Jazz Bonifacio is definitely no fly-by-night sneakerhead. Part of our Sneaker Freaker family and an active member on the SF forums since the early years, Jazz transitioned from a hardcore collector to designing sneakers himself as he became a part of the design team of various footwear companies before earning a key role at Nike locally. Crediting his first glimpse of ‘Infrared’ in 4th grade as the catalyst for his sneaker obsession, it’s no surprise that Jazz amassed an impressive number of Air Max 90s amongst his Air Max stash. As part of our Air Max coverage as we get closer to this year’s Air Max Day, we spent some time with the Master of Air to break down why the Air Max 90 has become the icon that it is today...
In your opinion, what is it about the design of the Air Max 90 that has cemented itself as an icon?
I guess you can say the 90 is the quintessential Air Max. Ask any casual sneakerhead or even a non-sneakerhead “what is a Nike Air Max” and I guarantee you, nine responses out of ten would describe the Air Max 90. They either had the ‘Infrared’ version growing up or know someone who owned a pair.
Even though the AM90 has been released in so many colours, the original ‘Infrared’ colourway will always be the most iconic of the shoe. Why do you think people are still drawn to that colourway after 26 years?
In terms of the design, what makes the 90 iconic is the upper colour itself, I cannot think of a single shoe in the entire footwear industry that is known and recognised for its colour. When a model owns a colour, you know it’s reached legendary status!
The fact that Nike took forever to reissue the shoe helped generate demand for the style. Just like OG Jordan retros these days, when you release a colourway in its exact original specification – colour, shape, material, packaging – it will instantly resonate with fans. The colourway has also been referenced countless times, from sneaker inspired pillows to graffiti spray cans, Infrared has also been applied on the rest of the vintage Nike footwear line-up over the years – it’s just synonymous with Nike and the Air Max range!
The Air Max 90 has become the canvas for endless colourways. With your footwear design background, what is it about the paneling and construction that lends itself so well to so many different colour combinations?
There are a number of overlay and underlay pieces that allow you to mix up the materials. You can either have leather overlays with mesh underlays or solid upper materials such as nubuck or synthetics. Sky’s the limit when it comes to materials and colour combinations. Even with the molded eyelets and heel tabs, they are strategically placed so that they can either be tonal or colour popped to contrast with the upper. '
Lately, hybrid treatments have been applied such as Vac Tech, Hyperfuse, Flywire, Engineered Mesh and Jacquards just to name a few.
What is your favourite part of the shoe and why?
It would have to be the painted PU midsole that accentuates the Air bubble window. What makes the 90 recognisable is that you can spot a pair from a mile away because of the colour pop on the side of the shoe. Another feature that I dig is the one piece overlay panel that extends from the forefoot to the heel counter of the shoe. For me, this feature represents speed and gives the shoe a faster look. The molded TPR (thermoplastic rubber) panels are also a favourite of mine because they’re quite unique and also allows for contrast upper pops – as you can probably tell I just love every part of the shoe!
What are your earliest memories of the Air Max 90?
My dad was an avid runner that participated in marathons and he always had fresh kicks from different brands. I remembered back in ‘87, he owned the original Air Max 87 in ‘White/Sport Red’ and I fell in love with the style instantly. When I got older, I was able to inherit his beaten up pair and after years of sole swapping to keep that pair alive – I still have the original upper and it is probably one of my most prized possessions.
My personal story with the Air Max 90 began in 1990 when a kid in my 4th grade class named Mark owned a pair of the Infrareds. Back then it was called the Air Max 3 and the colour was more Flouro orange red than the dulled down version you see in today’s retros. He was the only kid in school who owned a pair and basically you know he was around because his Air bubbles were glowing! I couldn’t afford them at the time so I only found myself daydreaming about them back then.
Fast track to 2002, and for the first time in the History of Air, the Infrareds were finally reissued and I find myself dropping three hundred big ones at the original Prime store on Collins Street in Melbourne. You can imagine my emotions when I finally laced up a pair of these bad boys, it felt like part of my childhood was finally complete! Being the Air Max 90 junkie that I am, I found myself trying to cop every drop from GRs to Quickstrikes ever since!
I don’t have the world’s greatest collection of 90s but my love and appreciation for the style is probably what pushed me to pursue a career in footwear design.
Aside from the performance roots of the shoe, sneaker culture embraced the AM90 after it was superseded. Why do you think the Air Max 90 has become so iconic in sneaker culture?
It took twelve years for Nike to retro the OG Infrareds, when it finally released to the market after years of buildup and hype, everyone wanted a piece of history. From artists to influential sneaker retailers, countless colourways and limited edition collabs were developed. It catapulted the style from a functional runner to a must-have piece of fashion.
How do you think the AM90 sits in terms of Tinker Hatfield’s design legacy and compared to the other models in the range?
The Air Max 90s is quintessentially the Air Max line, the most badass of them all. I reckon it’s definitely up there next to Tinker’s Jordan 11 design as they are both iconic and game-changers. For me personally, when I walked down the street in my Infrared 90s, I feel like I’m breakin’ necks...
Is there a particular colourway/release that stands out as a favourite?
Infrareds! The one that started it all for me. That Air bubble and that Mesh…can’t beat it!
Some of the AM90s in your collection are seriously rare! Do you have any interesting stories to share about hunting down any of these sought after pairs?
Most of the 90s in my collection were acquired from regularly visiting my favourite bricks & mortar stores such as Provider, Dakota and Prime over the years. Back then, you were able to walk into store and pick up any sneaker you want in your size without having to worry about resellers. These days, I find myself hunting down gems on eBay and on various social media channels. My first infrared retro pick-up at Prime would still be my most interesting story just because the price tag at the time was excessively high for a retro. From memory, Australia was one of the very first countries to receive the original retros.
If you had the opportunity to create your very own version, what would be your ultimate Air Max 90 look like?
A few years ago I had the opportunity to create my own Studio IDs in New York City. Because of my love for all things red, I created a one piece patent leather, all Infrared 90s. With the latest Nike technology, I wouldn’t mind creating a one piece Flyknit upper with a lightweight Ultra sole unit.
Lastly, which pair will you be wearing to celebrate Air Max Day this year?
I’ll be at the first event at the Air Max Lab this Saturday in Sydney talking about my collection and showing off a few pairs—but as for Air Max Day, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see