The year is 1998. We’re beginning to brace ourselves for the millennium bug, Sydney city is undergoing a mammoth facelift in preparation for the 2000 Olympics, Ericsson T10s are blowing up, and the Vengaboys are partying hard out. It’s a busy time and the techno age is upon us. In the athletic footwear arena it’s no different, shoes are becoming more fandangled than ever—even traditionally conservative brands have relinquished all their inhibitions and fallen in favour of pushing the envelope. Enter the Nike Air Max Plus, AKA the Nike TN, the sneaker that would find itself the unlikely focus of the cultural spotlight close to two decades after its initial launch.
In the years leading up to the release of the Air Max Plus, the Air Max range had gone through a pretty freaky metamorphosis. In ’87 Nike design luminary Tinker Hatfield’s oddball Air Max 1 was seen as a vision of the future thanks to its visible Air and ‘wild’ red colour scheme. Things developed quickly, and by the time Sergio Lozano’s Air Max 95 and Christian Tresser’s Air Max 97 were released the franchise had truly reached extraterrestrial status. So where to go from there? Sean McDowell was charged with designing the shoe, and boy did he pull a rabbit out of a hat. So many things about the model came straight out of left field, from the plastic toe cap up front to the external skeleton encasing the spray-faded upper, the flat tube lacing to the intensely aggressive wedged shape — and of course the unprecedented technology in the entirely new Tuned Air cushioning system.
But enough of this technical mumbo jumbo, because the TN’s true story lies within the road that it has traveled. Initially the TN was received with mixed reactions, obviously way too intense-looking for average Joe and with a hectic price tag of $239.99 to match. For the most part they lingered on shelves in Australia, with only a few brave soldiers willing to rise to the challenge the TN presented. In the early days there was no direct stigma attached to the model, it was just a pure freak of nature—scarcely seen and adopted by an eclectic array of people that included ravers, graff writers, gym junkies, and the occasional adventurous business lady. But soon the TN path was crystal clear — and it cemented itself as the number one insubordinate of the sneaker world.
Perhaps the underbelly of Australian society adopted the shoe as their own because it was simply too damn wild for anyone else to wear. Maybe it also had to do with the fact that they were the highest ticketed item at Foot Locker, and when you’re on your feet searching the streets all day only the best will do. One can only really hypothesise how it happened, fashion moves in mysterious ways. Regardless of reason the truth was stark —hectic humans across OZ had fallen desperately in love with the Air Max Plus.
People fiend for these things, and diehards were chasing the TN dragon. While I was working at the infamous Collingwood Nike Factory Store (RIP) some years back it wasn’t uncommon to be asked if we had any TNs in stock 420 times per shift, on average.
‘Do you have any real Nikes here bro? The ones with all the bubbles?’
‘Man, I just got out the boob [Australian colloquialism for jail] this morning man. They made us wear these busted up ASICS in there man, all I’ve been thinking about is getting my feet into some TN Air Max maaaan.’ This was the soundtrack to my working day.
Considering that Sydney’s Greater West is home to the infamous ‘nike bikie’ and ‘hectic lad’ cultures. It’s no wonder that Foot Locker doors out there have consistently recorded the highest sales for TNs in Australia. During the mid-2000s the entire West was awash with the things, a truly beautiful site that soon became the muse for gutter rap lyrics and dedication tattoos.
“Polo Sport with the seven bubble Air Max, brand new clothes is all that I rock lad.” Profoundly spoken by the Sydney Serchaz in their 2009 track ‘Like My Brother’. Yep, it’s safe to say that the tough rep that came with the TN was very real. And if you weren’t really real and rocked the shoes then there was a chance that you’d be going home barefoot. “You know how I do rockin’ TN shoes, and if ya wanna get smart I’ll take yours too.” – Nter, 'My Line' 2008.
It’s an inevitable reality that the only thing that remains constant is change, and so comes the twist in this tale. In the beginning of 2013 the TN was still most definitely living up to its reputation, the conservative sector of society were still completely terrified of the silhouette and the TN faithful were still rocking them with unwavering pride. But it was a special year, a 15 year anniversary year for the Air Max Plus, a perfect time for Foot Locker to reheat the original ’Tiger Orange’ and ‘Hyper Blue’ colourways and throw a bit of a celebration. Previously sneaker blogs and fashion sites had shunned away from posting TNs, but this time they came to the party. Before you could say ‘Yea brah’ TNs were popping up in social media feeds all over the shop.
Initially keyboard warriors chuckled and scoffed at the injection of gutter sneakers in their news feeds. ‘Lol, eshays.’ ‘OMG TNs, what has the world come to.’ ‘Never thought I’d see junky shoes posted here SMH.’ The ridicule came thick and fast, but along with it came even more likes. Soon the taunting transformed to challenges as people’s desire for the forbidden slowly seeped through to the surface, ‘@oldmate I dare you to buy a pair!’ Shook ones were beginning to face their fears and realise that in actuality that strange feeling in their bellies was true love.
Next minute the jeers morphed into cheers. ‘Damn, these are fire.’ ‘Copped triple black TNs today, Esh!’ From professional onfoot shots to kinky Insta girl posts, the Air Max Plus has broken on through to the other side. Officially taking a top three position in the most desired sneaker for private school boys alongside Prestos and Sock Darts. In fact the entire kit has come along with the shoes, it’s pretty common to see groups of fresh faced ‘good boys’ kitted out from head to toe in your mother’s-worst-nightmare-wear. Polo caps, Nautica sweats, bum bags… the entire shebang. It’s a cultural oddity, it’s a complete fashion faux pas. The grimy gutter influencing the wealthy, who would’ve thunk it?! Shock horror, the TN has come clean–for now.