Nike's Air Presto was a hit when it launched in 2000, and people are still talking about it in 2020, as evidenced by the recent instant sellout of the "Australia" colorway that dropped this past August. It was a hit back in 2017, when we called Virgil Abloh's version that was part of his "The Ten" collection the sneaker of the year. If things had gone according to the original plan, though, we'd be calling it something totally different. We'd be talking about the Nike Air Comfy.
That's what Mark Parker wanted the shoe to be called. When the then-future Nike CEO (who stepped down from that role in 2020) found out his legal department had shut down the moniker due to a New England slipper brand already having claim to it, he was ready to take extreme action. "Well, how big is the company?" Parker asked the shoe's designer, Tobie Hatfield. "Maybe we entertain buying the company so we can get that name."
"Air Presto" ended up working out just fine, proven by its now 20-year run, but the original name certainly would have been fitting.
"Ninety percent of the time, that's the word that came out of their mouth when they tried it on," Hatfield said, recalling reactions of people testing the shoes.
Its reputation for comfort is the result of Hatfield being left to his own devices during the opening of Nike's first research and development facility in Taiwan. That led him to a stripped down design, pieced together from materials and existing models he found laying around.
Hatfield borrowed from brother Tinker Hatfield's Huarache concept, creating a scuba boot-like design for the upper, although it wasn't perfect. "The one thing that people didn't necessarily like about it was that it was too hot," Hatfield explained. To combat this, he found a replacement for the neoprene in a mesh material from the medical industry. This was used to strike the right balance between support and breathability.
The shoe's original sizing convention even spoke to its level of comfort, utilizing a S/M/L/XL scale typical in clothing, rather than the numbered system common to footwear. Nike doubled down on the concept with its "T-Shirts for Your Feet" tagline.
Despite Hatfield not even beginning with a design brief, the Air Presto became so successful that it ended set the groundwork for Nike's Free platform, and is still being worn decades later.
"It wasn't supposed to be our highest-performing running shoe that year," he said. "It wasn't intended to be that. But it was supposed to be our most comfortable and maybe provocative, unexpected kind of thing that we could have also have fun with."
This design breakdown of the Nike Air Presto draws from Sneaker of the Year, Complex's new book that releases on Oct. 20. In it, we break down the best sneaker from every year from 1985 to now. The book is available for preorder here.