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Air Max Month: The Big Bubble Returns

January 11, 2023 12:25 PM
Air Max Month: The Big Bubble Returns

It's a revolution.

The Nike Air Max 1, as a silhouette, is a top-tier sneaker. Few running shoes are as recognisable, and it’s about to return with a bang, 35 years after its original release (ok… more like 36… but who’s counting?). Rumours were confirmed in early 2022 that the Nike Air Max 1 'Big Bubble’ 86 would finally grace our feet once again.

During a SNKRS Live session with DJ Sneakerhead, Nike Air Max product line manager Jamie Paige and footwear designer Jon Kosenick confirmed rumours of its long-awaited return, stating that it took three years to achieve the primordial design of the original Air Max 1. The ‘Big Bubble’ or ‘Big Window’ as it’s sometimes called, should release during Air Max Month, and most likely on Air Max Day, March 26.


The Big Bubble

‘What’s the big deal with the Big Bubble?’ you may ask, ‘It’s just a bigger bubble.’ However, if there’s one thing we know about old heads, we love an OG. And this… well… this is THE OG.

The Nike Air Max 1 we know and love was originally created with a larger air unit in the midsole in 1987, however this only lasted a few months into production, as it began to fail testing in the early stages of its release. Nike testers found that in colder weather, the air unit would crack, deeming the sneaker unwearable and not fit for purpose. The ‘Big Bubble’ was then replaced with a slightly smaller one, which seemed to do the trick. Fortunately, it’s now 2023, and technology is allowing us once again to see the ‘Big Bubble’ in all its glory.

Groundbreaking tech

To understand the gravity of this release, let’s take it back to 1978, when the Nike Tailwind first released with gas-filled pockets inserted in the midsole. Until then, Nike had been using moulded EVA midsoles. This new phase in Nike’s history was pretty groundbreaking - so much so in fact, that the Air Max 1, with its visible air, would only be released almost 10 years later on March 26, 1987. The Tailwind had held its own until then.

The Nike Air Tailwind pulled apart, and its air unit.

Max it out

This would eventually lead us to the very first Air Max Day which would arrive 27 years later on March 26, 2014. With this would come a great tradition; Nike would provide us with significant Air Max releases on this day, every year from 2014 and beyond. Three years after its inception, Air Max Day would become Air Max Month as we hit the 30th anniversary of the Air Max 1.

The reason for switching to a month came from the sheer amount of events and surrounding promotion Nike produced around the world for the Air Max product. On the 30th anniversary alone, Nike would release nine pairs of Air Max, and find a winner for their ‘Vote Forward’ competition in one Sean Wotherspoon. Wotherspoon would go on to release one of the greatest Air Max products of all time in 2018; the Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1/97.

8 Air Max Releases in hands

A close call

Although Air Max was obviously a success, it nearly never happened.

adidas was originally pitched the idea of air units by Marion Franklin Rudy, an ex-NASA Aerospace Engineer. However adidas laughed off the idea, so Marion took his pitch to Nike. Seemingly unfazed by the concept initially, Nike Founder Phil Knight was also sceptical, but then took the prototypes, placed them in his own shoes, and tested them out with a 6-mile run. By the time he returned, he was in. He thought they did a great job, but also took delight in the fact that adidas had turned it down, and that would drive him to make a success of the revolutionary design. It was agreed that Rudy would receive around 15 cents for every pair sold. Not a bad deal for Rudy either.

Marion Franklin Rudy with air units

Tinker around

After the success of the Tailwind, a new era began where sneaker brands were starting to push the boat out with technology and brighter colours; Nike needed to kick itself into gear. Enter architect Tinker Hatfield.

Tinker had been working for Nike as a corporate architect for their Oregon Campus and was drafted in to turn his architectural mind onto sneakers. When it came to the Air Max 1, he knew he was on to something special. Although not influenced by Paris’ Pompidou building specifically for the Air Max 1, Hatfield said the design of the building had certainly thrown his architectural mind askew, and it pushed him to think outside the box, or the shoe in this case. A move that had fellow employees asking for him to be fired.

Tinker Hatfield with an Air Max 1

This only drove him to make the sneaker stand out as much as possible. He wasn’t the sort of designer to shy away from brash designs, so thought the white and greys of the sneaker needed something to offset; and so, the iconic bright red band, or ‘rand’, was born.

A bump in the road

With the product now in place, they just needed to market it. Nike’s advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy stepped up with a striking, attention-grabbing ad, the first to take place on TV for Nike. And the Air Max 1 was the main attraction. It triggered sales immediately, but unfortunately, also triggered legal issues for the company with a $15m lawsuit from Apple Records.

Nike Air Shock Treatment for the Road advert.
Air Max 1 Nike Air is not a Show advert

They had paid Michael Jackson and EMI Capitol Records, owners of the rights to the Beatles song ‘Revolution’, for the use of the song in their TV ad. However, Apple Records believed Nike used their persona and goodwill without permission. Nike took the accusation head-on, closing their printed notice with “This ad campaign is about the fitness revolution in America, and the move toward a healthier way of life. We think that’s a message to be proud of.” The results of the lawsuit are still confidential.

Runners World advert of the Air Max 1
Runners World

Nike would continue to create iconic ads for print, with images of the White-Grey-University Red colorway paired with simple statements such as ‘Shock Treatment for the Road’ and ‘Nike Air is Not a Shoe’. Hopefully the ‘Big Bubble’ receives the same treatment in 2023.

For the details of all Air Max Day releases from 2014 to now, check out the Sneakerjagers History of Air Max Day.

Curious about the upcoming and recent releases of the Air Max? Then check out the Sneakerjagers Release Calendar.