VERSUS: Were the 1990s Nike’s Greatest Era?
Like many Internet-based debates claiming that hip hop, movies, and popular culture hit their peak in the 1990s, it's also frequently argued that Nike's best era was during that same decade: the most innovative designs, industry-leading technology, memorable colourways, and the reinforcement of its lasting legacy.
Perhaps people look at this time period with rose-tinted glasses and forget it wasn't as great as it's cracked up to be? Maybe the decades preceding and following the 90s actually had a bigger impact?
We pit an OG Nike fan up against an enthusiast with more liberal views about the Swoosh. What could possibly go wrong?
Let me guess, you start every single sentence with: ‘I’m a sneakerhead, and have been since the 90s …’
Gotta let the children know what's good for them. Everything about Nike sneakers was better back in the day. How would you like to be schooled?
‘Back in the day’ is the kind of nauseating terminology that’s going to send me tumbling from the wagon again. It’s just a psychological knee-jerk reaction to anything modern or forward-thinking. Sure, 90s Nike was great, but it’s nothing in terms of what the Swoosh are capable of now. Did you not see the Joyride? The Adapt BB? I sure as hell don’t want to be bending down to tie my own shoelaces in 2020.
I'm a sneakerhead, and have been since the 90s. What you just dropped on me like a mumble rapper's lukewarm lyrical fart is just a whole bunch of gimmicks. You say React, Adapt, hell, even Joyride. I say Air Max, Zoom Air - Tensile Air for the real heads. The 90s was a technological arms race between brands, and it forced them to actually innovate. Of course, Nike came out on top, and 90s tech still exists today. Will we see the Swoosh's current offerings retroed in 10 to 20 years' time?
It’s these new technologies that are going to push sneaker culture forward. Everything is romanticised in hindsight. It wasn’t all gold from the Swoosh. You can’t fit all the skeletons in the closet ...
Sneaker culture? Real OGs know there is no such thing as sneaker culture – unless what it's referring to is MY LIFE. Sure, you can't expect Nike to 'Just Do It' and get it right every time. In the 90s, Nike made shoes for athletes, and with more purpose. Bo Knows.
Collaborations are the driving force of innovation in 2019. Did you suss the Cactus Plant Flea Market VaporMax? Jerry Lorenzo’s Air Fear of God? sacai’s LDWaffle? The best shoes delivered by Nike every year continue to be from their collaborative line – something that never even existed back in the so-called ‘Golden Age of Swoosh’.
In the 90s, there was no such thing as collaborations. All the good colourways were created off of Nike's own steam. With a crack team of designers across all departments – Tinker Hatfield, Sergio Lozano, Christian Tresser, Eric Avar, Peter Fogg, Steve McDonald, et al – the Swoosh didn't need any help. Almost 30 years before sacai made a hybrid of the LDWaffle, Tinker took the Swoosh right off the Air Huarache. Before that, he took it off the Air Jordan 2. Radical.
Pfft, most of Nike’s most legendary designs didn’t even drop in the 1990s. Think about it! The Air Force 1, the Air Jordan 1, the Air Jordan IV, the Windrunner, and Safari – they all saw daylight in the 1980s and are arguably more relevant in 2019 than anything from the 90s! There were 60 Jordan 1s dropping in 2018. 60!?!
I would say that's about 60 Jordan 1s too many. MJ didn't win his first ring until 1991 with the Air Jordan 6 anyway. There is so much gold hidden in Nike's 90s back catalogue. Bring back the 1993 Huarache Plus. Wake up and retro the Air Alarm. The Triax line. The 1995 Air Max Racer. Or just do another round of Infrared 90s. Or Air Max IIIs as we used to call them back in the 90s. That's how long I've been a sneakerhead. And can Nike please package them in their original shoeboxes? And print catalogues again?
How about the The V-Series? The original Tailwind from 79? The Blazer? The Dunk? The Windrunner? Original shoeboxes? Sure … but print catalogues? That’s the last thing our ailing environment needs. What we need is innovative, sustainable sneaker design that can only be explored by harnessing newer, better technologies.
Do you know how to make a sneaker sustainable? Make it last. Sneakers in the 90s were actually built to last... we didn't have to buy a new pair every week, because they didn't fall apart. And when they finally wore through, our old faithfuls entered the production cycle once again for recycling. In the 90s, Nike was leading the way with their Reuse-A-Shoe program, which birthed Nike Grind, Sticky Rubber, and the Considered series later on.
Look, at least Nike stand for something. In the words of MLK - ‘If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything’. Nike kneeling with Colin Kaepernick was important, no matter what your angle. What did Nike stand for in the 1990s beyond some tight designs?
Nike, first and foremost, was always about the athlete and getting people active. Their designs and products in the 90s put performance first. There was no need to dabble in politics. Like Charles Barkley said in 1993: 'I Am Not A Role Model.'
Well, you can remain stuck in the 90s with your crumbling sneakers while I enjoy my self-lacing Nikes on the court before switching to some comfy React runners. Hang on, weren't you born in 1993??