Igår kunde ni läsa om vad Tinker Hatfield hade att säga om Nikes nya Air Max-modell (om inte, klicka här) och idag fortsätter vi historien genom att kasta några frågor till Graeme McMillan som jobbat med designen av skon.
In 2014, Nike celebrated the Air Max family’s birthday with the first Air Max Day. For 2015 we wanted to do something special. We started our ideation with a search of the archives, where we revisited all the executions we had done in the past around Air Max. We wanted to find something that spoke to the relevance of Air Max with contemporary culture and innovation. That led us to a sketch of what became the Air Max Zero.
How did you find the sketch in the archives?
I was at the archives for a different meeting a couple of months before this project was a blip on the radar. They had a retrospective of Air Max on display, complete with early prototypes and first-round samples of different models. There was a wealth of archival pieces and prototypes to excavate. It was like an archaeological dig in terms of these items you don’t usually get to see unless you work there.
I had actually seen the sketch prior to the archive visit, although I didn’t know its relevance. One of the other members of our team found out that it was actually an early idea for the Air Max 1 and then brought that idea to the design team. The sketch was something that was never fully realized. We thought it would be great if we could share this with the world and shed some light on the development of the franchise.
Were you aware of an Air Max model that preexisted the Air Max 1 before starting this project?
I wasn’t aware of what really happened, but I knew that there were different iterations and early concept sketches for the Air Max 1. It wasn’t until we actually dug a little deeper and got some information about this one particular sketch that we uncovered the story behind it.
What did you think when you first saw the sketch and heard the story that accompanied it?
My first thought was that it looked like a more contemporary version of the Air Max 1 in certain ways. It’s a little bit simpler in terms of the design. I also saw cues that, to me, were connected to other shoes, whether it was the Air Huarache via the inner sleeve, or the Sock Racer via its clean vamp. There were so many details that ended up being found in shoes that came later on. After talking with Tinker Hatfield, we found out that all the details of the shoe were considered to achieve this idea of comfort and fit.
How did you feel knowing that it was your responsibility to take something drawn more than 30 years ago, by such a storied designer, and make it into an actual product?
It’s a little daunting to take on a sketch from one of your design heroes and someone that’s such an important figure in sneaker culture design. There is a responsibility to do the design justice in a way that is faithful to the design intent, but also to add another element of innovation to it by building the shoe in a way we couldn’t have back in 1987. Basically we took the concept around comfort, fit, and lightweight and married it with some contemporary methods of make and innovation. For instance, fuse construction, engineered mesh, and Nike Flyknit didn’t exist back then. So we had an entire toolbox of different constructions and innovations that we could apply to this concept. For me, it had to go back to that initial idea, something comfortable enough to wear all day.
Can you remember anything specific that Tinker mentioned that gave you a North Star or an idea of how to get things started?
Tinker mentioned his original design intent was to achieve supreme comfort using different materials and construction methods. We took those ideas and put them through a filter of new innovation that wasn’t available then. Also, Tinker pointed out that he couldn’t find materials to accomplish the fit he wanted. Specifically, he wasn’t able to find a vamp material that had the right amount of stretch and structure to produce the sock-like fit he wanted.
Can you walk us through your Air Max Zero design process from beginning to finish?
We started with the 30-year-old concept sketch. All we had to do was bring it to life. There were a couple of considerations that we attacked from the beginning, one being, ‘How do we build the shoe in a relevant way that supports the design intent?’ We also had to decide what midsole and outsole we were going to use. It just so happened that we had just finished designing the Air Max 1 Ultra Moire, which was the lightest Air Max 1 sneaker we’ve made. What makes it so light and different from the original is that we’ve cored out the forefoot material and have moved away from poured PU construction. It’s now made of Phylon foam. Once we had that sorted, it was a matter of exploring different materials and construction methods for the upper. We didn’t want to build a conventional cut-and-sew upper. Instead we used fuse construction to apply thin films to the meshes. This allowed us to build up structure and support where necessary. We also used mesh containing monofilament yarn, which wasn’t available back in 1987. This allowed us to achieve the clean vamp without sacrificing breathability. It has a unique two-tone effect that gives the shoe added dimension.
How did Tinker feel about building the shoe using contemporary innovation?
Tinker was extremely supportive of the concept, since when he originally drew the sketch, he didn’t feel like he had the material to create the forefoot of the shoe.
Please describe the Air Max Zero and its ideology in one word.