behind the idea and without them the shoe wouldn’t have been made.”
In the ’90s, the basketball market was coming into its stride and the NIKE running team knew they would have to work hard to keep up and try to recapture the energy that surrounded the category through the ’70s and ’80s – and that’s where the AIR MAX 95 project comes in. The design had to be bold and it had to be provocative, as Lozano puts it, “The running team wanted to mix things up a bit, they wanted to take a risk. I guess I was that risk.”
Up until 1994, Lozano hadn’t worked on a running project: his main focus had been tennis, training and ACG. Compared to today, the design team was much smaller – working on a wide range of products was nothing unusual, so his move over to running was no big surprise. Well before he ever joined the AIR MAX project, Lozano had found inspiration on a rainy afternoon in Beaverton. “I was looking across the lake out into the trees and I began picturing the process of rain eroding the earth and thought it would be interesting if the perfect product was unearthed by erosion.” He drew a quick sketch, which featured striations similar to those seen on the walls of the Grand Canyon, and stashed it away in a drawer.
The sketch remained untouched until the initial brainstorming sessions for the new AIR MAX left Lozano feeling uninspired. Cue the ‘lightbulb’ moment! Knowing that the new design would need to push boundaries, Lozano pulled that sketch out of the drawer. With the sketch as a blueprint, the team set out to introduce forefoot visible air, focusing on the idea of the ultimate in air-powered cushioning for the runner wanting increased protection.
Despite the initial progress, there was one thought that was still eating away at Lozano. “I remembered something Tinker Hatfield used to always bring up while working on other projects, he would say ‘Okay, so that’s a great design, but what’s your story?'” The answer was found in some anatomy books housed in the NIKE design library. Lozano was attracted to the correlation between the construction of the human body and the essentials of product design: “All I had to do was pick the links that made the most sense.”
The AIR MAX 95’s greatest strength – its individuality – was also its greatest weakness; with an aesthetic so different to what had come before it, it caused some people to query its potential. “There were some lovers and haters. But you know you’re onto something when you get that kind of emotional reaction.” At first, the design didn’t include a swoosh at all, which alongside two other firsts – visible air in the forefoot and a black midsole – meant there was some concern.
When asked about the ‘barely-there’ Swoosh, Lozano has this to say: “We figured Nike was pretty recognisable as a brand and that the design could stand on its own. Why did we need it? We already had visible air and we were debuting forefoot visible air on top of that.” There was also the question of where to put it; the shoe’s design didn’t allow for it to be put in the traditional location, without disrupting its defining characteristics. In the end, a smaller Swoosh was placed on the back quarter – “we applied the swoosh to act as punctuation.”
With the design finalised, it was time to decide on the launch colourway. Originally, Lozano wanted to make the colourway as functional as the shoe itself: “in Oregon people run when it rains, they run on trails, and after the first five miles their shoes look beat and I wanted to disguise that a bit.”…”I was told that grey didn’t sell and took that as a challenge.” Black and dark grey were used at the base of the shoe where dirt was most likely to accumulate, and transitioned to lighter grey further up the shoe’s profile. The now iconic shade of neon yellow was chosen as a nod to the brand’s defining racing kit, which continues to feature an array of highly visible colours to this day.
Lozano and the team’s perseverance paid off as the shoe soon became synonymous with music movements from London to New York and beyond, whose brash sounds paralleled the shoe’s unapologetic aesthetic. Youth culture really got behind the AIR MAX 95 and helped the AIR MAX range to become a style staple, which continues to the present day.
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