The Nike Air Max line has had an illustrious history, and has been well regarded in sneaker lore since Tinker Hatfield designed Nike Air Max 1 in the late-1980s. The revelation of the Air bag embodied the bedrock of innovation that the brand’s braintrust envisioned at its genesis.
The Air Max line has navigated through the highs and lows of acclaim and acceptance among its fans, but it has largely remained a mainstay within sneaker circles. The litany of releases spurred icons, such as the Air Max 95, that have re-released for more than two decades without much sign of slowing down.
Nike had large shoes to fill after Air Max 95 released and became one of its beloved silhouettes. The minimal branding and gradient color scheme paired with neon accents makes the shoes still sought after. Nestled between the popular Air Max 95 and 97s, Nike stuck with minimal branding and bulky design on the Air Max 96. However, the AM 96 popularity did not reach the level of the Air Max sneakers that came before or after.
The Air Max 97 was initially adored in specific pockets across the globe. Eventually, the silhouette grew to be one of the line’s most popular silhouettes. The cutting edge design of that shoe gave liberty to push boundaries on the Air Max 98. Revered designer Sergio Lozano, who was responsible for the Air Max 95, was tapped again to lend his talents the AM 98 and restore the feeling from his prior offering.
Sleek designs were part of the reason both the Air Max 97 became popular among the masses. Lozano took a different route on the Air Max 98, though, creating a bulkier sneaker that was years ahead of its time in terms of acceptance by the sneaker community. The horizontal ribbing that stretched horizontally front front to back of the 95 and 97 Air Max were spun to create vertical ribbing on the Air Max 98. Reflective piping curved its way around the upper separating the unique lacing system and mesh material from contrasting leather surrounding the middle portion of the upper. Yet another contrasting element rounds out the upper as colored nubuck material traced the top of the midsole.
One of the things that fans of the Air Max anticipated prior to every release was the new, inventive way the visible Air would be presented. Each year’s release typically brought about another rendition of visible Air Max within the midsole. However, the Air Max 98 simply employed the same full length visible Air Max bed that was first presented on the Air Max 97. The repeat usage was not well received by fans of the Air Max line. The bulky build, lack of air bubble innovation on the sole, curved layering on the upper, and overzealous branding made the $150 a hard pill to swallow at the time of release. For context, Air Max 95s were still a sought after sneaker three years after its original release — so much so that the actual original “Neon” colorway had a release date in 1998. When first released, the Nike Air Max 95 had a price tag of $110. The Air Max 97 went for the same $150, but it was viewed as more justifiable due to its all-new, otherworldly, “Silver Bullet” appearance.
(Fun fact: the grade school sizes of the Nike Air Max 98 did not have the full length AM 97 sole. Instead, it sat atop a midsole and air bubble styling of the Air Max 95.)
Throughout the years, the Nike Air Max has been the canvas for Nike designers to implement new color pallets and cushion systems. That didn’t necessarily happen on the Air Max 98. Instead, Lozano and Nike opted to splash the kicks with a colorway that utilized royal and navy blues to offset eye popping white on the middle layer and tongue on the upper, and red coloring sprinkled on the lace eyelets and other accents. The Air Max 98 would release in a few other original colorways that hinted toward Lozano’s past Nike ACG past. Outside of the original color scheme, nicknamed “Gundam” due to its likeness to an Anime of the same name, many of the Nike Air Max 98 sneakers faded quickly and ended up on sale racks and in the markdown section of footwear retail magazines.
Adding insult to Nike’s injuries from the lukewarm reception of the Air Max 98, other Air Max iterations released the same year that became classic sneakers. In the fall of the same year, Nike began a project with Foot Locker that culminated with the release of the Air Max Plus. With the debut of Nike’s latest Air interpolation, the Air Max plus, more affectionately dubbed “TN”, with its Tuned Air poles, bold colors and gradient upper turned out to be the most memorable Air Max release of that year and continues to invoke immense affinity among sneaker wearers. It is plausible, even understandable, that people would think the Air Max Plus was the yearly contribution to the vaunted Air Max line, but it was not. The popularity of the TN continues to reverberate as the 1998 original release serves as the underlying inspiration for the expansive adoration of the Vapormax in recent years.
As times and fashion evolve, the preferences of the people do so as well. The bulky construction of the Air Max 98 was frowned upon when it first dropped. Luckily, success of previous Air Max entries carrying into the years post release caused Nike to lightly revisit the silhouette just two years later. The Air Max 98 would return to shelves dressed in colors inspired by popular Air Max 95 releases, along with a few new colors. Sneakers fans still weren’t ready to accept the Lozano design, and the retro versions saw a similar sale rack designation as its original brethren.
Fourteen years later, the fashion world was starting to view the bulky runner as a desirable look; perfect entry point for the Air Max 98 to return. Which it did. Once again the silhouette was doomed to sale racks and markdowns. It could have easily been assumed that the Air Max 97 was permanently shelved. The shoe simply wasn’t resonating even sixteen years after the original release.
Gone but not forgotten has been the mantra for many sneakers. Brands have dug deep into their respective crates to bring forth sneakers that had not been in the forefront of our hearts and minds for quite some time. Fashion took a turn to thrifting and retro looks, specifically 90’s aesthetics, and the sneaker world followed suit. The Air Max 98 received its most considerable resuscitation when it teamed with notorious collaborator, Supreme, for a high end release in 2016. The brand is known to go against the grain from time to time and take risks on sneakers that people would consider risky. However, just about anything Supreme lent its red bar graphic touch to transforms to to coveted. That was the case with the Supreme x Nike Air Max 98.
Shiny patent leather cloaked the sidewall and toe cap of three of the four Supreme releases. Using very minimal color blocking, the pack featured colorways of navy and red patent leather sitting below gray mesh and piping and finished with a white midsole and gray outsole. There was also a pair completely in black from inner lining to outsole. The flashiest pair of Supreme x Nike Air Max 98 saw beige snakeskin wrap the sneaker, while putting the same gray mesh, outsole and white midsole to work.
The Supreme pack was met with a high level of hype that caused the shoes to be released as online exclusives and sold out in minutes despite the hefty $198 pricing. The Supreme collaboration coupled with the newly found adoration for “dad shoes” and chunky sneakers provided the perfect storm for sneaker fans to begin clamoring for the Nike Air Max 98 to release again to the general public. Nike also had the silhouette’s 20th anniversary marketing tucked in it’s back pocket after the Supreme release in 2016. Sure enough, the Air Max 98 would return in 2018 in full force. Both OG and newly minted colorways would release during the 20th anniversary year beginning with the original “Tour Yellow” color scheme that dropped in January 2018. The treasured “Gundam” colorway also made its way back to shelves in 2018.
Since the Supreme resurgence in 2016, the Nike Air Max 98 has seen its popularity peak on the Nike campus and among the sneaker culture. The growing fondness for bulky kicks and increasing love for retro runners creates the perfect platform for the 98 to flourish. The Air Max 98 has been featured in a variety of Nike’s promotional packs, which is a testament to its growing acclaim. It will be interesting to see where this late bloomer will land in the hearts and minds of sneaker lovers.