Will We See a Return of the Nike Air Max 180 ‘Ultramarine’?

January 18, 2023 by Joey Birch

Will We See a Return of the Nike Air Max 180 ‘Ultramarine’?

At the inception of 2023, we had a rough idea of some sneaker releases we’ll be treated to including a variety of Jordan colourways, the confirmation of the Air Max 1 ‘Big Bubble’ as well as sneakers outside of the Swoosh with the likes of Sean Wotherspoon debuting his latest adidas Orketro project. However, another cult classic has been revealed in addition to the handful of already teased/leaked OG’s set to return: The OG Nike Air Max 180 ‘Ultramarine’. 

First released in 1991, four years after the introduction of the Air Max lineage, the AM180 has seemingly remained under the radar for a vast majority of sneaker fans despite being retroed relatively recently in 2018. Following the debut of the infamous Air Max 1 in 1987, presenting the idea of visible air to the public, the Air Max linage took strides that no other brand has arguably been able to take. 

Defying all known norms surrounding sneakers and their construction, Nike was able to provide a previously never before seen look inside the inner workings of our sneakers, a feat that has since become a prime USP for the likes of OFF-White and others. 

Up until 1991, Nike released a smattering of new Air Max silhouettes, experimenting with the size of the Air Unit as well as the silhouette that encased it with lesser-known models such as the Nike Air Walker Max and Nike Air Max Light as well as the world-renowned Air Max 90 in 1990. Despite the AM BW (AKA Big Window) arriving in 1991, a sneaker that got a recent retro in 2021, it was the 180 that created the biggest impact. 

Prior Air Max models featured an Air Unit that was encased within the midsole of a sneaker with the outsole running underneath. However, the Air Max 180 was different. Nike had designed the shoe so that the Air Unit was also part of the outsole, allowing the wearer to effectively walk on air. 

While previous models usually included mesh panelling with either leather or fabric surrounding it, the 180 featured a similar construction to that of the Nike Air Huarache which was also released in the same year - and also designed by Tinker Hatfield. For the design of the 180, Hatfield also called in fellow heavyweight designer Bruce Kilgore, the mind behind the Air Force 1 and Air Jordan 2 amongst others.

A stretchy material was used in replacement of the mesh panels surrounded by a short-haired suede frame creating geometric shapes across the upper of the shoe. A long tongue that connects to the inside of the sneaker was used, allowing the shoe to hug the ankle in a sock-like finish.

Unlike the advertising around prior Air Max models, the marketing for the 180 took an entirely different approach, working with their long-term marketing agency Wieden + Kennedy, using artists including Ralph Steadman and André François as well as director David Cronenberg and animator Guido Manuli just to name a few. The result was a slew of advertisements over print and TV in a move that, in 1991, was never before seen. 

With the extravagant marketing technique in addition to the innovative design, the Air Max 180 stands at the forefront of the Air Max lineage. Despite not being as sought after as the Air Max 1, 90 or 95, fans of the sneaker will be pleased to see its return with Nike possibly aiming to bring a new wave of interest from the exceptionally larger number of sneaker consumers who were quick to jump onto the OG ‘87 model over recent years. 

At the time of writing, little is known about the official return of the AM180. First suggested to arrive by an Air Max collector who goes by the name ‘Iceberg’ (@iceberg.og), the ‘Ultramarine’ colourway is set to stay true to its original counterpart. However, Nike is rumoured to be giving it the ‘Big Bubble’ treatment to the 180. 

Officially confirmed by Nike for the 1986 variant of the Air Max 1, set to release in 2023, the ‘Big Bubble’ plays on the original design behind the iconic Air Max model which featured a larger Air Unit embedded in the midsole, one that when it came to production resulted in being too brittle to wear until Nike were able to complete a 3-year process in perfecting it, as discussed in an episode of SNKRS Live with Air Max product line manager, Jamie Paige, and footwear designer, Jon Kosenick in 2022. 

It’s not certain how the ‘Big Bubble’ treatment will translate onto the 180 silhouette and according to Iceberg’s caption on Instagram, we may have to wait another year till 2024 to see an official release. 

As discussed in previous articles, Nike appears to be entering a time of recollection; revisiting and reviving some of their original models, refreshing them for a new audience. 

For all things Air Max, keep it Kick Game