What if I told you that the most influential sneaker Nike ever produced wasn’t designed by Tinker Hatfield, but by his brother?
Tobie Hatfield’s Nike Air Presto was introduced in 2000 as part of Nike’s Alpha Project, and while it definitely had forebears (including Tinker’s own Air Huarache runner from 1991), the Presto was the purest expression yet of what had previously been a lot of loosely presented ideas that seemingly wound up as evolutionary dead ends.
Look around now, and see Presto DNA everywhere.
For a while, it seemed like the Presto was going to wind up a dead end too. (Nick Engvall and I put together a list of the 30 most influential sneakers of all-time back in May of 2013 and didn’t include the Presto at all. How times have changed.) Many Presto variations followed in short order, all of which only served to dilute the original’s impact.
This is the biggest problem with today’s “what’s next” sneaker culture—it’s in no way prepared to deal with a shoe that is actually done exactly right the first time. (See also the Roshe Run.)
Look around now, and see Presto DNA everywhere, from the aforementioned Roshe Run to the adidas Yeezy 350 Boost to the upcoming Nike KD 8. The adidas Ultra Boost, one of the best releases of the year, combines a soft, sock-like upper with a TPU cage and heel counter, following the exact Presto formula from 15 years ago. Is it possible that a sneaker as simple as the Presto was actually ahead of its time? Apparently so.
The original Presto re-releases again this weekend, and may finally reach an audience that is fully ready for it. Running shoes are now what basketball shoes used to be—an everyday shoe to wear with everything and use for anything. Cozyboy (or girl) 101.
The Presto, which was literally referred to as a T-shirt for your feet, anticipated that. It’s only too bad that the Presto’s most revolutionary concept—a simplified sizing method from XXXS to XXXL—was never more widely embraced. Maybe it’s time for another go at that as well. Anyone who’s worn a pair of Ultra Boosts or Nike Flyknits has realized how pointless the old method of sizing has gotten anyway.
But here’s an even more radical idea, one that goes against the rampant categorization that has fractured the sneaker market into so many pieces: Just keep the Presto in the line exactly as it was designed back in 2000.
Don’t add Flywire or Flyknit or Flyweave or Flyanything. Don’t switch the cushioning to Lunarlon or Solarsoft or whatever the next cool name for another foam is. Don’t market it as a retro, or as part of Nike Sportswear, just sell it as a running shoe for everyone.
Because categorizing the Presto goes against everything it was designed to be in the first place.
Russ Bengtson is a senior editor at Complex. 'The Russ Report' appears every Friday and you can read previous columns here.