October 1, 2012 BY Aaron Kr.
5- Air Jordan III “Black/Cement”
For the Nike Air Jordan III, a rising star designer’s outside-the-box approach to capturing a once in a lifetime athlete’s effortless swagger created a perfect storm that will never and can never be captured again by another sneaker. These rare elements came along like a tidal wave and lucky for all of us, Captain Tinker Hatfield was there to navigate the waters into an evolutionary peak in sports style that we have only sloped down from since this gamechanger first saw the light of day back in 1988. If the Jordan III had originally released with solid grey overlays on the toe and heel wraps instead of Elephant print, it would have still been an incredible silhouette, but that one small cosmetic detail did more for the shoe and the brand than any technology or performance advancement ever could. It’s pretty much a given that elephant print is the coolest pattern ever seen on a sneaker. That’s not even my opinion. It’s a fact.
Just ask the designers at every shoe brand including Nike themselves who have either tried to top it, tweak it, or just straight up rip it off. Nothing else has and ever will come close and I’m not even entirely sure why. You’d think there’s gotta be something else out there that’s as cool or cooler than elephant print, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Thanks to its impeccable lines, shape and fit and some unexpected high-fashion sensibilities, the Air Jordan III stands alone as the absolute pinnacle of sneaker style. This is the type of shoe that I didn’t even want to put on my list, because it’s on everyone’s list, but that in itself says all you need to know about it. In x amount of years, if we’re not all a pile of post-apocalyptic ashes, the Air Jordan III will still be the flat-out coolest sneaker ever made.
4- Nike Air Max 90 “Infrared”
If neon pink, red and orange had a three-way baby and you set it on fire, it might look something like Infrared. Why does this color look so good on a shoe? I don’t think you can sufficiently put it into words, but when applied correctly, it can elevate a sneaker into the next stratosphere of desirability. The Air Max 90 was clear visual evidence that this Air Max thing was gonna get real interesting, but nothing about it made a louder statement than the vibrant color choice. And over 20 years later, it still speaks just as loud and is still found in just as many sneaker rotations, if not more, as a result. There’s something to be said for a shoe that seems to re-release every 2-3 years and still clears out every time, which brings me to a topic I love to preach about.
In the early days of Air Max, every new model was rolled out in an identifiable flagship colorway that became the lasting face of the shoe – the red and blue versions of the original Air Max 1, the Infrared 90, the persian violet BW, the Ultramarine 180, the neon 95 and the list goes on. Nike abandoned this approach somewhere along the way and I think it has seriously hurt the eventual legacy of later Air Max models. Nowadays, the new yearly Air Max offering may release twelve at a time with none standing out as anything close to a memorable identity for the shoe. When Nike retros the Air Max 2010 in a few years, what colorways will they bring back first? Who knows, but I already don’t want them, and not because it’s not a cool shoe. I’m done. The Infrared 90 is immortally sick.
3- Nike Air Max 1
Within my sneaker collection, there are more Air Max 1’s than any other shoe and it’s actually not even close, so choosing one pair to represent it with so many juicy possibilities up for grabs is no easy task. I’ve decided to go with sort of a cop out and show off a pair of iD’s that I did a few years back. I swear I’m usually way more humble than this, but I think these are the best Nike iD’s I’ve ever seen. The concept was to combine elements of 3 of my all-time favorite sneakers into one. The math goes: Air Jordan IV “Bred” + Air Jordan IV “Cement” x Air Max 1 = I’d like to think the results speak for themselves. The Air Max 1 makes for such a great iD palette and the speckle options they offered for a while were just screaming to be used in a cement-inspired motif.
I think the simplified blocking steals the show on these and the colors came out just right. Even the Hot Red instead of Varsity gives it some added Infrared punch without betraying the theme. As stated before, my love for the Air Max 1 goes deep and so does my AM1 arsenal, but when it comes down to it, these really might be my favorite of them all. I don’t mean to slight all the amazing Nike originals and collaborative efforts that I have tons of love for, but I’m looking at a wall of them right now and I honestly don’t see another pair that I’d rather display here than these. If that’s wrong, I don’t wanna be right.
2- Nike Air Trainer 1
As stated earlier, for most of my childhood, I remember my father wearing New Balance runners with the occasional Stan Smith thrown into the mix. In retrospect, that’s pretty solid by 80’s Dad standards, but at the time, I was all about Nike, so I generally wasn’t too excited about his limited rotation. Not sure if there was a full moon or what, but one night back in 1987, my Dad came home with a pair of “Chlorophyll” Trainer 1’s, a shoe that unequivocally did not mesh with his usual sneaker leanings. The cross-training ideology was a freshly introduced concept at the time, and there was some serious buzz around Nike and this versatile new breed of sneaker. Bo Jackson was wearing them to train in the gym while John McEnroe was playing tennis in them and that actually seemed pretty revolutionary at the time. I guess my Dad took notice for some reason, because not only was it the first pair of Nike’s that I ever saw him wear, but it might have been the coolest pair of shoes I had ever seen, period.
A lot of years have passed, and I can honestly say that not much has ever topped the Air Trainer 1 in my mind. So much of it comes down to that strap and I’ve been a sucker for it ever since. It was the first shoe I can remember to feature a mid-foot strap like that, and it was the coolest thing in the world to me – not because I loved the extra lockdown it gave me when pulled tight, but for how sick it looked when unhooked from the medial side and left flapping and open. My sneaker style has always been more Sidney Deane than Billy Hoyle, so in all these years of buying Nike shoes with straps, I can safely say that I’ve rarely ever actually used any of them for their intended stabilization purposes. I really don’t care how it’s supposed to make my foot feel. I just want it to look cool, and not too many things look cooler to me than a pair of open-strapped Chlorophyll Trainer 1’s. These are re-releasing again later this month and best believe I’ll be picking up some back-ups.
1- Air Jordan IV
I consider myself to be a lover of art, and as we all know, art can be found in all kinds of places – even, and in this case, especially in sneakers. It’s no secret that Tinker Hatfield is an absolute genius and I wouldn’t hesitate to place him on a short list of my all-time favorite artists of any genre or medium. It’s so hard to pick just one favorite, but to me, the Air Jordan IV is his finest masterpiece. It offers a perfect blend of … well, everything and stands as a rare example of sneaker perfection in my eyes. The Air Jordan IV also holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Air Jordan that I ever owned, although it was not the Black/Red which is by far my favorite colorway, but the “Military Blue”, which was plenty fine with me at the time. I was in 5th grade when they hit the clearance rack at Athlete’s Foot for $70, and smelling the opportunity to obtain a previously unthinkable shoe, I went into full used car salesman mode and somehow talked my Mom into going a full $20 above her steadfast sneaker price cap of 50 bucks.
It was a true conquest and once they were in my possession, I became completely mesmerized by the lines and shapes of the shoe. It looked so high-tech and futuristic and I remember sitting down to meticulously draw it several times just so I could understand every curve and detail. That’s probably not normal behavior for a 10-year old kid, but that’s the power that this shoe held over me. It’s now 23 years later and I still feel exactly the same way about it. I’m not completely set in stone on my rankings for any other shoe on this list, but I can say with all certainty that the Air Jordan IV is my favorite sneaker ever and was a no-brainer lock for my top spot. Thanks Tinker.