Last seen in 2018, the Nike Air Max 180 “Ultramarine” is rumored to return with a bigger visible Air unit in 2024. Before touching on the significance of the possible retro, which was first shared by “Master of Air,” Karl Lashnikov (now @iceberg.og on Instagram), it’s important to briefly recount the evolution of Nike Air.
NIKE, Inc. is obsessed with innovation. Every decade of the company’s 59-year-history has been marked with some breakthrough on the performance side of sports, with 1987 having commenced the start of the Air Max revolution.
The lightweight, shock-absorbing, and energy-returning technology developed by Marion “Frank” Rudy saw success in silhouettes like the Nike Air Tailwind (1978) and Nike Air Force 1 (1982), but the game-changing solution couldn’t be seen by the sneakers’ wearers nor spectators. Tinker Hatfield helped change this with the development of the Nike Air Max 1 (1987), a design inspired by the inside-out nature of Paris’ Centre Pompidou. The Swoosh has been transparent with the history of Nike Air throughout the years, but one detail of which it’s been less vocal has been about the Air Max 1’s original big Air bubble.
Production for the original Nike Air Max proposition began in 1986 with a launch for the genre-pushing running sneaker intended for ’87. The earliest production samples of the pair featured a larger Air Max unit and visible window. Wear-testing exposed the fragility of the “Big Bubble,” leading the Swoosh to downsize the first visible Airbag enough to withstand the pressure of competitive running. Thus, the Air Max 1 and its cushioning solution were mass-produced to envious success, establishing the Nike creations that’ve spawned passions, businesses, and even a fictional holiday.
During a live stream on the Nike SNKRS app in March 2022, Air Max product line manager, Jamie Paige, and footwear designer, Jon Kosenick, shared that the Air Max 1 ’86 “Big Bubble” would release in 2023. The process of recreating the 80s sample took three years, according to Paige and Kosenick, but it would return in all of its original glory shortly after the silhouettes 35th anniversary.
The return of the (original) original Air Max 1 is exciting in its own right, but what’s been more impressive to savvy collectors of the Air Max series is the possibility of other models receiving a long-overdue “Big Bubble” retro. The Air Max 93 and 95 celebrates their 30th anniversaries in 2023 and 2025, respectively, and would largely benefit from a visible Airbag closer to the ones they debuted with decades ago. Diehard enthusiasts of the revolutionary series of footwear products will undoubtedly rejoice at any proper reissue of Nike’s golden era of shoes, but should expect to pay a higher price tag as many of the brand’s most popular designs have experienced an increase in MSRP over the last year-and-a-half.
The Air Max 180 isn’t celebrating a milestone anniversary until 2026, but rumors that it’ll be one of the earlier modes to receive Nike’s “Big Bubble” treatment stand their ground because the silhouette introduced the earliest mass-produced large Air unit when it launched in 1991. Re-releases of the sneaker’s “Ultramarine” style haven’t been as scarce as other options from the Swoosh’s expansive archive, but fans of the original pair have never been completely happy with these retros, citing differences in a shape, shades of colors, and the bubble underfoot. If Mr. Lashnikov’s information is true, the Air Max 180’s return in 2024 will coincide with several other NIKE, Inc. projects set to deliver decades-old offerings in a story-driven, high-quality fashion. Furthermore, the rumor suggests one of the brand’s collaborators will help energize the series-pushing silhouette over the next year-and-change. Maybe Virgil Abloh had a pair in the works? Only time will tell.