As Nike continues the “air-volution” of high-tech foot fashion with the VaporMax, Chomwan Weeraworawit recounts when her love affair with "air" started.
May 31, 2017
Do you remember the first pair of Nike sneakers you ever bought for yourself? I certainly do: I was 12 years old, it was 1993, and they were Jordan’s, Air Jordan IX to be precise. They were my basketball shoes (used on the court; I played guard, like Jordan) but they also made my school uniform (tartan culottes worn very short, of course, with knee-high socks) look totally cool, or so I thought. If I knew who Tinker Hatfield was (he created the Jordan’s at the time), he would have been my hero.
My Jordan’s were acquired on a shopping trip to Hong Kong, as cool kicks were not available in Thailand back then. I remember my dad would get his Air Maxes there: the ones in retro colorways that Nike has recently re-editioned. I remember his first pair, the Air Max 1, back in 1990. He used to run back then, and he would run in his Air Maxes. In 1995, when my dad bought that year’s Air Maxes, I bought a pair too.
The following year, when America hosted the Olympics, I picked up a pair of basketball shoes made for the USA women’s team, the Air Rupt Olympics 1996. We happened to be in the USA that summer, and I remember buying them in a moment of glory. Those Air Rupts were like a trophy. I would channel Aaliyah (who was my idol), and wore them with my Hilfiger Jeans, my Basketball jerseys, and Calvin Klein underwear. I loved them so much I wore them to death. I still have them, and although they are yellowed and probably crumbling, my memories of wearing them makes me feel like it was yesterday.
So my love affair with Nike that began in the ’90s continued. I always bought them a bit big, as I found Nike men’s colorways to be so much cooler, especially when I was a girl in boarding school in the UK trying to find cool kicks at JD Sports. I was a Nike girl, through and through, though I must admit I made some slight detours with a Puma moment, an Adidas moment (I still wear my Stan Smiths from time to time), and a fling with Vans (I loved my chukka boots and Old Skools).
In the early 2000s, I often found myself in New York City, which would often mean a new pair of kicks, and around 2003 I discovered the Air Force 1. Though my training shoes have always been the Air Max, what solidified my love affair with Nike was the Air Force 1—I even attempted to start an Air Force 1 collection about the time when vinyl dolls and sneaker culture was at its naissance.
All of this was sparked off by a meeting with some Nike guys and a crew called the Bridge Runners: a running crew. I ran in Air Prestos, and while I definitely was not very fast, I joined a run with this crew of NY runners in remembrance of Harold Hunter. I remember, on the trip, I bought my first Air Force 1 collectibles: a transparent pair with light blue and lavender details from Nort on Lafayette Street (today one must go to Flight Club or KITH). I loved wearing them barefoot with brightly colored nail polish or with crazy socks. I loved them so much, I didn’t care if they made my feet sweat. Anyway, as I wax lyrical about them, I recall that this post is not about the Air Force 1, it is about the evolution of Nike and “air”.
Today, we don’t think twice about having air in our shoes; in fact, air is a given now that the tech is over 30 years old. Imagine that, once upon a time, when Phil Knight and his buddies started Nike, the air concept was still a good decade away. It was not until the late ’80s when Frank Rudy, a young scientist, walked into Knight’s office in Portland and presented him with the crazy idea of putting air pockets in the soles of shoes. The idea, at the time, verged on the absurd. Asics had used gel, but the idea of putting air in the soles—let alone keeping those airbags visible—was unheard of.
Well, the idea that started with Phil Knight selling shoes at track races out of the trunk of his car over four decades ago is now an empire that spans the Earth. The journey, including the introduction to Frank Rudy and the whole Nike Crew, as well as the athletes that became like family to him, is all in Knight’s book, Shoe Dog. The memoir is equally inspirational biography as it is a series of revelations on how the way we dressed our feet has changed, making me think about where I was when each great sneaker dropped.
I was in Bangkok on March 26, 2017, the 30th B-day of the Air Max, when Nike also launched the VaporMax with great fanfare. Bulky and futuristic, the proportions are odd, spacy, and remind us of sci-fi films of past—what we would walk on the moon in, perhaps. Rather than air, we would be walking on vapor, walking on clouds, more cushiony than air: Nikes with vapor bags made in the home of Nike, at the Nike HQ in Beaverton, Oregon.
Walking on air was once only a metaphor for being really happy. Nike changed that metaphor into reality: you literally do walk on air in Nikes. Indeed, our sneakers today have surpassed those auto-lacing shoes of Back to the Future (also designed by Tinker Hatfield), which exist and, even better, now feature vapor. As for what’s next, with these guys in Beaverton clearly designing for the future, what is in store for us will likely be as equally weird, exciting, and everything our hearts—and feet—will desire.
Today is VaporMax Day - the much anticipated “Day to Night” VaporMax inspired by the colors of dawn to dusk and “Be True” to celebrate Gay Pride drops; in contrast to the stealth monotones of the first drop in March, Day to Night is all pastel beauty and Be True - full of color—and of vapors—just like a rainbow.