THE AIR MAX 97 CELEBRATES
ITS QUARTER CENTURY WITH AN
EARLY ITALIAN ARRIVAL
Five years ago, Milanese writer Lodovico Pignatti Morano published the very-limited-edition volume, Le Silver: An Italian Oral History of the Nike Air Max 97, in partnership with Kaleidoscope. 150 pages were dedicated to a crowd-sourced consideration of the sneaker—later nicknamed the Silver Bullet after its likeness to the glimmering Japanese Shinkansen trains—on its 20th birthday and in its original, unmistakable colorway.
Though the Silver Bullets are not the only Nikes that come with tome-worthy lore, few distinct colorways could boast such a layered biography across demographics and locales, and in a way that so aptly illustrates how people’s specific experiences around consumption and identity give meaning and value to both objects and brands. In fact, brands themselves are often baffled by the afterlives of the stuff they put into the world, and the testimonies that came to comprise Le Silver were originally commissioned as a report for Nike, meant to explain the astonishing popularity of the Silver Bullets in Italy in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The first Air Max to outfit the full length of the sole with Nike’s bubble cushioning system, the 97 was dreamed up by newbie designer Christian Tresser. Aside from the Zoom Spiridon, Tresser was mostly focused on soccer cleats, such as the groundbreaking Nike Mercurial (first seen on the feet of Brazilian superstar Ronaldo Nazário at the 1998 World Cup), for which he was experimenting with reflective silver trimmings, hoping cameras would capture the light as it bounced off the shoe. This fascination came to further fruition on the 97 upper, which combined silver and white synthetic leather with 3M and metallic mesh and was said to be inspired by a single droplet undulating across the surface of still water.
This year’s 25th anniversary retro is hardly the 97’s first revival—1999 saw them rendered in gold, for the 10th anniversary in 2007, Nike released the OGs exclusively in Italy and at select NikeTowns with a disproportionate presence of Italian shoppers, and they appeared again in 2013, 2016 (an Italian exclusive), and 2017 as the slightly revamped “Ultra” and via collabs with Virgil Abloh and British grime artist Skepta—and a two-week-early rollout in Italy nods once again to the country’s serendipitous role in the shoe’s story.
Italy’s infatuation with Nike was not new at the time, and if you really love Air Maxes then you’ve surely been tempted by more than a few Italian exclusive colorways. But the 97 was different, if only in the ways its conspicuous futurism garnered multiple yet seemingly unrelated cult fandoms—from Roman graffiti writers and Napoli ravers to fledgling Hip Hop enthusiasts—before ever being embraced (and, of course, copied) by the fashion industry or accruing widespread commercial success. And, as Tresser anticipated, it was no coincidence that the Silver Bullets were also delightful to photograph, flash bouncing off 3M in snapshots from bombing missions and crowded dance floors.
In Le Silver, Morano’s case studies compile a range of opinions on this sequence of events, not to uncover a “true” chronology but rather to honor how multiple realities unfold concurrently across contexts, as well as how a few people, at precipitous places and times, can enormously influence popular culture and creativity. As Italian graffiti writer-turned-rapper MASITO recalled, “In the late ’90s, if you saw a bunch of guys walking through Trastevere or Campo di Fiori wearing really colorful North Face jackets and a pair of Silvers, that was us: Rome Zoo…Nobody else dressed like that in Rome, maybe even in Italy.” Their outfits had in turn been prompted by the Helly Hansen jacket rapper Xzibit wore in his 1996 video for Paparazzi.
Despite the recent overall explosion of sneakers as a global pop phenomenon, the Silver Bullets have retained their cult status and allure thanks to the informal histories that shape how they were and continue to be desired. These days, it can feel like the organic and underground relationships that once embodied the “culture” around sneakers are becoming more and more mediated by apps and algorithms, but any coveted object still contains a value that cannot be quantified or optimized—the immaterial, emotional, and totally subjective reasons that make it significant to people.
The Nike Air Max 97 'Silver' will be available at Slam Jam stores on Oct. 29th and online as of Oct. 30th 10 a.m. CEST.