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An Interview with the Designers of the Nike Air Maxim 1

Certainly the term above is a familiar one, then there is a more recent terminology coined by Nike, “re-evolution”, a hybrid process where new modifications are conjoined with pre-existing elements instead of replacing them. An ideal example of this is the new Air Maxim 1…
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Pronunciation: ËŒe-vÉ™-ˈlü-shÉ™n, ˌē-vÉ™-

Function: noun

Etymology: Latin evolution-, evolutio unrolling, from evolvere a theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations; also : the process described by this theory.

Certainly the term above is a familiar one, then there is a more recent terminology coined by Nike, “re-evolution”, a hybrid process where new modifications are conjoined with pre-existing elements instead of replacing them.  An ideal example of this is the new Air Maxim 1.

The process didn’t just start last year, rather 22 years ago in 1987 when designer Tinker Hatfield created the Air Max 1.  Hired originally as the Corporate Architect for Nike in 1981, Hatfield was “promoted” to the coveted footwear designer position after winning a 24-hour

contest. Either intentionally or unintentionally, Hatfield wanted to debunk the status quo of footwear design at the time. Soon he found the perfect medium for that in Air Max 1.

During its course, by tapping into his architectural foundation, Hatfield found a muse in Centre Pompidou,an public institution for the arts in Paris.  Designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize winners Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the ultramodern building literally turned itself inside out, with exposed piping, ducts, steel skeletal framework, and more.  Though its now a integral part of Nike brand identity, the exposed Nike Air Unit on the original Air Max 1 was not without controversy at the time of its launch.  Some thought the design was pretentious and gimmicky, while others questioned the endurance of the Air Unit.  The doubts have long since dissipated, Hatfield’s Air Max 1 not only became one of the most recognizable design but a cornerstone in Nike’s Air Pack series. Fast-forward to now, 20+ years later, Nike decided it was time to revamp the classic through its “re-evolution” process, an uneasy task considering the history and the influence Air Max 1 has.  The difficult, and in some ways, unenviable, job was allocated to 2 seasoned designers of the Nike Sportswear team headed by Jesse Leyva – Ann-Marie Paz & Anthony Hope.

A globe trotting citizen, Ann-Marie Paz have lived in the Bahamas and Atlanta, Georgia, studied in New York City, before bounding for Nike’s campus in Oregon. From this somewhat nomadic lifestyle, Paz was able to input her encounters of cultural-centric designs and border-less possibilities into the new Air Maxim.  Pairing those with Anthony Hope, a BMX rider originally from London, whose fascination with sub-culture movements led him to collect over 200 pairs of sneakers, a design degree, and later, a position in Nike. On the eve of the worldwide debut of Air Maxim, we had the opportunity to ask these 2 designers the premises behind the new sneakers and the designing processes. Here is what they have to say:

We are always curious to see how one’s background and lifestyle affect his or her designs.  Is it fair to say that both of you have seemingly different background?  Ladies first so let us start with you, Ann-Marie…

Ann-Marie:I was always an art kid and got really into music when my family moved to the Bahamas.  Music and art were my way of expressing myself and trying to keep in touch with the rest of the world while growing up on a tiny island that had one television channel.  I ended up getting a scholarship to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn when they saw all the weird paintings and drawings I had done in high school.

And Anthony, you were originally from England. How was the “sneaker culture” across the pond back then?

Anthony: Sneaker culture was always rife in UK, as with anywhere else.  It’s only in the past decade or so that it has become popular culture, it was always there..just not mainstream, its was all about knowing where to find new shoes from the States or knowing who had what…

Is it true you have some 200+ sneakers in you personal collection at one time? You still have them? Ever revisit your prized processions for references?

Anthony: I did have over 200+ pairs at one point, but came to the conclusion I only wore about 10% of what I owned. To be honest I would go though boxes and find shoes I forgot I had, entire track & field ranges and bizarre shoes for big sports events, to weird prototypes that were never made. Last year, edited down my favourites and shoes I had worked on, ended up taking 9 bin bags of shoes to Goodwill and donated them. As far as referencing shoes, yes, all the time, you need to look at History to move create the forward. Mostly kept the running shoes, Swifts, Hurrache lite’s, Talarias, presto’s etc, I’m interested in the evolution of concepts over the decades…

You both went on to focus and graduated with Industrial Design degrees. Was it always with the intent on becoming a “sneaker designer”…

Ann-Marie:Designing cars seemed fun, but besides Industrial Design I was always interested in illustration and Fashion Design, so designing footwear was a nice balance for me. I like the mix of technology and innovation with pop and sub-culture references, being able to think in terms of a collection, hand-sewing up concepts…

Anthony: Not at all, I really wanted to be an automotive or transportation designer, but began with an industrial degree, to keep my options open. I wanted to design utilitarian trucks, heavy machinery or motorbikes. However, I found my home in footwear design. Which actually turned out for the better, being interested in culture, fashion, footwear and being able to translate that into product, in comparatively short timelines.

So here it is, the Air Maxim 1. When did the design conception process start? How long did the process take from conception to the final rendering?

Anthony: From my perspective it started when we were working on the Air Max current projects and how to amplify the concept beyond just one model, so I think the seed was laid there..

Was there a list of objectives you want to or have to meet in designing this new sneaker?

Anthony: Yes, as with any project, there are always objectives of how to improve designs. On this project, the overall theme as with most Nike Sportswear projects, is to “Make it Better”, How do we improve the performance, whether it might be weight, comfort, breath ability etc.. On the current design? We put the Air Max One through a modern day running filter, keeping the aesthetic of the Air Max 1 pretty much the same. But using materials we have today in modern day running, how do we make a better running shoe? We improved the ride, cushioning, with a new phylon midsole, reduce rubber, for improved flexibility, and weight reduction. Removal of stitched layers, to improve upper flexibility and internal friction. Flywire, was added to improve upper rigidity and reduce overall weight. Our goal was to make the Iconic shoe again, but better..

Ann-Marie, many design elements on the Air Maxim 1 came to you during your visit to Tokyo. As a designer, what was it about this mega-metropolis that you were drawn to? Was it the bi-polar nature of the city, where the futuristic juxtaposed seamlessly with the traditional, the endless vibe the city seems to have, or something else?

Ann-Marie:Tokyo is so amazing…I was living there for a few weeks, getting inspired for that season.

I describe that experience as “cosmic’, since everything I was seeing and feeling reflected that theme to me. The graphics looked so mathematical and geometric, I was listening to a lot of Glass Candy and Chromatics while I was walking around, surrounded by all the latest technology and innovative products, knowing the Maxim 1 would launch in Fall 2009, right around the 40th anniversary of man walking on the moon… I was also particularly inspired by the local menswear at that time. You were starting to see these style-savvy guys on the street, in high-tech fabrics, wearing vintage technical running shoes in such a new, exciting way. I could see those guys appreciating the Maxim 1.

Tell us a little about the technical elements that went into the design?

Ann-Marie: The new tooling and upper materials contributed to the shoe being 30% lighter than the original Air Max 1. The midsole is a new light and flexible phylon with a re-engineered, top-loaded airbag cushioning system. We used a strong, breathable Acespan material on the upper and bonded the upper components using no-sew technology, with the Swoosh and iconic top eyelet screen-printed on to reduce weight. In place of the original leather “saddle’ in the midfoot, we used fly-wire in a graphic, rip-stop pattern to add transparent, lightweight support. Internally, foam “heel lobes’ that were inspired by the cleats that the Nike Football Team is working on, add comfort and keep your heel from slipping; especially important if you don’t like to lace up your sneakers all the way.

And finally, “updating” a classic is always fought with conflicts. Add too many new elements and the design is essentially a different product. Not adding enough and its consider as an upgrade only. In your opinions, how do you generally balance and counter-balance this Jekyll & Hyde-like dilemma?

Anthony: In retrospect, we didn’t run into that kind of issues. In this project, we had been driven only by Tinker’s design ethos of “perform and provoke” with the greatest research and materials at our disposal. The original Air Max 1 was our canvas that we ran through the filter of innovation. The new tooling and upper materials contributed to the shoe being. We tried to solve the very same problems Tinker Hatfield did with the technology of that time, using the technologies and Nike sporting innovations of today and tomorrow.

> Graphics – “Max to Maxim” Timeline

> Images – Nike Air Maxim 1 & Nike Air Max 1

> Video – Nike Sportswear – “Max to Maxim”

> Video – Nike Sportswear – “Air Maxim 1”

> Video – Nike Sportswear – “Tinker Hatfield: The visionary”

“Max to Maxim”

Nike Air Maxim 1 & Nike Air Max 1