1998 was a banner year for Air. In addition to underrated shoes like the AM ’98 and Tinker Hatfield’s revolutionary Zoom Talaria, the Air Max Plus stands out as my personal favourite. One of the first shoes worked on by unsung sneaker design hero Sean McDowell, currently the VP of Design & Innovation at Converse, the Air Max Plus introduced the concept of “Tuned Air,” providing strategically-placed air bags at the heel and forefoot. Technology aside, the gradient upper embodied the neon clubwear styles of the time, and the sneakers found a second life as a the go-to kicks of seedy European hooligans and youthful ravers alike. I’ve always appreciated the tasteful colour fade, preferring the more versatile Hyper Blues to the other OG colorway, the bolder Orange Tigers.
Okay, here’s the thing: this isn’t actually my favorite 95 drop. I could’ve picked any or all of the colorways. Cos the point is with the 95, it’s not about the colorway, it’s about the shape. To me, the sneaker’s aggressive-organic presence at the end of your leg looks less like a sneaker and more like some futuristic footwear device designed by H.R. Giger. But it was a young Sergio Lozano’s truly experimental design, the first to feature Air support in the forefoot and which took inspo from the human body, that truly pushed the boat out. The 95 served as a vital aesthetic stepping stone to every important Air iteration that followed. Designed both for the hard nuts on the streets and the utopian kids in the clubs, sack your TNs, your 97s or 98s, this is the original bad boy raver.
The ’97 isn’t merely the most aesthetically pleasing Air Max model, it’s also the most conceptually complete. There’s the reference to Japanese bullet trains, which I have to admit is a bit tenuous, but what I really love is how perfectly it nails the Y2K aesthetic. The AM97 looks like it was designed to match the Sony Minidisc players of that era. It’s a snapshot of turn-of-the-millennium futurism that looked so forward-thinking then, but is so endearingly dated now – which is precisely what makes it so era-defining. It looks the way that Bomfunk MC’s Freestyler sounds, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a shoe so in sync with the zeitgeist of its time.