Designed by industry veteran Sean McDowell and originally released in 1998, the Air Max Plus is re-launching in 2018 to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Here’s a brief history of the shoe, compliments of its designer.
Sean McDowell actually began designing the shoe long before he got to Nike. However, some may not know that the Air Max Plus used three never-before-employed manufacturing techniques, according to Nike.
“I hung out on the Florida beaches and just thought and sketched — it was one of my most creative times,” said McDowell about a vacation he took with friends. “One evening, it was turning to dusk, so the very blue sky was starting to fade to dark blue, and the palm trees were blowing in the wind…I sketched that out, and I thought, ‘It could make a quarter panel, like you could hold your foot down with those palm trees,'” he continued in a statement.
McDowell, who grew up a runner, arrived at Nike in 1997 and immediately started working on a new running shoe for Foot Locker. It had to use the then-new Max Air cushioning, and because he was so new to Nike, he had never drawn the “proper” Swoosh before; the Swoosh on the Air Max Plus has the border on the inside, and the shape is different.
“I wanted to put some emphasis on the top-down view,” said McDowell in a statement. “The palm trees looked good on the medial and lateral sides, but when it came to connecting them on the top it looked weird to have a straight line connecting them, so I thought, ‘What else could I do that’s a little more interesting?'”
While the Air Max Plus has become a lifestyle shoe since its original debut, the shoe originally weighed less than 12 ounces because it was a performance runner. McDowell says that’s lightweight for a PU (polyurethane) shoe, especially in the late-’90s. It used a striking sublimated treatment to create the shoe’s iconic faded upper. Additionally, making the whole shoe out of thin welded TPU had never been done, and after manufacturing challenges, three separate welds were needed.
Once it was determined that the Air Max Plus TN could be produced the way McDowell had envisioned it, it still needed to be approved by the retailer, Foot Locker, which devised an interesting market research exercise: put the shoe on the shelf at a store right when school lets out and observe.
“Five or 10 minutes later, there were like 10 kids flocking to the shoe asking, ‘What is this? How do I get it?” said McDowell in a statement. “The associates were looking around like, ‘I’ve never seen that thing before, I don’t know how much it costs, I don’t know where it came from.’ while the kids were running around like, ‘I want to buy this thing.’ They were almost frantic. I was beaming.”
The shoe launched with international appeal and it quickly became an icon. “I saw somebody who got their whole foot tattooed in the pattern of the Tuned Air. The bottom of their foot has the outsole,” recalled McDowell. “The stripes and Swoosh on the sides, black all the way up the back with the Tn logo on the back. It’s wild.”
The Air Max Plus has been embraced by different parts of the world in different ways; in New York it goes in and out of the mainstream, but in London, Paris, and much of the EU, it’s a staple trainer. And Australia often gets regional exclusive colorways because it’s loved Down Under.
The Air Max Plus will be back on November 24 in North America for a whole new generation of kids to style it, run in it, and experiment with it. Let us know what you think about the Air Max Plus in the comments below.