Nike Air Max Pulse5 articles
The Air Max sneaker for a new generation.
Air Max Pulse
The history of Nike’s Air Max line goes all the way back to 1987, when pioneering designer Tinker Hatfield decided to reveal the brand’s cushioning technology for the first time. In the years since, the series has evolved in incredible and unexpected ways to the point where there is a huge back catalogue of Air-infused designs to choose from. Each generation has received its very own Air Max model – the late 80s brought sneaker fans the original Air Max 1, the 90s gave them game-changing designs like the Air Max 95, Air Max 97 and the Air Max Plus, the noughties the sleek Air Max 2003 and the sporty Air Max 360, and the 2010s delivered a fully visible bed of Air for the first time in the form of the VaporMax sole. Then, as the company moved into the 2020s, it was time for the next evolution of the Air Max, one which could be adopted by a new generation of sneaker fans and looked back on with nostalgia in decades to come. That shoe was the Nike Air Max Pulse.
In designing a sneaker for a new era, Nike wanted to produce something that built on previous Air Max models but also had its own unique identity. The brand also saw the importance of catering to the needs of Generation Z which, in a world of increasing urbanisation, meant constructing a shoe that had the durability to be worn on the streets of modern-day cities. It also had to allow the youth of the 2020s space to test the limits of fashion and define their own style. To do so, it needed to have a great lifestyle aesthetic that matched the timeless charm of the early Air Max sneakers.
To achieve such lofty goals, Nike’s designers turned to the city of London for inspiration. The epitome of contemporary urban living, the United Kingdom’s sprawling capital has also played an important part in Nike’s sneaker history, particularly through its lively underground music scene, which has adopted designs like the Air Max 1, the Air Max 95 and many others over the years. Taking its cue from the sights and sounds of London’s cult musicians and artists, the Air Max Pulse also incorporated the city’s urban setting and brutalist architecture into its influences. While this gave the Pulse a distinctive character, its references to past Air Max designs marked it out as an unquestionable member of this illustrious family. Its Air bubble was taken almost directly from the Air Max 270, wrapping around the heel in a similar fashion to the 2018 silhouette, and even having the number of that shoe printed onto it. Though it looked like the cushioning unit on the 270, it was actually an updated version of it. Yet another evolution of the Air Max system, it made use of a simple plastic clip visible on the underside of the heel to help balance out the wearer’s weight more evenly across the sole and create a smooth transition between the heel and forefoot. Combined with a foam-cushioned front half, it produced a very comfortable sneaker for traversing the city streets. Alongside this clear resemblance to the Air Max 270, the Pulse also gave more subtle nods to models such as the Air Max Plus. It had a loop lacing system and bars of 3M reflective elements comparable to those seen on the Plus, along with new-look branding that emulated its unforgettable TN logo.
Despite these tributes to previous designs, the Air Max Pulse had its own individual aesthetic that set it apart. It had a solid build made up of a durable synthetic leather mudguard that swept upwards towards the heel beside a more retro-looking breathable mesh over the top portion, with a plastic guard forming the heel counter for added stability. The front portion of the outsole featured Nike’s reliable Waffle grip, while vacuum-sealed elements provided further protection from wear and tear. 3M reflective highlights added extra visibility on the swoosh, the heel tab and between the laces, and the TN-style branding appeared over the tongue and insole. Another novel set of branding text was embossed onto the heel counter, and Air Max lettering was debossed lightly into the sockliner – a fine addition that lent the sneaker its own exclusive touch. On top of this, the first colourways followed the same musical and architectural inspirations, integrating neutral light and dark tones with vibrant details. The first Nike Air Max Pulse blended white, Photon Dust and Reflect Silver over the majority of its exterior, with High Voltage red accents supplying appealing hints of colour. Similar colourways followed in the shape of a black and white design and a Cobblestone model that featured more silvery grey hues, in keeping with the Pulse’s urban influences.
The Air Max Pulse was released to great fanfare on 26th March, 2023. Known as Air Max Day amongst the sneaker community, this day has been used to celebrate the heritage of past Air Max designs and to launch brand-new models that have never been seen before, making it the perfect place to reveal the latest shoes in the distinguished line. Coming out alongside the highly anticipated Air Max 1 ‘86 Big Bubble, the Pulse’s throwback details and distinctive appearance, combined with the brand’s use of influential young musicians to promote the sneaker ahead of its release, ensured that it had a strong impact on the day. In a move that reflected the inspirations underpinning the Air Max Pulse’s design, Nike chose two of London’s most prominent underground artists in multiple award-winning DJ and songwriter Nia Archives and political rapper Jeshi to build a connection between sneaker fans and the shoe. In fact, several weeks before the Pulse officially came out, Jeshi was pictured handing out free pairs to his fans in a corner shop in Soho – the trendy entertainment district acting as the ideal location for such a campaign and boosting the profile of the design.
Meanwhile, over in South Korea, the popular K-Pop outfit NewJeans was brought on board to model the Nike Air Max Pulse, alongside other Air Max Day releases, which raised the sneaker’s profile on a more global scale. Having only been formed a year prior, the band had experienced a meteoric rise to become a worldwide success. They had even been named public relations ambassadors for the city of Seoul. Combined with the hints of hip hop and UK garage mingled into the group’s pop and R&B influences, this made them the perfect people to appeal to the youth of 2023.
With these endorsements, the Nike Air Max Pulse was a success on release, and only one month later, its first collaboration was announced. Once again, Nike chose to honour the musical influences behind the sneaker in order to appeal to younger generations. The partnership involved LA DJ and social media influencer Zack Bialobos, better known as Zack Bia. A member of Gen Z himself, he had already worked with a number of popular music artists, including Drake and Jack Harlow, by the time he was asked to collaborate with Nike. His Air Max Pulse design heavily referenced his work as a DJ, featuring a look drawn from the appearance of a CDJ turntable and with nods to the label he had co-founded, Field Trip Records. An extra leather shroud complete with a zip down the centre gave the shoe a distinctive aesthetic, and its black outer with striking red accents continued the theme of minimalist colour schemes seen on the first few colourways.
The Nike Air Max Pulse came out at a time when you could be forgiven for thinking that Nike had nowhere left to go with its decades-old Air Max line. However, its bold look announced the brand’s intentions to continue to provide the youth of each generation with its own unique model. With this came the promise of original designs and an enduring commitment to keep evolving Air Max technology so that every new cohort of young people could enjoy its soft cushioning and stylish lifestyle image. In the Air Max Pulse, Nike not only found another era-defining silhouette, but also a sneaker that secured the brand’s place in youth culture for another generation.