In 1987, Nike took one of the most abundant resources on earth and turned it into gold. Oxygen became AIR, and the Swoosh built a considerable portion of its mammoth 36-billion-a-year-in-revenues on it. The list of shoes that incorporate the idea—the Air Max 1, 90, 95, 97, 180, 270, and upcoming 720—is long enough to go toe-to-toe with The Cheesecake Factory menu. But no shoe pushes the idea further than the Vapormax.
Originally released in 2017, Vapormax is one of the strangest designs Nike’s ever released in such massive numbers. To fully understand why, though, we have to go all the way back to the first Air Nike Epic React Flyknit Dames Max. Initially, even giving customers a peek at the tube of air in the sole was the sort of idea people interested in Nike Air Max 270 Dámské keeping their jobs didn’t speak too loudly about at Nike HQ. “It was widely discussed that I had pushed it too far,” the shoe’s designer Tinker Hatfield said in his episode of the Netflix documentary Abstract: The Art of Design. “People were trying to get us fired.” Those people would be shocked by the Vapormax: a sneaker that looks like it was inflated until pockets of air started rupturing out of the bottom. Where the Air Max 1 gave customers a tiny peek at Air, the Vapormax bares it all.
Seriously, consider how strange the Vapormax is: unlike 99.9 percent of all shoes, this sneaker does not really have a sole. Or it does, technically, but in the form of a series of air bubbles where the hard, flat, standard-with-every-other-shoe-model sole should be. That’s weird! And yet in spite of the strange design, the Swoosh Adidas Gazelle Mujer has invested in the design heavily—pumping it out in zillions of colorways and slightly tweaked silhouettes. Nike has trickled the shoe down through fashion circles, starting at the peak of weirdo mountain by debuting the silhouette on the Comme des Gar?ons runway. Then there was a collaboration with Acronym and a campaign that featured the shoe on the feet of stylish crooner John Mayer. Now, after worming its way through culture, the Vapormax is a top priority for the Swoosh: while the company doesn’t break out individual sales, it noted in its latest earnings report that the Vapormax was among several shoes that helped drive huge growth for the company. NPD footwear analyst Matt Powell reports that in the 12 months leading up to November 2018 the shoe was 39th overall in sales.
Nike is still hard at work turning one of its most cutting-edge designs into a mainstream hit. To that end, the new year brought with it a new iteration of the sneaker, aptly named the Vapormax 2019. Most of the adjustments are performance related, like an Nike Air Max 1 Femme “internal cage” to help the foot feel more locked down.
But, because this is Nike we’re talking about, the aesthetic of even its highest-performing shoes will always be a consideration. So the shoe Nike Air Max 90 Damen traded out its knit upper to keep up with the hottest trend in footwear: translucency. I mean that both figuratively—the sneakers in Virgil Abloh’s “The Ten” collection are meant to deconstruct the shoe by pointing out features Nike Cortez Donna like “Air” even on shoes, like the Air Jordan 1, where the feature isn’t visible—and literally: the upper on the still-sold-out-in-every-damn-color Epic React 87 is the sort of see-through that requires investing in new socks. The new Vapormax upper, made out of a sci-fi-sounding material called Nexkin, shares its transparency with the Epic React.
Nike’s already created a shoe beloved by the fashion community with the Vapormax, but the brand continues to retool, incorporating the sort of elements that have made other models runaway hits. The shoe is a testament to how much Nike can steer the conversation when it comes to what we’re willing to put on our feet. Nike Air Presto DamenLast year, I wrote about how the Acronym Vapormax caused a personal identity crisis: they were so bizarre that I couldn’t figure out how to wear them. But the Vapormax 201Nike Air Max 95 Damen 9 is just more proof that when Nike seems to push things too far, it lands at exactly the right place.