The Air Force 1, the Blazer, the SB Dunks, the Huarache, the Cortez — Nike has no short supply of great sneaker silhouettes. And we haven’t even started listing the best of the brand’s Air Jordan iterations. But when we ask the question, “Which Nike is the greatest of all time?” just a few sneakers come to mind. And one of those has to be the Air Max 90.
The Air Max 90 was first released in 1990 and was designed by Tinker Hatfield at a time when the Nike architect had just entered his prime. A follow up to 1987’s Air Jordan III, Hatfield updated the Nike Air Max 1 — a great sneaker in its own right — by shedding some of its bulk, refining the sneaker’s lines, drawing eyes to the exposed Air Bag (a novel concept at the time), and building an upper of leather, mesh, and suede. Originally dubbed the Air Max III, the Air Max 90 signaled a new era of sneaker design. 30 years later, the sneaker continues to be one of Nike’s greatest contributions to modern footwear.
In celebration of the Air Max 90, we combed through the sneaker’s 30-year history and picked out the 20 best colorways of all time. Let’s dive into the visual history of one of Nike’s best.
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Nike Air Max 90 Infrared/ Laser Blue, 1990
The Infrared is the colorway that launched the Nike Air Max 90 and it remains to this day, 30 years after its release, one of the greatest Nike Air Max 90s ever made. That isn’t a knock against Nike’s output since, but rather a testament to how well the sneaker’s designer, Tinker Hatfield, hit it out of the park on his first try. The Infrared — along with the Laser Blue makeup that was released later in the year — both featured an upper of leather, suede, and mesh.
It may seem controversial to link these two pairs together, but we’re going to do it anyway — The Laser Blue, the Infrared’s follow-up colorway, is just as good as the debut pair. In fact, while the Infrared tends to get more shine, the Laser Blue might be an even better fit for 2020 sensibilities.
Nike Air Max 90 Silver Surfer, 2003
Flash forward 13 years in the Air Max 90s lineage and we have the next notable colorway — the Silver Surfer. This beloved pair features leather and mesh construction with a gray-toned makeup that comes alive thanks to the splash of red in the accenting-Swoosh. It is, in fact, inspired by the Marvel character of the same name, all the way back in 2003 before American cinema was totally owned by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Get the message Nike: a rerelease of this coveted colorway would sell out in a second!
Nike Air Max 90 Escape II, 2003
The Escape II offers the first notable departure from the typical Air Max 90 makeup thanks to its earth-toned lifestyle look, which hides the sneaker’s origins as a performance-based runner. The blue swoosh looks particularly good over the toned-down upper and is probably our favorite feature about this iteration. If you’re wondering, yes, there was an Escape 1, — which is a pretty dope all leather make-up — but the Escape 2 just offers that right amount of something different that marks it as one of the best Air Max 90s of all time.
Nike x Dave’s Quality Meats Air Max 90 Bacon, 2004
Straight out of Dave Ortiz and Chris Keeffe’s Dave’s Quality Meats store, this collaborative iteration of the Air Max 90 is known as the “Bacon” because of its fresh toned leather makeup. It’s frankly a disgusting source of inspiration for a sneaker, but hey, it works! The mixed leather and suede upper of the Bacon is dressed in a bouquet of tans, browns, pinks, and reds and looks both stunning and yes, we’ll say it, mouthwatering.
Nike and DQM did the whole dressing in meat thing before Lady Gaga hit the 2010 VMAs in her infamous meat dress. That’s a sneaker ahead of its time.
Nike Air Max 90 Crepe, 2004
The audience for the Air Max 90 is incredibly varied, whether you’re a runner, a skater, or merely love the shape, there is an Air Max 90 for you. 2004’s Crepe Air Max was definitely made for those who opt for a chilled out laid back vibe. This crunchy hippie iteration — which oddly didn’t feature a crepe sole like the Air Max 1, which was released alongside it — featured a hemp upper with suede accents and a pop of Gulf Blue, which contrasts beautifully with the earthy colorway.
Nike Air Max 90 Sertig, 2005
Another hiking-inspired iteration of the Air Max 90, the Sertigs combine yellow leather paneling, an infrared swoosh, and accents, white mesh detailing, deep treads, and a dark speckled midsole. There is something unmistakably 80s about this sneaker with its liberal use of bold colors and its slightly rugged trail-ready design. It remains one of the most popular Air Max 90 silhouettes, 15 years into the sneaker’s life.
Bring on the reissue Nike! We’re ready for some 80s goodness after a decade heavily influenced by the 90s.
Nike x Size? Air Max 90 Clerks, 2006
My personal favorite on this list, the Air Max 90 Clerks was a collaboration between Nike and UK retailer size? The mix of teal, bone, and Baroque Brown is accented by deep pink laces and Air Max branding and features an upper composed of tumbled leather and distressed suede with faux crocodile-skin mudguards.
Size?’s various Nike collaborations share this pair’s mix of premium textiles, but rarely has the UK retailer hit the heights they managed to reach with this pair.
Nike x Patta Air Max 90 Homegrown, 2006
In 2006, you could wear the great city of Amsterdam on your feet with this collaborative iteration of the Air Max 90 from Dutch-based label Patta. The cannabis-inspired sneaker dressed perforated nubuck leather and suede in a dank green wrapping, with subtle textured detailing on the sneaker’s leather panels.
The bright orange accents and treaded gum sole were a reference to the Netherlands’ national team uniform and round out this Air Max’s bold design quite nicely.
Nike x Eminem Air Max 90 Charity Series, 2006
No Nike Air Max 90 list would be complete without mention of Eminem’s Charity Series signature sneaker. It feels a little unfair to include this super exclusive pair — only eight pairs were ever made — but the sneaker has become emblematic of sneakerhead culture as a whole as it remains one of the most coveted pairs of the silhouette ever released. Featuring a patent leather upper of grey, blue, white, and green with Eminem branding on the heel, this Charity Series pair is valued at over $25,000 on aftermarket sites like StockX.
Nike x HUF Air Max 90 HUFQUAKE, 2007
In 2007, HUF’s Keith Hufnagel borrowed Tinker Hatfield’s iconic elephant print from the Air Jordan 4 and slightly altered it for this cracked cement version of the Air Max 90, fittingly known as the HUFQUAKE. Hufnagel toned back the mostly leather upper and beefed up the mesh, dressing the silhouette in a grey and white color scheme with Military blue accents — a winner of a color combo when it comes to the Air Max 90 it seems.
Nike Air Max 90 Warhawk, 2007
Incredibly goofy but lovable nonetheless, the Air Max 90 Warhawk design was inspired by the P-90 air fighters of the same name used in World War II. The sneaker in a weird way resembles BAPE’s shark face design — thanks to the shark teeth graphic along the sneaker’s side. Other details include military-inspired olive-toned leather construction with a bright orange swoosh and laces.
While most people probably can’t rock a pair of sneakers with a shark teeth motif this loud, the Warhawks remain a great pair of Air Max 90 eye candy.
Nike x Kaws Air Max 90 , 2008
American pop artist and designer Brian Donnelly, aka Kaws, designed this simple iteration of the Air Max 90 that combined four-way stretch fabric and leather paneling in an all-white or all-black makeup. Kaws take on the silhouette doesn’t concern itself with busy and complicated design flourishes, and instead lets Tinker Hatfield’s iconic shape do all the heavy lifting.
Kaws fans will find subtle signature touches by the artist, like the double-X stitching that harkens back to Kaws’ own OriginalFake brand.
Nike Air Max 90 King Of The Mountain Mowabb, 2008
One of the most popular Air Max 90 colorways of all time, the Mowabb finds the Air Max 90 at the crossroads of a great basketball trainer — thanks to the NY Knicks-like colorway on the sneaker’s collar and accents — and a great hiking sneaker (peep the “King of the Mountain” heel branding). Is it either? Not really, but that sure is what it looks like!
A beautiful combination of royal blue, bright orange, and soft pink paneling make up the mostly leather upper, and a snakeskin mudguard and a speckled midsole round out the design of this colorful and playful pair.
Nike x Dizzee Rascal Air Max 90 Tongue n’ Cheek, 2009
What do you get when you combine one of Tinker Hatfields most recognizable designs with one of the UK’s greatest grime rappers? The Dizzee Rascal Nike Air Max 90 Tongue n’ Cheek. Made in collaboration with Ben Drury, who designed the cover of Dizzee’s album of the same name, the Tongue n’ Cheek features a translucent outsole with muted shades of pink under a white suede and leather upper.
Aside from the bold “Tongue n’ Cheek” branding on the tongue, this pair of the Air Max 90 is one of the sneaker’s most subtle iterations, which is notable as the Nike Air Max 90 is beloved for its bold and out-there designs. Proceeds from the sale of the shoe were initially donated to the Tower Hamlets Summer University in the UK.
Nike Air Max 90 Independence Day, 2013
It’s hard a little hard to remember a time when there was no Yeezy brand, but long before Ye made his mark on the world of sneakers he was known for rocking this loud pair of all red 90s. In the early 2010s, the shoe became instantly synonymous with the rapper upon its release which made the colorway reach astronomically high prices on the aftermarket.
Even today, it’s a little hard to look at an all-red pair of sneakers and NOT think about Kanye West, which speaks to just how much of an impact this design had on sneaker culture in the 2010s.
Nike x Atmos Air Max 90 Duck Camo, 2013
The Duck Camo Air Max 90 has reentered the sneaker zeitgeist this year by way of a new release from Nike that sees the special camo patterning in a variety of different colorways, but the duck camo story begins here with the original 2013 colorway. Released alongside the Tiger Camo — which didn’t make this list — the Duck Camo colorway came about when Nike teamed up with Japanese retailer Atmos, who swapped out the Air Max 90s typical mostly leather upper for one composed of rugged canvas.
Nike and Atmos regularly collaborate to this day but they’ve rarely hit on a design that surpasses this one.
Nike Air Max 90 Cork, 2015
Certainly the most unusual colorway on this list, we were really torn on whether or not to include the Air Max 90 Cork. Well, here it is! For the sneaker’s 15th anniversary Nike decided to swap out the all-leather upper for an all-cork design. It’s un-conventional sure, but the cork makeup managed to make the sneaker one of the lightest pairs of Air Max 90s ever, though we doubt the pair was very breathable and probably didn’t live up to the performance-based functionality it was designed to provide.
A weird but interesting addition to the 30 years of this sneaker’s history.
Nike x Off-White Air Max 90, 2017
Part of Virgil Abloh’s “The Ten” collection, this collaboration with Off-White sees Abloh stripping away the bulky layers of the Air Max 90 for a deconstructed version that set off a trend in sneaker design that is only beginning to die out three years later. Before deconstructed designs became exhausting, Abloh’s iteration of the Air Max 90 was a breath of fresh air for a silhouette that had grown stale, failing to produce many notable pairs in the middle part of the last decade. That all changed with the release of “The Ten” as the Air Max 90 would come to be regarded as one of the best designs from Abloh’s early collaboration with Nike.
Featuring a fittingly off-white upper atop an icy blue midsole, this early design from Abloh still looks fly three years and one tired trend later.
Nike Air Max 90 Mars Landing, 2019
It was hard to choose between 2019’s Mars Landing and 2014’s Moon Landing Nike Air Max 90 but we only had room for one space-themed sneaker on the list (Silver Surfer aside) and we’re giving it to the Mars. Will it be something we end up regretting? Maybe, but with its Mars stone and Magma Orange colorway atop a black and grey speckled midsole, the Mars Landing just feels a little more exciting to us than its grey-toned crater-marked older brother.
Nike Air Max 90 Orange Duck Camo, 2020
The best Nike Air Max 90 to release this year is the Orange Duck Camo. While the Supernova came close — we said only one space-themed sneaker remember? — the Orange Duck Camo takes an iconic Air Max 90 colorway and actually manages to improve upon the original design. That might be a controversial statement to Air Max-stans but the Orange Duck Camo breathes new life into the silhouette by taking two steps away from the Infrared design, which the Duck Camo owes a considerable debt to.
With a mix of mesh and leather with duck camo pattern paneling, this orange iteration managed to beat out a reverse-colored version of the original, and a Green and Volt version that released alongside it.