Being asked to put together a list of the best Nike Air Max 1 collaborations of all-time is a daunting task. On one hand, it’s easy: there are enough solid co-labs that immediately spring to mind… but on the other hand, how do you avoid simply replicating the same selection that anyone else would do? Luckily, there are enough under-the-radar editions to add a bit of left-field activity to the proceedings. Let’s commence!
1) Kid Robot x Nike Air Max 1 (2005)
The Kid Robot (or Kidrobot, if you prefer) release represents an exciting time in the Nike collaboration timeline. We’d started to see a few exciting things by 2005, but every now and then something would come from nowhere and smack you round the head – this was one of those releases. The crew at Kid Robot were the forefathers of the vinyl toy movement and this shoe celebrated their rise to success with a low-key release at a well-known US department store, Barneys, in New York. The whole package was a premium experience: guest art on the insoles, special packaging and a unique keychain. Only 200 pairs were available, making it a difficult shoe to find, but the real money is in the pink hyperstrike version, which was limited to 72 pairs and only given to friends and family. Try finding those…
2) Patta x Parra x Nike Air Max 1 (2010)
An easy inclusion here. The whole series of Air Max 1s from the good guys at Patta are much-loved and extremely well-executed: ranging from the ‘Amsterdams’ in 2005, through to the 5th anniversary chlorophyll release of 2009 and finally culminating with this triple threat super-limited release in 2010. After the 5th anniversary series dropped, we started to see the odd image online of the Patta guys wearing a burgundy pair of Air Max 1s: were these another part of the series or perhaps an aborted sample? A few months later and knowledge was dropped. Perhaps one of the smartest Air Maxes of all-time.
3) Nike Air Max 1 ‘Urawa’ (2004)
Perhaps not strictly a collaboration in the usual sense, but this Japan-only release celebrated the Urawa Dragons football club, using the team’s kit as the inspiration for the colours. Different shades of red were framed with a glorious silver mesh and the whole deal was signed off with the club’s dragon icon stitched on the heel. A relatively unhyped shoe at the time of release, it has stood the test of time well. A celebration instead of a collaboration? Sod it: we’re having it.
4) Ben Drury x Nike Air Max 1 ‘Hold Tight’ (2006)
As part of the ‘Air We Breathe’ pack, this beautiful piece of footwear showcased the superb design skills of Ben Drury. Ben’s work for Mo’Wax (and many other clients) made him a name that many of us grew up with – and this wasn’t his first Nike collaboration either: 2009 saw him develop the Dizzee Rascal Air Max 90, which is a great piece of footwear in its own right. But back to the shoe in hand – the downtempo colouring, tasty 3M panels, perforated toebox and tasteful embroidery (which reference London’s pirate radio subculture) make this one of our favourite collaborations of all-time.
5) Liberty London x Nike Air Max 1 (2014)
The best collaborations on this shoe aren’t all in the distant past: this year’s collaborative series with Liberty London resulted in a strong set of shoes, but the Air Max 1 was perhaps the jewel in the crown. Primarily intended for the ladies out there, there was still more than enough goodness to soak through to the fellas out there too. One of the iconic Liberty paisley prints formed a big part of this Air Max 1, but the wheaty/straw-coloured toe guard, detailing and laces provided the perfect contrast.
6) BEAMS x Nike Air Max 1 (2013)
“Hang on! That looks just like the Milan Air Max 1!”, we hear you cry. And indeed it does… a bit. But this BEAMS Japan-only release of the Air Max 1 has enough differing details to set it aside from the well-known Turf pack favourite. The distressed suede on the uppers was the antidote to all the luxury plush materials we’d seen being used in 2013, whilst the safety orange outsole looked just that little bit better than the pink of the Milan shoe. White midsoles and tonal embroidery on the heel kept things clean and simple. Strictly for the summer months, we can’t see these dirt magnets coping very well with denim bleed.
7) CLOT x Nike Air Max 1 SP (2013)
Following on from the 2006 Air Max 1 release, this 2013 reprise went for a completely different look to the original shoe. Gone was the interesting-but-sweaty transparent toe box – and in its place was a much nicer (and more practical) mesh panel that was perfect for the summer heat in Shanghai. Hyperfuse uppers showed off the latest Nike technology and kept the shoe lightweight, with a nice ‘Kiss of Death’ motif on the heel and foot-map artwork on the inner sole. If you flip the shoe upside down, you’ll see artwork of a human foot. Best keep them the right way up, eh?
8) Roundel by London Underground x Nike Air Max 1 (2013)
Seemingly from nowhere, Roundel dropped one of the best Air Max 1s to ever come from these hallowed shores. The accompanying Air Max 90 was just as good, but this Air Max 1 really had it all: all-over woven Jacquard uppers (featuring the pattern from the District Line train seats), a smart black swoosh, white midsole and delicious gum sole to finish off. We’ve always loved the London Underground symbol (AKA the roundel), so stitching that into the tongue was the icing on the cake. These premiered at a special pop-up shop in Piccadilly Circus station, with plenty of fans turning up at the un-Godly release time of 7am on a Saturday.
9) LAF (Lance Armstrong Foundation) x Nike Air Max 1 Premium TZ ‘Stages’ (2009)
Back before he was revealed to be a cheating bully, Lance Armstrong could do no wrong – and Nike were prepared to show their approval by releasing a fantastic set of shoes in the infallible combination of black, grey and Livestrong yellow. The Air 180 was a highlight of the series, but the Air Max 1 was a lovely looking piece of footwear. Premium leather, deluxe nubuck suede on the heel panel, speckled midsoles and that bright yellow outsole and swoosh resulted in a shoe that would handle most weather conditions without showing any wear and tear. Rumours that the air bubbles were filled with growth hormones have not been proven yet.
10) Atmos x Nike Air Max 1 ‘Safari’ (2002)
To round off with, we’ll go for perhaps the easiest choice. Find us an Air Max 1 fan who doesn’t like these and we’ll pass the straitjacket: any way you look at it, these are clever, well executed and fit the limited-but-just-about-easy-enough-to-get category perfectly. As one of the earliest collaborations, when Atmos dropped these back in 2002, people didn’t know what was going on: an Air Max 1 referencing a weird trail shoe from the late ‘80s? The twill canvas toe box, suede panels, gum outsole and mismatched swooshes hammered it home: these were not your everyday Air Maxes. Atmos have worked on several well-loved Air Max 1s over the years, but over a decade after their release, this first collaboration still holds the crown.
On another day, perhaps we’d put a few other releases into the mix – some of the other Atmos editions, the first CLOT Air Max or maybe something from the APC set – but the above ten are more than solid enough. The Air Max 1 might be almost 30 years old now, but it’s the perfect example of a timeless design.
By Chris Aylen @thedropdate