1987 Nike Sneaker Flashback

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1987 was one hell of a year… Ronnie Reagan ruled the roost, Hawkie was in the lodge and greed was good! Fashions were fluoro, Homer hit the small screen and kids were Dirty Dancing in the aisles, just as MJ ‘fessed up to being Bad! Global stockmarket meltdown aside, it was a good year – but for all us sneaker heads – 1987 was perhaps the most innovative year in sneaker history to date.

Reebok had just smashed the fitness-craze, but thanks to a young designer named Tinker Hatfield, Nike modified an existing innovation of their new AIR technology.  Hatfield had the nous to make the Air bubble visible via the rubber panels embedded in the chunky heel of the debut Air Max. ‘NIKE AIR’ would rapidly transform the company into a blue chip powerhouse, creating a muscular franchise that would endure for decades.

But visible AIR wasn’t their only weapon. Nike were pulling out all the stops, leaving no sport un-Swooshed. Ballers were introduced to the Jordan II, (the first without the company trademark writ-large on the upper) just as His Airness was about to catapult basketball into another dimension. Hightops got even higher with the Air Force High, now known to the world as the Air Force II. Delta forced its way onto the runway, while the Court Force set the slim standard for things to come. The running crop was led by the tropical Air Safari, which stood out like the proverbials, while the Air Pegasus hit hard with solid offerings for both the ladies and the gents. Tennis was also a priority with a clutch of new models.

Speaking of the ladies, Nike’s answer to the Freestyle was also released in 1987. The Aerofit never quite managed to woo women totally, but persistence always pays, and Nike’s bold new category known as ‘Cross Training’ would set a rugged template for the next decade, introducing landmark models and a fresh perspective.

1987 was THE year that Nike upped the ante and set itself as the brand to be both revered and feared by the industry. So let’s talk a walk down memory lane as we go back in time to 1987!

Nicknamed the Air Max 1 (or ‘the 87’ by some cats), Tinker Hatfield pulled a radical running shoe out of his hat that not only provided incredible cushioning for long distance hauls, but was as rockable on the street as it was around the track. The ad campaign saw Nike utilise the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ as its anthem and to this day, Air Max remains Nike’s most popular running franchise. Here we see the original colourways in the Nike catalogue… notice any minor changes in shape over the years? Either way, there’s no doubt the first Air Max will forever remain a massive part of Nike’s history, if only for those visible fun bags!


For all those joggers that yearned for something outside the toebox, Nike pushed their buttons with the radical Sock Trainer. The Sock allowed athletes to strap into their kicks without having to worry about tripping over loose laces and the four-way stretch material upper made your feet feel snug as a bug on those mad long-distance treks. An acquired taste, the Sock collection continues to astound with its leftfield design sensibility. Peep also the Air Sock and the Sock Racer for model variations… Bananas!

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With a million variations under the Pegasus banner over the years, it’s nice to go back and peep some of the earliest versions of this low-key bastion of Nike running. With its simple colour blocking, lightweight construction and killer slimline features, the Pegasus gets the job done with a minimum of fuss. Let’s salute ‘87 for giving us a strong line-up of savoury offerings. Tick to the teal yo!

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According to the Chinese Calendar, 1987 was the year of AIR and the Windrunner was just one Nike model to be released both with and without AIR in the sole. A close cousin to the surfin’ Safari, it’s probably best remembered for the raddest colourway in 1987 – black/light grey/yellow – pretty radical stuff nearly 25 years ago. These bad boys are best served stone cold!

1987 marked the first year that the Delta Force received added cushioning in the form of  Nike’s rhyming Airliner sockliner, making it virtually impossible to go A-over-T in the Deltas. Released in a hightop, a 3/4 cut and a lowtop, the Delta also packed a full length Tomilite midsole – damn things almost had more technology than Skylab!

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Standing out like Andre the Giant at a midget picnic, the Air Safari is an anomaly in the Nike running world. Completely leftfield compared to anything of its day, the Safari mashed the wacky wilderness with a Sunkist burnt-orange upper and a print technique that is still an over-used staple to this day. Way too fashion-forward for stuck-up suburban joggers, it was Biz Markie who brought the shoe infamy when it appeared on the flip-side of his ‘Goin Off’’ LP. He said it right… ‘Nobody beats the Biz!’

Cross Trainers were designed to a specific brief calling for a multi-purpose shoe. From the gym to the court and the track, Trainers allowed athletes to ball, run, row, kick and bounce all in the one fresh kit. From low, mid or high, Nike had you and your feet covered. The simple grey and black combo with a hint of green would define the Air Trainer, cementing it as the first strike in one of the most revered Nike sneaker categories of all time. Add a fancy mid-foot strap for utilitarian splendour and this would kick off an inspirational burst of shoe design, the likes of which no one had seen before. But hold your horses, we’ll show you more Trainers in our upcoming Nike features!

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