You know you’re special when you get your own holiday.
Over the last few years, as sneaker culture has exploded across the world, the Nike Air Max Day holiday has also taken off. This year, to celebrate, we traveled to Portland, Oregon, and connected our guest host of The Drop video series @Bull1trc with famed sneaker collector Jordan Geller. Geller is known worldwide as the man behind the famous @ShoeZeum. He has one of the craziest Air Max collections you’ll ever see.
During the trip, the two influencers chopped it up at Geller’s home on everything from the original Air Max sneaker to unknown models to where the line goes from here. See below for the full conversation.
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@bull1trc: What is your favorite Air Max sneaker?
@shoezeum: I love the Air Max 97—always have since 1997.
@bull1trc: What’s your favorite feature on the 97?
@shoezeum: I just love everything about it. I love that it was the first Air Max to achieve full Visible Air, heel to toe. Back in ’97, that was huge, huge innovation. I love the color, too. I mean, who can deny that this beautiful 3M metallic silver with the red and black and white accents is just gorgeous? I’ve always thought it was super duper futuristic. Nike has told us that the inspiration for this shoe is the Japanese bullet trains, but in actuality, it was a drop of water in a pond. I had the opportunity of meeting the designer of the shoe…
@bull1trc: I can see what you’re saying there too because on the top, that’s obviously what it looks like.
@shoezeum: Yeah, so the Swoosh is supposed to be the drop of water, and the concentric circles of 3M are sort of like ripples in a pond. I was just mind-blown when after, I swear, like 20-plus years walking around, talking about, “Oh, this shoe is so amazing,” and like “Check it out, it’s inspired by a Japanese bullet train,” but in reality, it’s like “Oh. No, it’s inspired by a drop of water in a pond.”
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@bull1trc: Why did you pick the Air Maxes as the main walk-in at the Shoezeum like, “Hey. This is what I want to show in the front?” Why did you pick that?
@shoezeum: When I gave tours of the Shoezeum, I always described the history of Air Pack as “a microcosm of the whole joint.” It was innovation, evolution, and style over time, and you could look at the first Air Max and look at the 360, and walk from one to the other to the other, and really see the evolution. That’s just like the Shoezeum. You would walk down the basketball aisle, see the basketball shoes from the ’70s, Blazers and Bruins. Then boom, you’d be in the ’80s with the Air Force 1’s and the Dunks and the Jordans. And so, this exhibit right here really encapsulated what the whole rest of the warehouse was like. When this [History of Air] pack first dropped in early 2006, I remember it so clearly. I walked into a sneaker store, and they had a poster up, and it showed these eight shoes, except the 360 was covered up, and you couldn’t see what it was. It was this building up for the next great Air Max. When these shoes all retroed at the same time, I went crazy. I wanted them all, but I couldn’t afford them all, so I just bought the Air Max 97, which was my favorite, and then over time, I collected the set, built them up, and I was very proud of the complete set.
@bull1trc: That makes sense. I probably say my favorite out of everything behind this, I actually do really like the 93. I really do like that one.
@shoezeum: You know what’s cool about this one? Back in the day, it was called the Air Max 270 because you could see Visible Air 270 degrees around the heel, and that was an upgrade from this one, the previous model, which was yeah, the Air 180 where you could see 180 degrees of Visible Air. But, something real innovative about your favorite of these Air Maxes is the air bubble right here. You can see it’s blue. This was the first model where they started putting colored air in the Air Maxes.
@bull1trc: I did not know that.
@shoezeum: Before that, it was clear or white.
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@bull1trc: What is so significant about Air Max and the Air Max line in general? What do you think is the biggest part of Air Max?
@shoezeum: Well, unquestionably, the Air Max 1 is one of the sneakers that changed the game. I mean, you go back and think of the Air Jordan I or the Air Max 1 or a generation before that to Nike waffles. But, the whole idea of visible Nike Air just completely changed the game. It came out in 1987. I was just a young kid at the time, and I remember growing up and shoes were only cool if they had visible bubbles, and the more visible air you could get, back in those days, the better. That’s something that’s so cool about this pack of shoes as you look at them over the years, the air bubble gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Nowadays, air bubbles going all the way around the shoe, heel to toe, are sort of taken for granted by sneakerheads because they’re on like so many different models. But gosh, it was like such a big deal just to be able to see through the shoe, way back here, like 20-something years ago.
@bull1trc: Yeah, it’s crazy when you say that, just like to see through a shoe. Like who would really think that, “Oh. By the way, we’re trying to put air in the bottom of the shoe.” “What do you mean put air in the bottom of the shoe?” “Oh, also, we need to see through the shoe.” “See through the shoe, what are you talking about?” It just seems like a crazy idea.
@shoezeum: And it was very controversial at the time. The people at Nike running and marketing did not jump all over Tinker Hatfield’s idea. They thought that maybe people wouldn’t buy shoes because they had holes in them, or they’d fall apart. Of course, you know, the inspiration for the Air Max 1 was the Georges Pompidou Center, out in France. Nike sent Tinker Hatfield and a bunch of designers and executives oversees to tour for inspiration, and there was this amazing building in the center of France. It was bright and colorful and also see through—like parts of the building were clear, and you could look through, and as the elevator went up and down in the building, you could see the little bits and pieces that would move the elevator up and down. That really hit Tinker Hatfield, and he was like, “Huh. I want to open it up so that the technology is something people can see and they’ll understand.”
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@bull1trc: So after we’ve seen all this, we talked about all the different innovations. What do you see in the future for Air Max?
@shoezeum: I think there will be a lot more of this cross-pollination. We look at some of these colorways right here, and they’re so iconic, you know? Like you look at this Air Max 90, and you can’t help but think of Infrared. And the Infrared with the black and the white and the grey. Imagine all eight shoes dressed up like this. Or you know, go to the 180 in the iconic ultra-marine colorway, and imagine all eight of these shoes dressed up like this. I think we’ll see a lot of that. The uppers have been so creative lately with Flyknits and with the liquid gold and liquid silver. They had those liquid gold and liquid silver Air Max 1’s.
@bull1trc: I think my favorite new thing is Flyknit. Flyknit is like one of my new favorite types. It’s just an interesting way to put the shoe together, and just think if they can do an all-Flyknit version of this. Clearly, they can use the knit and create different colors patterns that look exactly this, and it’s a completely different take, rather than your leathers and your meshes and stuff. There’s so many different…It’s crazy because I’m just thinking now, just realizing how iconic it is because you have so many of these shoes that have been retroed over and over again in just a different fashion, in all these different types of materials.
@shoezeum: I’ve always visualized Nike to be a tree, and each branch is maybe a different sport, and then within that sport, there are different lines. So, imagine the Nike tree and now you’re in running, and then you get to the Air Max, and really, like, each one of these models has become its own pillar on the tree where it’s pictured as a seed, and what’s grown from it is the engineered mesh, and the Hyperfuse, and who knows what’s to come. The tree is only getting bigger and more beautiful. But, these are the seeds, the base of all of the modern takes on the classic.
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@bull1trc: So what’s your earliest memory with Nike Air Max?
@shoezeum: Well, I was a kid when all of these shoes were coming out. I was born in 1977. The first Air Max came out when I was about 10 years old. And I grew up the eldest son of a marathon runner. My dad ran every single day. He used to run 10 or 12 miles every morning, and he ran 10 marathons, and he ran in these shoes. We used to go to the sneaker stores…I remember specifically this one, the Air 180, which was my dad’s favorite running shoe back in the day, and we would go into the sneaker stores and my dad was like, “I’m a size 12, I’ll take all of them.” And we would buy however many the store had, six pairs, eight pairs. There was no Internet. You could only buy shoes at the local sneaker shops, and at a very early age, I learned that it was okay to buy in multiple quantities. But, I remember my dad used to run in these shoes, and he had matching outfits. And kids in elementary school used to make fun of me because my dad used to run in the morning in our neighborhood with neon pink tights and the Ultra Marine 180s with his mullet flowing and everything, and that was a sign of the times. When I look back at these shoes, they remind me of my childhood, and people these days don’t realize this shoe when it came out in the early ’90s, the neon pink was really popular. Neon colors were a big deal, and that’s what made this shoe so popular.
@bull1trc: Okay, let’s say you’re 15 years old. You’ve got your job. You walk in the store. What is the Air Max you’re going for right now and today?
@shoezeum: I would say, you gotta start off with the first. Not any crazy, limited collaboration or some fancy limited edition whatever. Just boom: the plain, white mesh, red, grey Air Max 1.
@bull1trc: Good choice.
@shoezeum: And you know, it’s such a cool story to be able to say that the designer of this shoe saw this building that was see-through and was inspired to make the shoes see-through. And you know, that’s just a cool thing for a kid to be able to throw that shoe on their feet and know that that’s what inspired the shoe and tell others.
@bull1trc: Yeah, and I had no clue that was actually how it came about. So, that even, it makes me, just talking with you, makes me appreciate everything up here even more because I’m just learning things I had no clue [about]. I had no idea this was a 270–did not know that was ever a thing. And some of the things you’re talking about, like the colors on some of the other shoes. So, I just have a newfound respect, especially for the 97 now. I definitely got a newfound respect for these joints right here.
@shoezeum: Awesome! I feel like I’ve done my job. You know, something that’s so cool about when these shoes came out, nobody really knew the stories—the history behind them, what the designers’ inspirations were, and now, in this modern era where shoes are being retroed and Nike’s using the Internet to tell the stories. Very recently, the Air Max 95—they called it OG and it came in a box that looked just like the OG 1’s did; they even had Tuned Air on the bottom, which is the way they came out back in the day—and this shoe was inspired by the human body. The neon right here is the rib cage; this is supposed to be the muscles; here’s the spine; the breathable mesh right here is supposed to be your skin. And now, Nike’s re-releasing the shoes, and for the first time ever, they’re showing the sketches of Sergio Lozano, who designed this, and showing the anatomy of air, and how this was inspired by the human anatomy. The storytelling is what gets people so attached to the product because then it’s not just a shoe. I’m literally wearing a piece of art on my feet that was inspired by the human skeleton, and I want to tell all my friends about it.
@shoezeum: I’ll tell you this: In going back to a young collector who wants to get into sneakers, more and more I’ve come to realize that sneakers are meant to be worn, and it seems kind of hypocritical for me to say that sitting in front of eight deadstocked pairs. But, all of these retros, there’s not a whole lot that’s sacred about them. They’re remakes, they’re re-manufactures, they’re retros, they’re being cranked out purposefully in limited numbers so that the hype is through the roof. But if you are lucky enough to get yourself a pair of shoes that you really appreciate, wear them, and tell the story to other people of the inspiration behind them.
@bull1trc: Yeah, I might have one or two pairs of deadstocked shoes—maybe, possibly—but most of my stuff I have to wear. I have to do it. The first day I get ‘em, maybe the second day, I have to wear ‘em—at least one time.
@shoezeum: And you know what? For me, I don’t wear shoes ever to show off, but I love sharing the stories. And when people give me props on my shoes, I’m so quick to tell them the inspiration behind them, what I had to do to get that pair, and why they mean so much to me.