March 26 has been “Air Max Day” since Nike dubbed it so in 2014 in celebration of the brand’s most famous footwear line. 2022 sees notable anniversaries of some of the most groundbreaking silhouettes, namely the Air Max 1 which turns 35, the Air Max 97, marking its 25th birthday, and the Nike Air Vapormax, released on Air Max Day in 2017. Recent data suggests that the Nike Air Max 270 was the top seller of 2021, with the Nike Air Max 90 and the Nike Air Vapormax Plus also featuring in the top 10. That is set to continue, with many Air Max releases lined up for this anniversary year. We take a look at the shoes celebrating these birthdays, and the rest of the Air Max lineage. Architectural beginnings The Air Max 1, also known as the Air Max 87 and created by legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield , is the shoe that is considered to have started it all – but before it there was Nike Air and the 1978 Nike Tailwind. The airbag concept, designed by former Nasa engineer Frank Rudy to cushion the impact for the wearer of the shoes hitting a surface – from which they get the “Air” in their name – was hidden away in the shoe. Hatfield, taking his inspiration from the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the building’s exposed internal structure, changed that and added a window in the shoe’s sole. Much like the public’s polarised reaction to the design of the Centre Pompidou, not everyone was here for the sneaker revolution. “It was widely discussed that I had pushed it too far. People were trying to get us fired,” the designer later recounted. There are reports that the Air Max Big Bubble, a 1986 production prototype that featured an even bigger window into the air unit than the AM87 mass release, will be released next year. Riding the train The Air Max 97, dropping a decade after the OG, was released in a silver colourway that earned it the nickname “Silver Bullet”. Many said that the design was inspired by the Japanese Shinkansen or bullet train, but the designer, Christian Tresser, revealed the truth of it in 2017. “The nature of it was water dropping into a pond. The water would drop and radiate out to the Air unit,” Tresser said. The colour, set off by 3M reflective panelling, was a nod to the chrome frames of mountain bikes and BMX frames. Tresser, who had been working on football boots before getting the nod for the Air Max, utilised a fully visible air unit. The shoe was a huge hit, getting the seal of approval from – among others – Tresser’s former football boot customer, Brazil star Ronaldo. Walking on air The Vapormax sole came along 20 years after the AM97, with the whole of the sole formed by a single air unit. Technological advances meant that the midsole and outsole could be one, and the shoe saw genuine 360-degree air, with the foam- and rubber-free air soles connected directly to the Nike Flyknit upper. It proved an instant hit with sneakerheads. European faves The AM97 gained a cult following in Italy, where the shoe was the footwear of choice for those enmeshed in the country’s rave culture. They would call it “La Silver” and there were reports that early sales of the shoe in Italy matched the combined total for sales in the rest of the world. The relationship was such that Nike would later give the AM97 an Italy-only re-release in 2016. Air Max shoes also became synonymous with the UK grime music scene, thanks to MCs such as Dizzee Rascal and Skepta, with the latter becoming a long-time Nike collaborator – most notably on different versions of Air Max, starting with his own AM97 in 2017. Rappers in the US, such as The Game and Redman, were also known for dropping Air Max references in their rhymes. Killer collabs It’s not just British musicians who have collaborated with Nike on their Air Max silhouettes. The Air Max 1 is a favourite canvas for the artistic vision of long-time Nike collaborators such as rapper Travis Scott , Hong Kong streetwear label Clot and Dutch streetwear brand Patta – all of whom saw pairings unveiled last year as the build-up to the Air Max hitting 35 began. The shoes have also been a canvas for the likes of designer Virgil Abloh and found their way on to the feet of celebrity sneakerheads such as American basketball player LeBron James. Little wonder that Air Max designs are also favourites on the secondary market and fetch a fortune for resellers. NFTs Hatfield has been busy working on a very limited Air Max 1 release. The University of Oregon graduate’s design for the launch of NFT platform Ducks Of A Feather, aimed at benefiting student athletes at the alma mater he shares with Nike co-founder Phil Knight, is capped at 120 pairs and tied to the 120 NFTs . The collection, dubbed “Flying Formations”, is close to Hatfield’s heart, as he is a former student athlete. Big birthdays In 2017, designer Sean Wotherspoon created a Nike Air Max 1/97 hybrid for Air Max Day. This year will see the same, and several “XXXV” editions are set for release, including a Nike Vapormax Flyknit 2021 SE, AM90 and AM97. There are also several Air Max 1s on the list, among them designs with crepe soles (like shoe retailer Clarks’ recognisable Wallabees) and three designs from Boston-based boutique Concepts, plus “Wabi Sabi” and “Blueprint” editions. The AM97 is getting a “Metallic Silver” – inspired by the original colourway – and will see a return of the “Atlantic Blue”, and a “Safari” edition.