Class of ’91

by Ali Marsh

The year was 1991, I was 9 years old and on holiday in a small northern French town called Arras, walking up the cobbled streets to where I had spotted the sports store the night before, with my Mum and Dad in tow. I was about to get my first pair of Nike.

It was the same year that I really started heavily getting into collecting anything, and everything Nike. I couldn’t get the top models when they released, even in the sales they were too expensive. I had to get creative and think of the next best thing. This involved lying to every sports store I would go into for the next three years, telling them that I was doing a school project on sneakers, and asking them if they had any old catalogues or display items. My ruse worked the majority of the time, and I would nearly always leave the store with something. Some of the time with everything they had! Every holiday, I had no desire to go to the beach or to theme parks, instead I couldn’t wait to go shopping and hit up the sports stores that I hadn’t yet hassled for my ‘school project’.

I remember watching early 90’s America, particularly 1991, through the TV screen. I was obsessed with the colours and life from the films of the time and the sun-kissed, beautiful people of Baywatch! It just felt so unobtainable to me at the time. Not in a negative way, in fact this unobtainability captivated me, it was what inspired me to record all the Nike ads on TV. I would wait in anticipation, with a blank VHS set up and my finger hovering over the red button, ready to record. It was all such a stark contrast for a kid from grey, old UK.

Not only was 1991 the year my obsession started, but it also happens to be my favourite year of Nike releases. The Huarache – THE ‘before its time’ shoe in Nike’s history. So much so, that it still, to this day, looks futuristic and feels just as comfortable as a lot of today’s runners.

The Air Jordan 6, from a nostalgic point of view, is my favourite ever Jordan – that infrared hit, the suede, the lace looks. I still remember two classmates getting them for their birthdays that year. The Nike Air Structure Triax 91, one of the best colour blockings of a shoe. Also, the Nike Air 180, with its revolutionary 180-degree visible air cushioning, that featured some of the most amazing and bizarre ad campaigns, one of which was directed by David Cronenberg.

Looking back, it is mind-blowing that Nike had so many revolutionary new designs during the 12-month period of 1991.

One extremely important and popular silhouette that stood out that I also must mention, was the new Air Max shape, dubbed the BW.

Now 30 years old, the design by legendary Tinker Hatfield used the same air unit as the exceedingly popular Air Max 90. However, it was more exposed in his design, leading it to be aptly named ‘Big Window’, or BW for short. The Original ‘Persian Violet’ colourway was an immediate success. The same kid at school who had rocked up in the Air Max 90 with the keychain still attached the year before, made an equally impactful entrance in the BW with its fat tongue pointing out and laces low.

It wasn’t just kids who were in awe of the Air Max BW, they were also popular with long distance runners in the US. Although perhaps the cultural legacy lies with the Hip-Hop and rave scenes, particularly in Europe. Its status as an established ‘casuals’ subculture icon, saw the BW on the football terraces, at festivals, and quite often walking back and forth to the bar in a pub.

The BW has also featured in some of Nike’s most iconic collaborations. The Stash X Air Max BW is arguably the best out of the four designs that have come from the New York graffiti artist. The use of GORE-TEX, and a Sport Royal/Harbor Blue colourway made them an instant sell out and are still one of the most sought-after Nikes to date. British sneaker store Size chose the Air Max BW to represent Manchester in its Clerks pack of 2005. The Grey colourway and GORE-TEX materials used was a nod to the weather, and the shape a representation of the casual subculture that were ever present in the city. Most recently, UK artist Skepta dropped a hybrid Air Max 97/BW in 2018.

The original (and best IMO) ‘Persian Violet’ has not been re-released since 2016, for its 25th anniversary. Now being the big 3-0, it’s going to be highly sought after by nostalgia hunters like myself, as well as anyone who like to own a Nike icon.