Nike Air Max 1 ’86 ‘Big Bubble’ (2023) vs ‘Anniversary’ (2017) Comparison
The Nike Air Max 1 ’86 ‘Big Bubble’ is reportedly set to be the most accurate retro of the famed visible Air shoe yet, but opinions remain mixed. As recently discussed, the incumbent ‘Anniversary’ reissue has set a high benchmark for many discerning sneakerheads as their point of reference for a quality retro. With that in mind, here’s a side-by-side of the incoming 2023 ‘Big Bubble’ (which arrives on Air Max Day at retailers including Up There – check the full list of stockists here) against the 2017 ‘Anniversary’ that bares all observable differences.
Let’s cut to the chase. The enlarged Air unit is the main USP for this new retro: the abridged story is that this is what the AM1’s midsole was supposed to look like during its initial production run, but Nike had to rejig it to make the soles more reliable.
The big bubble is definitely back, with it being, at the very least, noticeably longer than the ‘Anniversary’. See that extra ‘chamber’ in the Air unit? Sat around this visible tech is a different foam midsole, which has a seam running on either side of the ‘window’ edges. The foam is also noticeably smooth – and a little squishier than before. This means the material has likely changed, resulting in a different on-foot feel as well.
Meanwhile, the ‘Anniversary’ configuration is more or less what Nike have used on the AM1 for over a decade, with the main improvement from its predecessors being the use of multiple colours on the outsole: black, white and red. Of course, the ‘Big Bubble’ has this as well.
The height and angle of the AM1 mudguard is something picky sneakerheads have pored over for years. The reconfigured ‘Big Bubble’ mudguard slants fairly differently to the ‘Anniversary’, with a considerable dip around the midfoot on the new pair. Interestingly, the e-comm images of the new pair depict a dramatic slant to the toe box, but IRL, it’s a little puffier, to the chagrin of many commentators yet to see for themselves.
Other panels have changed as well. The Swoosh takes a slanted stance, bending towards a sharper point. From the side and back, the heel counter panel height increases considerably, raising the Nike Air logo and, in turn, the ankle collar. Everything seems a little more elongated or wider than before, at least compared to the ‘Anniversary’.
Microfibre, mesh, and a little bit of nylon make up the OG material configuration for the AM1’s upper. The ‘Anniversary’ was applauded for its reprisal of textiles reminiscent of past golden eras, namely with its mesh weave and nylon ankle collar. Upon closer inspection of the ‘Big Bubble’ retro, its mesh is slightly different to the uniform perfection of the ‘Anniversary’, exhibiting a sort of loose ‘roughness’ associated with the less stringent QC of yesteryear. It’s the sort of nuance that should please the most discerning ‘heads.
Nylon features prominently on the ‘Big Bubble’, with more of it found on the tongue per OG spec; the ‘Anniversary’ tongue used it as well, but there was a little more mesh. Nylon was also used on the laces of the latter, but they were rather prone to come undone while walking due to their relative stiffness (more conventional laces were packaged with these pairs and often swapped in). For the ‘Big Bubble’, softer woven laces are used, but more importantly, they’re much narrower than before – a detail only those with first-hand experience of the 1986–88 pairs would’ve been privy to.
The Little Details
There’s also a litany of subtle updates to the ‘Big Bubble’ worth pointing out. The tongue tag is now a smaller woven patch sitting further down the tongue, which is accurate to the OG. On the ‘Anniversary’, this tag is a big square with a cleaner logo.
A pertinent detail likely to be appreciated by a few on the ‘Big Bubble’ is its size printed on the inside of the ankle collar – something that Nike used to display on shoes of that era. This is the first time in 35-plus years that it’s been used, so it’s a nice nod to OG details. The manufacture tag is also a woven variety, folded over and sewn on the medial side, rather than a heat-transfer label behind the tongue.
Production has also moved around over the decades. The original 1980s pairs were manufactured in South Korea before moving to Thailand in the 2000s, and then the ‘Anniversary’ was made in China. The ‘Big Bubble’ comes out of Nike’s Vietnam factories. While there isn’t a specific consensus on which factory produces the best shoes (the Air Max Plus community may disagree, but that’s a different story), it’s definitely clear that each facility creates different outcomes.
The ‘Anniversary’ retro is arguably the most considered overhaul of the AM1, with the ‘Big Bubble’ a further refinement based on the groundwork laid by its predecessor. Some of the improvements were made beyond the shoes themselves, with the ‘Anniversary’ edition recalling the original Nike Air box featuring grey stripes and an orange lid – but it wasn’t narrow like the 1987 box (which is probably a good thing).
Meanwhile, the ‘Big Bubble’ forgoes period correctness with its packaging and instead opts for a weathered-looking black box with a big Swoosh window on the lid and four dots on the side in reference to the larger Air chamber. It also doesn’t come with the same goodies that the ‘Anniversary’ was packaged with, so the Nike Air swing tag, extra laces and mini booklet are absent this time around.
As mentioned, the Air Max 1 ’86 ‘Big Bubble’ arrives on Air Max Day, March 26, at Up There and selected retailers.