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Air-Ground Attraction: Nike Air 180 Ultramarine returns

January 25, 2023 2:43 PM
Air-Ground Attraction: Nike Air 180 Ultramarine returns

It’s back. The Air 180 Ultramarine. Well, not yet, but it should be gracing our shelves again (if we’re lucky) in 2023. A running sneaker at heart, it’s seen a few iterations, but this time is back in true OG form; no lunarlon, no manufactured yellowing of the midsole, just pristine white, solar red, and of course, ultramarine. At least that’s what we’ve found so far anyway. Although not celebrating any noteworthy anniversary, word on the street is that we’ll see it again in its full “Big Bubble” glory, a la the Air Max 1.

Tinker teams up

Originally designed by legendary sneaker designers Tinker Hatfield and Bruce Kilgore, it was the first Nike sneaker to display Air technology on the outsole. Tinker of course bringing his previous experience from a few notable designs such as the Air Max 1, Jordan 3, Nike Air Mag and Air Max 90. As for Kilgore, he created one of the greatest sneakers of all time; the Air Force 1. That’s a deadly combination of experience and innovation coming together to create a masterpiece.

Starting in 1978, air first entered the midsole in the Nike Tailwind. Visible air would take off in the Air Max 1 in 1987 followed by the Air Max 2 Light, the Air Max 90 in 1990, the Air Max BW soon after, and then in 1991 the Air 180. We began to wonder… going from the Air Max 90, to the 180 degrees of air in the Air 180… what could come next… 360 degrees of air? Thanks to the Air Max 97, we didn’t have to wait long to see that happen.

Designing elements of the Air Max 180

We should be seeing the 180 in true OG form, including the white nylon, suede and mesh netting upper, accompanied by a leather swoosh. The perfectly designed solar red heel counter and neoprene tongue will deliver you right back to the early 90s footwear landscape.

You’ll also have the comfort of the EVA midsole, forefoot, and heel cushioning, of course including the bonded clear urethane so that 180-degree air unit can touch the ground. Don’t forget, it had 50% more cushioning than previous models, so it needs some protection, and with the Big Bubble treatment, it should be comfier than ever.

A 180 for every occasion

The original release date for the 180 was way back in 1991, 32 years ago. The initial release saw an unmistakably 90s set of clean, punchy colourways. The Laser Crimson/Bright Magenta looked fast and released in women's only sizing, the Bright Ceramic/Dark Concord was a combination of orange, purple and white that was very easy on the eye, and the Hot Lime made no qualms about blinding you with its fluorescent glow.

Since then, the 180 in the white/ultramarine/solar red colourway has seen a few releases, and a few iterations. After the original 1991 release, it wasn’t until 2004 that Nike would release a retro version of the sneaker. Two years later, it was part of the “History of Air Pack” that included the Air Max 1, Air Max 90, Air 180 (of course), the Air Max 93, Air Max 95, Air Max 97, Air Max 03 and Air Max 360.

We had to wait patiently for a whole seven years until it saw the light of day again, but this time as an “OG Edition”. The Air 180 Ultramarine received the vintage treatment with a yellowed midsole and manufactured ageing on the outsole. That same year, an engineered mesh pair was released. And although functionally was a great sneaker, it didn’t quite do justice to the aesthetics of the OG. The Ultramarine not only saw a Lunar version with the improved midsole technology, there was even a release of the Nike Zoom Ites… a Nike Air 180 Ultramarine snowboard boot; hands down one of the coolest snowboard boots of all time.

One of the most notable releases of the Ultramarine colourway is the Nike Air Zoom Mariah. Released in 1980, it was the first Nike sneaker to have full air in the midsole. Haven’t heard of it? You only need to see it to see where the 180 Ultramarine drew its inspiration.

Air Max 180 Mariah sneaker
Freshness Mag

Dream Team treatment

Although the original Ultramarine is a striking colourway, the Bright Concord would soon release and become most notable for gracing the feet of the inimitable Michael Jordan at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, when he was part of the greatest basketball team ever assembled; The Dream Team.

The 180s were never worn on court of course, but Jordan would subtly promote the sneakers on foot between games, and in promo shoots. Nike had the right idea getting Jordan in this sneaker, but remarkably, it didn’t seem to have much of an effect, and the shoe struggled to fly off the shelves, unlike previous Air Max models.

Michael Jordan wearing the Air Max 180.
Sneaker Politics

And, although MJ would promote the Air 180, it was fellow Dream Team member David Robinson who scored the ultimate big man's shoe in the Nike Air Force 180 Pump. It was as high as it was long. A pristine white, with hits of teal and black, made it a surefire winner for one of the giants of the game, both figuratively and literally. And as for the ads surrounding the sneaker, Nike stuck with their refreshingly unconventional marketing tactics that would become synonymous with the 180.

Air By David Robinson - Nike Air Force 180 High Television Commercial 1991 - Analog Memories
Nike Air Max 180 Pump sneaker

Going global

In 1992, the Air 180 received a coordinated global launch. Nike worked in conjunction with eight artists from around the world to get their take on how they depicted the sneaker. Promotional ads, both TV and print, were not well received by the public, as each ad varied drastically; one including a jogger running across city streets, before dreaming of running in the desert; and another with cartoon characters small enough to live in a shoe, who would fall inside, and use the insole like a trampoline.

Nike thought this to be a good move – but it was quite a change of direction from what Nike had been doing previously, and therefore seemed a bit off-brand.

Nike Air 180 Dutch TV ad by Evert de Beijer
Marketing designs for the Air Max 180.

This ‘off-brand’, somewhat nature-themed marketing campaign would actually provide the inspiration for the ‘Fire and Ice Pack’, which released in 2018; 27 years after the campaign first aired. The pack delivered a ‘Fire’ pair in a Black/Team Orange/University Red colourway, with a hot thermometer on the heel counter and flame logo on the tongue.

The ‘Ice’ pair sported an Ocean Bliss/Metallic Silver-Igloo colourway, with a cold thermometer on the heel counter and ice block logo on the tongue. Both came with 3M swooshes, but only the ‘Ice’ came with a little extra hint of 3M specks on the laces.

Out of the ordinary

Collaborations also played a part in reviving a love for the 180, with a few creating notable waves in the sneaker world. Nom de Guerre's Air 180 collaboration in 2005 arrived with muted brown tones. A far cry from the punchy 90s running sneaker colours of yesteryear, the brown completely silenced any cache the 180 had in terms of attention-grabbing brightness.

However, these would win over sneakerheads by the masses, eventually returning in 2018 with a few tweaks to freshen up the nearly 20-year-old design.

The ‘Opiums’ would release in 2005 as well, also fairly muted with a predominantly black upper, and camouflage on the heel counter, tongue and inner lining. A few pops of the solar red, and the neon on the tongue, laces and air unit are the only attention-grabbing parts of the shoe. These would once again strike a chord with the sneaker community at large.

One of the most famous collaborations with the 180 came in 2018, with Comme des Garcons, led by Rei Kawakubo, who would provide us with not one, but three colourways. This time, the 180 would be set on fire with a striking hot pink dominating each pair. It’s testament to the model that these work. On almost any other sneaker, it would be quite the task to pull off, but the 180 wears it, and wears it well.

Rare air

The 180 has also seen a few rare releases that broke some necks, such as the Kanye West “College Dropout” special, Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Dirty Stank’ and Eminem’s ‘Shade 45’. Each pair telling the story of the rapper across the upper, as only the 180 could. The Shade 45 180s in an interesting white/orange blaze/black colourway, with Shade 45 Satellite Radio logo across the heel counter – a shout out to Eminem’s station.

The Dirty Stanks are an understated pair, besides the ‘Dizzee Rascall’ on the heel counter and stink pile on the tongue. And the 'College Dropouts' for Kanye, created by Christopher Bevans and Don C in 2005, had quite the mix of colours and prints to pull the shoe together. This included leopard print on the heel counter, and a beautifully placed College Dropout Bear on the tongue. And, with only 5 pairs in existence, they now fetch a pretty penny.

Air Max 180 College Dropout sneaker

With such a broad range of colours and styles over the years, the Air 180 certainly lends itself well to the creativity of the designer. So who knows, we may simply receive an Ultramine, and we’d be happy with that.

However, if they take things a little further and the collaborations start rolling in, we won’t be complaining. Stay tuned to the Sneakerjagers News to keep up to date with all things 180 Big Bubble.

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