A testament to innovation, design and endurance, the Nike TN has revolutionised the sneaker industry since its inception. Built with game-changing technology and a distinctive silhouette, the TN — also known as the Nike Air Max Plus — has left an indelible mark on both the fashion and sports spheres. To pay homage to the shoe’s legacy, we’re taking a look back at the Nike TN’s rich history and its journey from invention to icon.

First seen in 1997, the Nike TN was born from the creative mind of Sean McDowell. Drawing inspiration from swaying palm trees, the Florida-born designer translated tropical details into the shoe’s gradient colourways — an element that instantly set the Nike TN apart from the competition. McDowell created the sneaker with the idea that it could withstand adverse weather conditions, naming the project ‘Sky Air’. “As soon as I heard ‘sky’, I was like ‘I just saw this amazing sky in Florida’”, said McDowell to Nike. But the innovation didn’t stop with aesthetics – the Nike TN introduced the world to Tuned Air technology.

Now known for its fashionable status, the Nike TN was originally designed with running in mind. A former runner himself, McDowell recalled being told to move towards the traffic for improved visibility, leading to his decision to place reflectors on the front of the sneaker rather than the back. A departure from convention, McDowell added wavy, fluid lines to give the shoe a futuristic appearance. Sturdy toe caps provided durability, while the plastic overlays found the balance between structure and style. Underfoot, the silhouette’s improved Air unit utilised individual pods to deliver effective support and cushioning, adapting to every part of the foot’s pressure points.

Widely regarded as a statement trademark, the vibrant yellow logo was initially a challenge for McDowell who didn’t know where it would fit on the design. Nike told him that it needed to feature prominently to signify the shoe’s technical precision and sport-led style. Today, the hexagonal logo is a classic fixture on the heel and has become synonymous with the silhouette.

By the 1990s and early 2000s, the Nike TN had begun to put its stamp on the world. Athletes, musicians and celebrated tastemakers all embraced the silhouette for its modern design and durable appeal. The sneaker’s fusion of fashion and function resonated with fans around the globe, solidifying its position as a certified icon.

It wasn’t long before the Nike TN started to influence the UK music scene. In East London, the Nike Tuned Air disrupted the subcultural dominance of the Air Max 95 with its higher price point. Speaking to Complex Australia, UK hip-hop artist AJ Tracey stated, “Air Max is Grime. Everyone knows that”. While the technology-focused designs of the Nike Air Max 95 directed the industry, the introduction of the TN challenged the status quo. “We didn’t call them Air Max 95s”, stated DJ Logan Sama, “They were 110s because they were £110. So that shows you what the point was. When TNs came out, they were £125, so they were a status level above”.

Over in Australia, the shoe was initially sold through Foot Locker directly, attracting an influx of fans and an unexpected stigma of its own. The Air Max Plus was swiftly adopted by Eshays, a youth movement associated with anti-social behaviour. Worn with baggy trousers, polo shirts and mullet hairstyles, the TN soon became a staple of teenagers and sneaker aficionados. 

Years later, the Air Max Plus ventured into the realm of high fashion, with Nike joining forces with renowned designers and luxury labels. Supreme updated the silhouette in 2020, dressing the shoe in three industry-defining colourways, offering enthusiasts a host of limited-edition releases. Within hours the collection had sold out, instantly propelling the Nike TN back into the spotlight.

In recent times, the Nike TN has experienced a resurgence in popularity. Samuel Ross of A-COLD-WALL* teased a series of collaborative renditions, while more styles have been seen on influencers and A-listers worldwide. From its humble, sunset-inspired beginnings to its influence on culture, the Nike TN’s journey encapsulates the power of design to transcend generations.