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The Air in there – Nike changed the world one step at a time
In what feels like a perfect fit, the man who invented Air lives on forever on the fields of play.
Not air, but Air, the cushioning system with which Frank Rudy approached a young but growing shoe company in 1977. After the Nike co-founder Phil Knight took Rudy’s invention on a test run, he was intrigued enough to incorporate it into Nike’s lineup of athletic shoes.
Let’s just say it developed a following. Enough so that Rudy’s alma mater, Case Western University in Cleveland, wears a patch on its athletic uniforms commemorating the inventor of such a seemingly simple yet profoundly game-changing innovation.
The future was in the Air
The polyurethane bag that encapsulated a lightweight gas began its career hidden away in the midsole of the Nike Air Tailwind in the 1978 Honolulu Marathon.
So fascinating was the development, that the University of Tennessee put 10 runners in Tailwind on a treadmill and discovered that they expended less energy than those in other shoes. Science had validated Air.
Nike’s Air-Sole units because so popular, the brand branched out from the roads to the basketball courts, debuting Air cushioning in the 1982 Air Force 1.
But Nike’s boldest stroke came with its Air Revolution in 1987. That’s when it tore open the curtains with the Nike Air Max running shoe by cutting out a piece of the midsole to let us see what had been hidden away for so long.
That tiny window into the Air down there would indeed be revolutionary, touched off by a memorable ad campaign, and followed by bold, colourful variations on that original theme.
The evolution of the revolution
That original Air Max hit the ground running for Nike, so much so that subsequent designs followed that would become equally legendary and beloved.
The Air Max 90 features a chunky outsole that was simply necessary at the time but is an on-trend look today. Its layers of materials on the upper offer a depth to this classic silhouette.
The Air Max 95 is comprised of smooth, flowing lines that draw inspiration from the human spine for a beautiful look and ride.
Speed was central to the concept of the Air Max 97, which designer Christian Tresser modeled after a Japanese bullet train. The upper looks like a blur, which every runner would strive for when lacing them up.
Modern variations include the Air Max 270, a lifestyle-oriented offering that draws from the Air Max 180 and the Air Max 93.
And the Nike Air VaporMax literally took things up a notch. It drew on Nike’s running heritage and Air cushioning to pump up the biggest Air-Sole in brand history and run it the full length of the shoe. Articulate this sole system to allow for more natural movement and remove the midsole to put your foot in more direct contact with it, and you have a memorable shoe that will turn heads for years to come.
Not just for shoes anymore
Nike Air has proven so popular over the years that it’s migrated from shoes to other footwear such as boots and even slides.
And the Nike AIR wordmark can be found virtually everywhere, from long- and short-sleeve T-shirts to hoodies, jogger pants, backpacks, and more. Nike has made it easy to complement your nod to Nike Air history, no matter where you roam.
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