Air Max 97: When Silver was the color of Champions…
Imagine it’s 1996 and you’ve been tasked with ushering in the next chapter of Nikes highly prized running category. Noteworthy predecessors to the shoe you need to design includes the Air Max 1, Air Max 90, Air 180, Air Max 93, and the Air Max 95 which despite it being 1996, is the world’s best-selling Nike running shoe. YOUR job is to create a successor. This was the HIGHLY PRESSURISED task set before Christian Tresser, known today as the designer of the Air Max 97. By now Tresser understood the evolutionary trend for Air Max legacy…” Just keep adding more air”.

A landmark moment adopted by Tresser and not often discussed in the evolution for Nike AIR is the anatomically correct change made to the Air Unit in 1996 which was further used in 1997. Find the oldest pair of footwear you own - I mean something that you’ve owned for years and worn consistently. Look at the outsole and notice where the heel shows most signs of wear. Most commonly you will realize that the wear takes place on the lateral side of the heel (aka the outside heel). This is because irrespective of how you walk, the lateral heel hits the ground first time, every time. To accommodate this natural movement, Nike positioned an air chamber with a lower air pressure directly into this impact zone to ensure the shoe could perform anatomically closer to the behavior of the foot. You will notice that the Air Max 95 did not consider this fact, but the Air Max 96 did. This was a monumental design change which Tresser adopted from the Air Max 96 into the Air Max 97.

Beyond this innovative adoption Tresser pushed the technology forward by introducing the 1st full length Nike Air Max unit. This was continuous AIR as opposed to separate max cushions as seen in 1995 and 1996 and created one of many striking features of the Air Max 97.

The upper also hosted a few striking features starting with the color. Contrary to popular belief, the color was inspired by the metallic frame of a mountain bike and not the Japanese bullet train or the Silver Bullet as many AM97 lovers tend to believe.

Tresser pushed another boundary by adding more 3M Scotchlite onto the Air Max 97 than on any Nike running shoe before,  thus offering its runner 360-degree HIGH visibility on the streets. These Scotchlite panels are a key aesthetic of the upper and its circular design starting on the tongue and repeating all the way through the upper was inspired by a drop of water and its rippling effect on a clear pool. The upper also sports a subtle but sleek feature of hidden lace loops. 

The net result is a fast-looking running shoe which makes you overestimate your running abilities with the hope that these sneakers will make up for your lack of speed.

The shoe Tresser was working on prior to the Air Max 97 was the Air Zoom Spiridon. You cannot but wonder how much of the work done on the Spiridon must have spilled over into the design of the Air Max 97 since the similarity of the heel counter, excessive Scotchlite, sleekness of styling, and color combinations do ring with high similarity. If they were launched at the same time, you would be forgiven in thinking that they were part of a seasonal running pack sold by Nike.

Despite its incredibly futuristic design, the Air Max 97 has been far surpassed in technology by contemporary high-performance running shoes. However, decades later the Air Max 97 still enjoys a potent global presence in major cities like Rome, Tokyo and Cape Town.

Air Max continues to inspire new generations of sneaker lovers into its family and many of the OG sneakerheads already have their 2nd or 3rd pairs of the Air Max 97 in the original silver colorway.  After buying and wearing these, OGs would say “I’m so glad to have them back on my feet and looking so fresh,” the new gen would say “I finally understand the love everyone has of these.”

Irrespective of where you stand, we know you stand only on AIR!


Nike Air Max '97 Anniversary "Metallic Silver" drops Saturday, 3rd December '22 in Mens and Women's sizing (R3399,00)