Nike Air Max 90: A 30-year retrospective of the timeless sneaker

Nike Air Max 90: A 30-year retrospective of the timeless sneaker

The Nike Air Max 90’s original design and industry-leading technology has allowed the sneaker to stand the test of time.

Nike Air Max 90 timeline Sneakers Magazine

Though the Air Max 90 has evolved over time, the silhouette has remained relatively unchanged.

As the Nike Air Max 90 celebrates its 30th birthday this year, we look back to see how the sneaker has evolved over time.

1990 was the year Tinker Hatfield and Nike graced the world with one of their most recognizable creations – the Nike Air Max 90. Originally named the Air Max III, the Air Max 90 was an evolution of the iconic Air Max 1. The sneaker debuted with huge improvements over the Air Max 1, including the addition of durable fabrics in the upper and a motion-focused design. Undoubtedly, Tinker and Nike created one of the most recognizable and timeless Air Max sneakers to date.
Staying true to Tinker’s aim of creating sneakers that evolve and improve over time, the Air Max 90 has received major updates over the last 30 years. Let’s step back in time and check out how the Air Max 90 has evolved over the years.

Air Max 90 “Infrared” – 1990

Nike Air Max 90 1990 OG Ad

The very first Air Max 90 was actually named the Air Max III.

The original Air Max 90 was designed as a running sneaker. Its design cues and Air Max midsole were created to provides runners with better performance while keeping them looking fresh. With a combination of leather, mesh and soft plastics, Tinker gave the sneaker a distinctive look that would be appreciated for years to come.

Nike Air Max 90 360 One Time Only “Infrared” – 2006


Though it was Nike’s first attempt at a sole swap, the Nike Air Max 90 360 would fit into a 2020 sneaker rotation.

This was the very first hybrid sneaker Nike ever made. It took the classic Nike Air Max 90 “Infrared” upper and placed it atop the Air Max 360 midsole. These dropped as part of the Nike “One Time Only” pack and is still regarded as a grail for many today.

Nike Air Max 90 Current “Kaws”  – 2008


The Air Max 90 received so much attention that Kaws had to put his spin on it.

Another hybrid from Nike, the Air Max 90 Current is meant to provide runners with a better cooling system combined with the barefoot feeling of the Nike Free midsole. The forefoot now utilized Nike Free inspired cuts which made it much more flexible and adaptable to each of our unique foot strikes.

Nike Air Max 90 Flywire “TZ” – 2008

Nike Air Max 90 FLYWIRE “TZ” Reddit

If you look closely at the Nike Air Max 90 Flywire, you can see the outline of the OG sneaker panels.

The Nike Air Max 90 Flywire brought Flywire tech into the mix. Flywire is Nike’s proprietary set up that enables for a narrower fit, better lockdown and overall lighter construction. It was an improvement that helped the Air Max 90 maintain its status as the choice running sneaker in 2008.

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Nike Air Max 90 Hyperfuse “Independence Day” – 2012

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The Hyperfuse variant took lightness up a notch by taking as much weight out of the upper as possible. This meant removing excess bits of leather, rubber, plastic, and mesh. To retain the same lockdown and design as before, Nike used its fuse overlays to reinforce the upper. The sneaker quickly became a must-have when Kanye West was seen rocking all three colorways from the “Independence Day” pack. Today, a pair will set you back over US$700 on the secondary market.

Nike Air Max 90 Engineered Mesh “Infrared” – 2013

Nike Air Max 90 EM Sneakers and Stuff

Nike Air Max 90 EM managed to retain the shape of the OG sneaker while providing better breathability and lightness.

Released as part of the Air Max OG and Engineered Mesh pack, the Air Max 90 EM received a full mesh upper. It retained the lateral leather panels and classic Air Max heel tab, but all else was constructed of Engineered Mesh.

Nike Air Max 90 SneakerBoot “Winter Bronze” – 2013


The Nike Air Max 90 Sneakerboot offered sneakerheads an option to rock in the wilderness.

To make the Air Max 90 event more adaptable, Nike released the Nike Air Max 90 Sneakerboot in 2013. It included updates to the outsole to improve traction, a high cut for protection from the elements, reflective 3M accents for visibility and an upper made from rugged material for added durability.

Nike Air Max Lunar 90 3.0 “Infrared” – 2013

Nike Air Max 90 NIKE AIR MAX LUNAR 90 3.0 “INFRARED” 

Lunarlon + Air Max = Next level shock absorption and comfort.

This was another hybrid sneaker created by Nike, this time adding Lunarlon technology to the Air Max 90. You can easily spot one of these sneakers by its wavy midsole pattern. The Lunarlon midsole helped improve cushioning while reducing weight – which of course allowed it to perform better, both as a running sneaker or a beater.

Nike Air Max 90 2014 Leather “Infrared” – 2014

Nike Air Max 90 NIKE AIR MAX 90 2014 LEATHER “INFRARED” Sneaker Freaker

The full Air Max midsole gives the all-leather Air Max 90 a very futuristic aesthetic – even by today’s standard.

In 2014, Nike attempted another sole swap. This time a full-length Air Max outsole replaced the classic midsole. The sneaker received a Quickstrike (find out what “Quickstrike” means and other sneaker terminology here) release through Atmos, which made it an incredibly rare sneaker.

Nike Air Max 90 Flyknit “Infrared”  – 2016

Nike Air Max 90 NIKE AIR MAX 90 FLYKNIT “INFRARED”  - 2016 Sneaker Freaker

It’s incredible that Nike managed to retain the classic Air Max 90 silhouette with a fully knitted upper.

Nike took lightness to the extreme with the Nike Air Max 90 Flyknit. The sneaker got the full Flyknit treatment, with nothing but a knitted upper. Through colored stitching, overlays and reinforcement, Nike was successfully able to recreate the original shape and color blocking of the retro sneaker.

Nike Air Max 90 Recraft “CS” – 2019

Nike Air Max 90 NIKE AIR MAX 90 RECRAFT “CS” size?

The Nike Air Max 90 Recraft is a complete recreation of the OG sneaker, but utilizing modern technologies at Nike’s disposal.

The Nike Air Max 90 Recraft is Nike’s love note to the 30-year-old sneaker. The Recraft will be the brand’s closest recreation of the original runner that everyone fell in love with in the ’90s. Using a combination of high-quality leather, mesh and suede, the Air Max 90 Recraft is a reinterpretation of a retro sneaker that’s great for a 2020 rotation.

Nike Air Max 2090 – 2020

Nike Air Max 90 NIKE AIR MAX 2090 Sneaker Freaker

The Nike Air Max 2090 takes the retro designs of the Air Max 90 and injects it with 2020 vision – and beyond.

Looking into the future, Nike has adapted key design cues from the Air Max 90 and merged them with the latest and best technologies at their disposal. The end result is the Nike Air Max 2090 – the Air Max 90 built for 2020, and beyond. The sneaker receives a much larger Air unit while retaining the mudguard, heel logo and cassette feature around the air unit we all know and love. It’s a respectful homage of the original sneaker while creating something absolutely new and fresh to rock in the new year.

You can check out the full range of Nike Air Max 90 sneakers on Prices range from S$144.99 to S$219.

Which was the very first Air Max 90 you ever copped? Share your pick up in the comment section.

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Undefeated reimagines the Nike Air Max 90 for 2020

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