Talk us through the VAPORMAX and its creation.
The VaporMax. It’s a crazy shoe, and what we are all here to see. Essentially, one of the things we are so excited about with this shoe is the way it has changed the way we think about engineering footwear going forward. Much of the reason behind that is because of the inspiration around the shoe to begin with. The innovation was driven through the lens of performance, specifically through the lens of running. Air Max began as a running shoe, with some of the very early Air Max shoes driven through the lens of running, and when you do that it really allows you to push the boundaries of innovation and keep moving things forward. So, we found it very important to do that with the VaporMax as well.
What we did is that we went and talked to a lot of different runners and asked: “What do you guys think about Max – do you love it, do you hate it? What do you think?” A lot of the feedback said the shoe could be more flexible, could be a lot lighter, and really it could feel a lot more like running on air, it doesn’t really feel like that right now. So the challenge for the design, and the thing that was the brief all the way through, was how do we maximize this sensation of air?
If you look at a traditional Air Max shoe, you have the upper, then you have a layer of foam, you have the air bag and then you have a layer of an outer sole.
Essentially, the airbag is constricted in between those two layers, compressing it a bit like the meat in a sandwich. Instead of having a bag move around the foot, it instead has to contour around the two things pressing between it. What we’ve done here is taken away those layers, we’ve taken away the foam, we took away the outer sole and had the bag really just directly work with the foot. We had runners test them, run with them, to make sure they worked directly as the foot was working. What you get with that is a truly big air bag in the heel, one of the biggest air bags we’ve ever made. We didn’t just make it to say it was one of the biggest airbags ever made, we did a lot of testing with a lot of different runners, we found that having a slightly bigger air bag is going to allow a nicer ride, a bit more comfort and protection when you first land on the ground. You can also see that it is contoured through the forefoot. What that allows us to do is to make it incredibly flexible, so that its going to provide a really smooth transition all the way through.
The waffle pattern has been integrated into the air bag, so some of the early designs didn’t necessarily have that. A lot of the runners were saying: “I need some grip when I run.” So, we didn’t want to add any extra layers, one of the things we talked about from the beginning was not adding any extra layers. They were able to incorporate it directly into the bag, so you remove all the weight, and have the grip directly in there. Maximizing the sensation of the air was the brief, and I feel we landed on it pretty spot on.
Why did you decide to streamline it from the Air Max 90, a chunkier shoe, surely that would make it more challenging?
I think its just a case of, how do we evolve around certain shoes? Or understanding certain things people like about them and then where you can maybe improve upon them. It was just a case of adding different dimensions to something that is already very very popular.
One of the things we’ve talked about a lot is that regardless of what Air Max shoe you’ve had or whether we have launched something Air Max, it has always disrupted the market place. Whether it is shape, silhouette or performance, we feel this is something that is going to do that again. With the combination of two of our most iconic technologies, Air Max and then Flyknit working together, this took five to six years – it was almost six years ago that they started working on this.
So if you think; six years ago the iPad came out, that’s quite a long time ago, the iPad feels like it has been around forever. Six years ago, everybody was just working on putting pen to paper and looking at how you create this shoe. Working with engineers, designers, all sorts of people to create something that works incredibly well. One of the cool things about leading with performance, is that it provides an opportunity for designers to take something into a new space that they maybe would have never thought of before. You’re solving problems, then trying to design around those problems, which is something that may have never happened if you hadn’t tested this through the lens of performance.
Do you ever have to forgo the form or design for function?
It depends on the shoe. I think now that we have the sportswear category that is designing shoes and creating shoes directly towards performance as opposed to lifestyle, there have been some shoes we have come out with that don’t necessarily look the most beautiful, but were driven purely through a performance lens to make sure that they worked 100%. I think especially from the performance category, function will always lead form. I would be confident enough to say that we have some pretty incredible designers that will make something look pretty legit around that anyway, we’re quite fortunate in that sense.
We will always design stuff that does its best from a performance standpoint, and if people want to pick it up, wear it with jeans, on a runway, with a skirt, whatever you want to do with it, we’re not going to stop you from doing that as well. As long as it works, first and foremost, that’s the most important thing, then after that the world is your oyster in terms of what you want to do with it. This is landing in a pretty unique space.
The Nike VaporMax drops on Air Max Day, March 26th. Find out more here.