Air Max Plus Retrospective: The Evolution of Tuned Air

Tn Retrospective 1

Back in the mid-90s, a paradigm shift tilted the athletic footwear industry towards tech-heavy, kinetically enhanced design. Over at Nike, that was evident in shoes such as the Air Max 95, which transitioned the Max franchise into a high-powered visual statement. Three years later, the Air Max Plus — also known on the street as the TN or Tuned 1 — hit the shelves. With spray-faded mesh uppers in striking blue and orange colourways, the TN was no shrinking violet. It didn’t just meekly sit around on the shelf hoping for attention, it was right up in your face from day one.

The trademark Thermoplastic Vinyl Resin (TPVR) exoskeletal mesh upper and sculpted midfoot shanks infused with glitter added glamour, while the heavily detailed sole unit popped eyeballs from beneath. Amalgamated with the shoe’s undeniably aggressive stance, the Tuned Air package ignited a sonic boom vision of the future that rocked melons the world over.

Air Max Plus 1998 Tn Og Sunset
'Orange Tiger'
'Hyper Blue'

A freak of nature, the TN has also nurtured a handy reputation as the premier bad-boy of the Max line-up. In certain precincts the world over, the TN’s good name is tarnished, tagged as a sneaker worn by people who are either up to no good or about to be. How this ‘prestigious’ rep was earned is a culturally intriguing scenario. To put it plain and simple, plain and simple people are intimidated by the TN, whereas the wild and crazy are magnetically drawn to the wild and crazy.

Holding down the crown as one of the most expensive Nike runners at Foot Locker for well over a decade is another accolade that has certainly added cachet to the TN’s street-level hero status.

And yet... there’s an undeniable and insatiable thirst ,for the TN that simply refuses to rust out and fade away.From all-leather make-ups to patterns and prints, themed releases, celebratory issues, fluorescent highlights and reflective metallics, countless renditions have been delivered throughFoot Locker doors over the years. It’s been murdered-out in triple black and cloaked in Casper white, yet it’s indisputable that the original signature colour fades remain king to this day.

Last year was a big deal for the Air Max franchise, with the AM1 receiving belated 25 year anniversary love, but it also happened to mark 15 years in the game for the TN. Nike and Foot Locker took the opportunity to bless fans with on-point retros of the two original schematics. The Orange Tiger was released in April and the Hyper Blue hit shelves in November.

Praise the lord!

Nike Tn Soles
2013 Rerelease
Tn Mag Shot Small
Tn Air Bubble


With an aura that overshadows the design of the shoe itself, not everyone understands the technical definition of Tuned Air. Essentially it’s a blow- moulded air bubble coupled with rubber hemispheres strategically placed in the sole to provide extra support. Adding the ‘hemis’ allowed Nike to take the pressure down and deliver a softer ride without compromising stability.

David Forland, Technical Director of Cushioning Innovation at Nike HQ explains.

‘We were experimenting with what we call ‘hemis’, by adding a mechanical element to work with Nike Air in the sole. Where we need stability in a running shoe – opposite the crash pad – we built in a series of these hemispheres to provide that firmness.

From a revolution perspective, this wasn’t as challenging as some of the other steps we’d made before. We were still using our same blow-moulded Air Sole, so we didn’t have to invent a whole brand new way of making them. We did loads of testing to make sure that it worked. It all happened during an era when we were trying to figure out how we could get out of using the old gas in the air bags. We experimented a lot with these kinds of units, using these mechanical elements to do more of the cushioning, and air to do less of it.’

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Air Tuned X


After the Air Max Plus launched in 1998, Tuned Air continued to evolve as Nike experimented with various upper designs and air bag combinations. Although these subsequent TN models definitely shared a lot of the same design DNA, they ,simply could not compete with the visual histrionics of the original model. The tenth and final installment was a streamlined return to form that celebrated a decade of Tuned Air in 2008. Known as the Air Tuned X, it was released in gold, silver and Olympic rings colourways to commemorate the Beijing Games, along with nods to the OG debut duo in blue, and orange.

For a technological breakdown of Tuned Air, read here.

— Text written by Oliver Georgiou for Sneaker Freaker issue 31

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