A history of the Nike Air Presto, the running sneakers that reigned in the 2000s


We tend to limit our sneaker vocabulary to the Air Jordan or the Air Force 1, but the Nike Air Presto is just as worth mentioning.

Sneakers are one of the many styles born in the 90s, when Nike was at the forefront of sneaker innovation. Over the past couple of years, the sportswear giant has made a habit of reviving some of those archival sneakers, like the Air Huarache and Air Max 90. Now it’s clear the Swoosh is giving away. the same treatment with Air Prestos.

This is great news for anyone old enough to remember the sneakers, which are celebrated for their superior level of comfort and fit. And this is an opportunity for new Nike fans to diversify their collection, especially since the brand has many special Air Presto versions in the works.

If you’re curious about what exactly puts the ‘Presto’ in these iconic sneakers, read on for a history lesson.

“T-shirt for your feet”

A first sketch of the Air Presto sneakers (Photo credit: Nike)

At the turn of the century, Nike designer Tobie Hatfield (yes, he’s Tinker Hatfield’s brother) was looking to create the perfect shoes for runners. He designed the first Nike Air Presto prototype in 1996.

Its most distinctive feature was the V-notch, a sculpted area at the ankle. It was intended to improve the heel fit, but a test found that it also allowed the sneakers to stretch and be filled by the feet of its wearers, without compromising on comfort.

Over the next several years, Hatfield would continue to refine runners. He gave them space-mesh sock-like uppers, a fabric that was not yet widely used in the design of sneakers. But it offered a lot of stretch and breathability, the latter being something the neoprene, used in the Air Huarache, lacked.

The sneakers would also sport other unconventional features: a raised bumper; a midfoot cage inspired by Apple iMac G3 computer cases; and a clothing-inspired sizing system that ranged from XXXS to XXXL, giving the shoes the slogan “T-shirt for the foot”.

OG colors

The Air Presto 2000 campaign (Photo credit: Nike)

In 2000, Nike launched the Air Presto after choosing from over 300 possible names submitted by the design team, “one of which was Presto Magic”, noted Hatfield. “When you put the shoe on, it fits so perfectly it’s almost like a magician saying, ‘Presto’. “

Nike used the same approach to come up with the names of the 13 colorways unveiled that year: Brutal Honey, Trouble at Home, Unholy Cumulus, Shady Milkman, Rabid Panda, Orange Monk, Jack Mackerel, Migraine Fly, Presto Bill, Catfight Shiner, Rogue Kielbasas, Abdominal Snowman. Some of them, like Abdominal Snowman and Trouble at Home, were the first sneakers in the world to feature digitally printed graphics.

The Air Presto was marketed just as unconventionally as it was manufactured. Instead of showing off the athletic performance of the shoes, Nike launched a series of ads featuring original animated characters that reflected every style of sneaker.

Nike meets… Hello Kitty?

Nike x Hello Kitty Air Presto (Photo credit: GOAT)

As many Instagram pop culture pages are now discovering, the 2000s were full of weird and wacky crossovers. The Air Presto was no exception. In 2004, Nike teamed up with Sanrio to celebrate Hello Kitty’s 30th anniversary. The result was the Hello Kitty x Air Presto sneakers, designed by Steven Smith and Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment. The shoes were shamelessly covered in a print of the iconic Japanese cartoon.

In 2008, the Air Presto were also used to market the Sex and the city: the movie, a spin-off of the hit TV series more closely related to another shoe brand: Manolo Blahnik. The sneakers featured a black neoprene upper, a glittering Silver Swoosh on the midsole, and a hot pink Sex and the City logo on the heel.

The streetwear connection

Nike x Off-White Air Presto "Polar opposites"
Nike x Off-White Air Presto “Polar Opposites” (Photo credit: Nike)

Hiroshi Fujiwara wouldn’t be the only streetwear icon to leave his mark on the Air Presto. In the 2010s, the sneakers will be remixed by the designers of the cult German techwear label Acronym, as well as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons.

The version of Air Prestos that most sneakerheads would know, however, is the one designed by Virgil Abloh for his coveted collaboration with Nike. Released in 2018 as part of its “The Ten” pack, the Nike x Off-White Air Presto “Polar Opposites” is available in black and white colourways, with Abloh’s signature zipper and branded details. AIR”. Naturally, both styles sold out instantly.

The renewal of Air Presto

Nike Air Presto "Origins" (Photo credit: Nike)
Nike Air Presto “Origins” (Photo credit: Nike)

Two decades after their debut, Nike has opened a new chapter for its magical sneakers. In 2020, he gifted fans the futuristic Air Presto Ultra Flyknit sneakers, the lightest version of kicks to date. He reissued the “Australia” edition, which was originally designed for Australian athletes at the 2000 Summer Olympics. And he ended the year with the “Origins” edition, featuring all of the playful characters from iconic Nike Air Presto ads.

There are even more in store this year. In addition to revealing more refined and contemporary styles, or hint in a reissue of the Hello Kitty collaboration, Nike is also celebrating the 21st anniversary of its Air Prestos with a “What The?” editing.

Nike Air Presto “What is? (Photo credit: Nike)

The new sneakers feature a bold mix of all the OG colourways, spread across both shoes: the left shoe is darker, with a flash graphic to the front, while the right features color blocking with vibrant panels in red, yellow and blue.

The Nike Air Presto “What The?” edition (S $ 209) will launch this Friday, August 27. In Singapore you can pass it Nike SNKR, or participate in a draw on End Clothing. If you are looking to start your Air Presto collection, this is the perfect pair to do so.

Header photo credit: Nike


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