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History of the Nike Air Max Plus 'TN'

History of the Nike Air Max Plus 'TN'

clock-circular-outline Posted October 26, 2023

From Florida sunset to global icon, we look back at the 25-year journey of the Nike Air Max Plus.

Nike Air Max Plus TN

25 years deep into its sneaker discovery, the Nike Air Max Plus is still as relevant as it ever was in 1998. Dreamt up by Sean McDowell, a young Nike designer at the time who spent his disposable days on the sandy beaches of Florida, little did he know his picturesque sketch-ups of the gradient-inspired sunsets would be the start of a whole new sneaker entity.

From its rich slew of colour schemes to its long-lasting employment in the lifestyle scene, this is the story of the Nike Air Max Plus and how it has transformed the sneaker game that we know and love today.

New Beginnings

1997 was quite a challenging year for the Beaverton brand. With the sneaker giant facing major scrutiny for its sweatshop productions overseas as well as being met with a lingering deadline to create a Foot Locker-exclusive sneaker, tensions were at an ultimate high.

The concept behind this project with Foot Locker was to create a new Nike Air Max silhouette (which would be called the ‘Sky Air’ project) that would incorporate tuned air technology - the first of its kind to be ever featured on the Air Max silhouette.

15 failed design attempts later and Nike needing a fresh perspective on this design project, the reigns were handed over to McDowell, the brand's latest design pioneer, who envisioned a performance silhouette that provided something innovative, vibrant, and in keeping with the traditional elements of performance and comfort.

The Design Process

In terms of design, McDowell certainly had his work cut out. The young designer fleshed out a streamlined runner that hailed back to his glory days in Florida. Technical mesh served the uppers, incorporated with exoskeleton TPU overlays that were chartered throughout the shoe to mimic palm trees, while gradient colourings offered the feeling of the vibrant Florida sunset.

The lateral Swoosh was also slightly slimmer and more streamlined than its earlier Air Max variants and this was due to the fact that McDowell was never initially shown how to properly draw the Swoosh design.

Original Nike Air Max Plus design
Image Courtesy via Nike Website

McDowell also noticed that many of the earlier Air Max iterations featured reflective panelling on the rears, which didn’t seem very practical during those late-night or early-morning runs, so he included reflective accents on the toe box and tongue to increase visibility when facing oncoming traffic.

The lowers were in another league of technical execution, McDowell incorporated a forefoot shank that divided the front and back Air units each installed to the toe and heel which teamed inspiration from a Whale’s tale.

original sketch of the Nike Air Max Plus
Image Courtesy of Nike Website

The purpose of this dynamic Air-tuned cushioning was to provide exceptional springy comfort when pressure is asserted through the forefoot. The system also offered shock absorption, flexibility, and stability, backing you up on that trickier terrain. He also etched out the ‘different hemispheres’ of the rubber which was previously unseen on earlier Air Max shoes.

Tn Air logo

Although reluctant, McDowell was also instructed that the now signature TN logo would be a prominent feature on the Air Max Plus, so he decided to place it on the lateral heel.

Bumps in the road

As with any technical design, the Nike Air Max Plus was due to face some complications and this was through the production stage. McDowell flew out to Asia where he was able to understand how to create the perfect shade gradient, this was achieved by printing a lighter shade of a colour, followed by dark shades on top and this only took one sample to create the desired multi-tonal look.

Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Violet Dust'

Image Courtesy of @jonascozone via Instagram

However, the issue was that McDowell was told that the TPU design was too big to weld in one piece as this would either melt the fabric or cause issues with the bonding of the material, so they decided to split the welding process into three phases.

After its long-scheduled production, the Nike Air Max Plus was finally presented to Foot Locker who were so impressed with the inaugural design that the initial advertisement plan was scrapped.

The silhouettes were featured in the window of a sneaker store in 1998, gaining traction from a swarm of school kids who were eager to know where they could buy this one-of-a-kind sneaker. The technical but equally vibrant silhouette quickly gained popularity, becoming one of Nike Air Max’s best sellers of that year, despite its rather hefty $125 price tag.

From Beaverton to the world

Skepta wearing TNs

Image Courtesy of Skepta

Early on in its iconography, the Nike Air Max Plus gained its perennial status in the UK and Australia, forging its own identity as the ‘TN’. A shoe that was heavily adopted by the subcultural inner city ‘Chavs’ and later landed on the feet of the quintessential UK Roadman. Down under, in Australia, it gained notoriety as the footwear choice of 'Eshay Lads', weaving itself into the fabric of social expression.

Final words

Today, a quarter of a century later, the Nike Air Max Plus still reigns supreme. Its legacy is etched not only in the annals of sneaker history but also in the cultural tapestry of countless communities. With its unique design, groundbreaking technology, and enduring popularity, the Air Max Plus is a testament to the power of innovation and the enduring influence of a sneaker that has truly stood the test of time.

So, as we look back on 25 years of the Air Max Plus, we can't help but wonder what new horizons this iconic silhouette will conquer in the years to come, continuing to shape the sneaker game we know and love.

To celebrate the anniversary of the Air Max Plus, let’s take a look at some of our favourite iterations of all time.

Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Hyper Blue' (1998)

Nike Air Max Plus 'Hyper Blue'
Image Courtesy of Sneaker Freaker Website

Supreme x Nike Air Max Plus TN Collection (2020)

Supreme x Nike Air Max Plus Collection

Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Triple Black' (2018)

Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Triple Black'

Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Logo Sketch' (2019)
Nike Air Max Plus TN ' Logo Sketch'

Nike x Patta x FC Barcelona Air Max Plus (2023)

Nike x Patta x FC Barcelona Air Max Plus

Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Triple White' (2020)

Nike Air Max Plus 'Triple White'
Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Pastel Rainbow' (2019)

Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Pastel Rainbow'

Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Black Sundial' ( 2023)

Nike Air Max Plus TN 'Black Sundial'

Nike Air Max Plus TN '25th Anniversary' (2023)

Nike Air Max Plus TN '25th Anniversary'
Image Courtesy of Sneaker News Website

Check out our Brief History of BAPE here


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