The Nike Air Max 97 Comes Of Age

With 30 years under its belt, the major early flagship models of Nike’s monumental Air Max line of running shoes have reached perennial retro status. It is nigh time that generations new to Air are made aware of the forgotten history of the shoes they revere whilst waiting for the next release.

Not much needs to be said about the eponymous Air Max of the year 1997. Given all sorts of erroneous nicknames for its outlandish silver reflective appearance, it was not until recently that the AM97 regained its ironic cool. At least this was the case for everywhere other than Italy, where the shoe still enjoys cult status. However, for those following the developmental timeline of footwear design in the ‘90s, it was a significant step.

The quest to entirely replace foam midsoles with air was only accomplished this year with the Air Vapormax – but at the time the Air Max 97 was the closest shoe to do it. Literally bridging the gap between the forefoot and heel air units that the Air Max 95 had left, the 97 brought the bubbles down to two. Original releases had PSI pressure units marked on the outsole: 25 PSI for the main full-length unit and 5 PSI for the medial heel unit to soften heel impact.

nike air max 97 vintage

In addition to having more air, the Air Max 97 incorporated strips of reflective 3M Scotchlite around the entire shoe for high visibility. Quite simply, the metallic upper and hidden lacing system did away with any preconceived notions of what a running shoe should resemble – it was a shoe of the future.

Names like Tinker Hatfield and Bill Bowerman are commonplace within Nike folklore – even Air Max 95 designer Sergio Lozano warrants occasional mentions in print today, but little is said about Christian Tresser. Underrated and under-reported, Tresser's fingerprints on some of Nike's cult classics of the 90's stem from his tenure as lead footwear designer at Nike between 1996 and 1997. A workhorse in the football divisions prior to his cross into running, his first sketch led to the older brother of the Air Max 97, the Air Zoom Spiridon. Echoing design cues that he boldly laid down on the Mercurial and GTX football boots, the Spiridon would ultimately lay the foundation for the Air Max 97. From the football boot nous to the metallic sheen and ruggedness of BMX bikes, the Air Max 97 acts as a cursive sign post of Tresser's evolving design language, with logical next steps in lines and features (think the application of the Mini-Swoosh and reflective outlines). His contribution to the company’s footwear vision remains today as his 20 year old shoes enjoy a new lease of life in the retro cycle.

air max 97 sketch

Long before the 'sneakersphere' developed a taste for footwear of the past, companies were quick to evolve their footwear lines, resulting in short product cycles. This was apparent with the Air Max 96 being the middle child between its culturally gargantuan predecessor AM95 and cutting-edge 97. However, like Tresser’s short stint as design lead, the initial run of the Air Max 97 only lasted that one year before being superseded by the Air Max 98. Despite this, colourways such as the 'Gold Metallic' (1999) appeared in the years after with the 97’s midsole tooling carried over to not only the AM98 but numerous other fabricated uppers like that of the Air Max Doro - it even made a reprise on the lesser-seen Air Max 2003 and 2004.

nike air max 97 vintage

The legacy of 97 lives on today with a timely retro batch of original colourways: the aptly named “Silver Bullet” and “Metallic Gold”. Both are due to arrive at Hype DC in very limited numbers Saturday May 27th


nike air max 97 silver and gold