It’s been five years since Nike’s first Air Max Day in 2014. If that news doesn’t make you feel old, it’s probably because you’re not — which is perfect for the purposes of this article, because you might learn something.
Back in the day, before Apple Watches and platinum Travis Scott albums, Beaverton dreamt up a novel concept: a day dedicated to their most-famous line. Early celebrations were pint-sized by current standards. No sneakers were sent into space, no documentaries were filmed, no VaporMaxes were plastered over Centre Pompidou, and nothing was ‘voted forward’.
So, how did we get from 2014’s humble beginnings to today’s titanic celebrations? Good question. Let’s take it one Air Max Day at a time.
Air Max Day 2014
The inaugural Air Max Day festivities started on March 26, 2014, exactly 27 years after the first Air Max 1 hit the pavement in 1987. To take everyone back, Nike re-released the shoe that started it all… kind of.
The Air Max 1 released in 2014 would have been a true, one-to-one recreation to its forefather if it weren’t for a searing ‘Volt’ sole and ‘3.26’ printed on the tongue. Reviews were mixed, but everyone could agree it outshined the OG in the packaging department. Instead of a box, Nike delivered some shoes in huge Air bubble packaging, as Jacques Slade documented in an early video.
Beyond the product, Nike held events in key cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Shanghai, with the latter hosting a huge commemorative sneaker box. As a small win to their marketing department, the new holiday gave Nike their then most-liked Instagram post.
Air Max Day 2015
To rewind further than the OG Air Max 1, Nike took it back to the drawing board. Billed as ‘The one before the 1’, 2015’s Air Max Zero breathed life into an ancient Tinker Hatfield sketch.
Nike also upped the ante with events. Along with ‘Masters of Max’ and ‘Air Max Archive’ segments, they ran an ‘Air Overview’ series that highlighted Air-heads across the globe. Activations hit big cities again, but non-cosmopolitan locations also joined in. Out in Prague? Go watch the parkour. Based in Johannesburg? Go listen to some local heroes speak, and grab new Air Maxes at the same time.
Air Max Day 2016
Instead of letting one release gobble up the glory, 2016’s Air Max Day saw Nike branch out with three new HTM drops. Started in 2002 with an Air Force 1 that catered to Japan’s ‘connoisseur culture’, HTM unites Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker for special releases. In 2016, the troika delivered one Air Max each: Fujiwara making the Air Max LD Zero H, Hatfield the Air Max 90 Ultra Superfly T, and Parker the Air Max Ultra M.
With Air Max Day now fully fledged, Nike went all-in on extracurricular activities. The first Air Max Con entertained sneaker nerds in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and New York, while the Masters of Air documentary probed nine Nike collectors — some with upwards of 40,000 pairs — on their motives.
Air Max Day 2017
While March 26 had meant big things before, 2017 was extra special. Everyone knows how much Nike loves an anniversary, and with this Air Max Day marking 30 years of visible Air, Beaverton weren’t going to let it go by without a song and dance.
As three releases was now a puny effort, they lifted 2017’s collection count to seven. Old favourites returned, and classic colourways were merged, but the drawcard was the Air VaporMax. Arguably the first Air tech progress in years, the sneaker brought full-length Air into the equation, changing everything for the line. Cleverly, Nike buoyed hype with a CDG colab that released and sold out months before.
While some die-hards sent the VaporMax into space, Nike’s own stunts included projecting the model on the Centre Pompidou (the building that inspired visible Air), snatching up every billboard in Times Square, and a block party with Travis Scott. This was also the year Nike’s ‘Vote Forward’ competition was won by a guy called Sean Wotherspoon.
Air Max Day 2018
Wotherspoon’s Air Max 1/97 was always billed for Air Max Day 2018, but Nike couldn’t wait that long. By the time March 26 rolled around, the corduroy clad hybrid felt as familiar as the Air Max 180 and Air Max 93 that returned with it. However, that didn’t stop it from owning the day — even with Nike introducing the Air Max 270 and VaporMax Flyknit 2.0.
With the success of the Wotherspoons, Nike’s 2018 focus was on collaborative tinkering. ‘Nike: On Air’ brought people from around the world to a design workshop, with one of them getting the chance to see their design in stores. ACG alumni Errolson Hugh spread crazy patterns over VaporMaxes and enlisted John Mayer for a teaser video. HQ Trivia (remember them?) released 100 AM270s, and Nike even enlisted young athletes to create an ‘Imaginairs’ collection of Air Max Zeros.
For every grand soiree ran by Beaverton, there was an equally enthusiastic event ran by local communities. Everywhere from Melbourne to Madrid, people came together to get down and geek out on design, underscoring a phenomenon that’s grown so big Nike couldn’t stop it. Even if they wanted to.