Hybrid Heaven: Nike's Air Max Fusion Revolution
Nike’s Air Max franchise has never been a slave to convention. Since the late 80s, the visible Air department has been flipping the script to disrupt the status quo. While we may take hybrid designs for granted these days, it was the bubble-bolstered line that pioneered the concept. Thanks to that trademark DNA manipulation, Nike designers now look at the Nike archive as a rich bounty waiting to be harvested. Here’s a look back at some of the more memorable hybrid Air Max models.
Air Max 1/90 (1992)
This was the original sole swap that triggered Nike’s obsession with genetic engineering. In 1992, the Swoosh set out to update their premier Air Max model by sticking the much-loved Air Max 1 upper above the new Air Max 90 sole unit. Canny enough to know a good thing when they saw it, small quantities of the hybrid Nike were released. Today these shoes are relatively rare, but they can be found if you know where to hunt. Almost from day one, Tinker Hatfield was wise to the art of cross-pollinating Air Max design cues.
Air Burst (1994)
The Air Burst was the first fusion model to really explore the blending of design elements. Rather than just trading parts, the build was informed by the look of the OG Air Max 1 and the cutting-edge tech of the Air Max 93. The upper was a redesigned version of the former, which utilised a more modern style to fit in with the all-round heel bubble, which was donated by the latter. The shoe’s name really hammered the point home with a healthy dose of sass. In 1987, when the first visible Air unit released, people were scared it would burst. Seven years later, the Swoosh wrapped the whole heel without a worry in the world.
One Time Only (2006)
The release of Nike’s Air Max 360 was a huge milestone for visible gas. This was the first ever shoe to have a completely foamless, entirely Air-supported sole for maxed-out cushioning from heel to toe. The brand didn’t hold back flexing their revolutionary new tech to the masses, and sparked one of the biggest collections of hybrids the world has ever seen.
Paying tribute to the previous 20 years of innovation, Nike designers Richard Clarke and Jesse Leyva proposed the ‘One Time Only’ pack, a selection of classic Air Max designs with retrofitted Max 360 soles. OG colourways hit the spot, while the ‘Clerk’ pack revisited some older collaborative schemes and a ‘Deluxe’ set came with high-quality cowhide.
Just as promised, none of them have been rereleased since.
10 Year Anniversary of the Air Max Plus (2008)
In 2008, Foot Locker celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their flagship Air Max model in spectacular fashion. The Tuned X and its multicoloured ‘Olympics’ colourway was the key variant that most sneakerheads remember, but two TN fusions that were also Foot Locker exclusives shouldn’t be overlooked.
Following the rest of the family’s lead, the Air Max Plus took on the 360 sole, creating a TN that was somehow even more aggressive than the original. The year also marked the first time the TN upper was paired with the Air Max 97’s sole – a style Nike has revisited for the 2018 range.
Air Max 24/7 (2010)
All day, every day – the 24/7 is a true triple treat, a walloping scoop of Neapolitan Nike. The long ingredient list features three of the Air Max line’s most predominant figures – the 95, 97 and 360. Working down from the top, the layered structure of the design divides the shoe into segments. The 95 donated its mesh and webbing lacing system, then comes the 97’s wavy lines and Swoosh panel, before we land on hard on a 360 sole.
The resulting shoe had a surprisingly modern feel thanks to the seamless way in which the pieces were fitted together – just what a hybrid should be!
Air Max 95+ BB (2012)
Air Max 95+ BB ‘Olympics’ was all about flexing the latest production nous. Nike’s high-frequency welding technology, known as Hyperfuse, was introduced in a lifestyle context in 2011, a year after it debuted on the b-ball court. But it wasn’t until the Swoosh dropped this multicolour masterpiece that the tech’s true beauty was revealed. The overlapping, semi-translucent panels not only looked crazy, but they created a lightweight, durable upper that was worlds apart from the classic cut and sew construction. The addition of a cageless 360 sole produced the most high-tech Air Max 95 hybrid to date.
Air Max Jewell (2017)
Prior to the release of Nike’s Air Max Jewell, there had only been one Air Max model made exclusively for women – the Thea. Considering Thea’s overwhelming popularity, releasing a second Air Max for sneaker-loving ladies was a no-brainer. Looking for inspiration, the team went rogue, opting for the sleek and speedy style of the Air Max Plus infused with a modern, feminine feel. To hammer the point home, Nike dipped the new shoe in their iconic ‘Silver Bullet’ colourway – kindly donated by the Air Max 97 – and Roberta’s your auntie, a new women’s Air Max was born.
Air Max Plus / 97 (2017)
As the 20th anniversary of the Air Max 97 came to a close, the gracious retro runner handed over the spotlight in style. The ageing design took part in a sole-swapping ceremony with the Air Max Plus – which celebrates its twentieth birthday this year – resulting in an Air Max 97 / Plus, as well as the first Air Max Plus / 97. Since the switch worked so seamlessly, the initial black pack has been followed up by some pastel pretties, and we expect to see plenty more before the year is through.
Air VaporMax 97 (2018)
Towards the end of 2017, leaked photos of the Air VaporMax 97 surfaced and offered a glimpse of the first hybrid to feature a retro Air Max upper on a VaporMax sole. As the two runaway Air Max successes of 2017, it made perfect sense for Nike to hybridise the two. Since then, we’ve seen a handful of iconic 97 colourways appear on the VaporMax 97 and it seems pretty clear there’s more to come.
Air VaporMax Plus (2018)
Nike’s Air VaporMax was the star of 2017’s Air Max Day. Thirty years after the original visible Air unit hit shelves, Nike finally achieved their goal of producing a nothing-but-bubble sole unit. Naturally, a thing like this is too good not to share, so once the original releases had made their mark, the Swoosh set phasers to hybrid. With 2018 marking the Air Max Plus’ twentieth anniversary, the design is the obvious candidate for a modern makeover. Look a little deeper and a link between the Air VaporMax and the Air Max Plus becomes clear as both made huge impacts on innovation. The new hybrid illustrates the perfect blend of heritage style and modern tech and will undoubtedly reach icon status itself one day.
Air Max 1/97 ‘Sean Wotherspoon’ (2018)
For Air Max Day 2017, Nike tapped a group of sneakerhead creatives – dubbed the RevolutionAirs – to create an homage to the Air Max legacy. The ‘Vote Forward’ campaign invited the public to vote on their favourite RevolutionAirs design, with the winning shoe reserved a spot in 2018’s Air Max Day lineup. In the end, it was Sean Wotherspoon’s AM97/AM1 hybrid design – inspired by Nike’s corduroy hats from the 80s – that stole Airhead hearts. The unique release signalled the first time Nike had allowed the public to decide on the future of an Air Max release.
Air Max 270 (2018)
The Air Max line has always been about staying at the cutting edge of athletic performance – until now! By combining elements of two popular heritage styles, the 93 and 180, and tinkering with a bit of colossal Air-bag tech, Nike delivered a shoe with the heart of a pavement pounder, but the soul of a cement stroller. The Air Max 270’s big bubble butt has been designed specifically to meet the demands of a lifestyle sneaker – making it the first of its kind. The design boasts the tallest ever Air unit, positioned at the rear on an ideal angle for all-day comfort. It’s hard to believe that two shoes from the early 90s could produce such modernity, but that’s the elemental beauty of fusion.
After decades of design dissection – each time re-imagining the essence of Air to create one innovation after another – Nike’s desire to dream has given us a new breed of footwear. The Air Max 270 fuses iconic styles of the past to distil a revolution in visible air, maxing out with the biggest bubble to date. Built specifically for all-day comfort, styled for a fashion forward consumer, rest assured that this is the beginning of a new generation of Air!
Illustrations by James Rogers.