1997: The Titanic sunk, a T-Rex went on the rampage around San Diego and Will Smith lost his fingerprints. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though – South Park premiered, Alan Shearer was too busy scoring goals to be thinking about punditry, and Nike released the Air Max 97. 

25 years later, the Air Max 97 has cemented itself as one of the most iconic silhouettes in the Air Max lineage and we've got the lowdown on how it got there.

Succeeding the Air Max 96, the 1997 Nike trainer release instantly found traction in popular culture around the globe. 

The Nike Air Max 97 was inspired by nature and mountain biking.
Credit: Nike

Despite being historically marketed as being inspired by Japan's bullet trains, Air Max 97 designer Christian Tresser actually drew inspiration from nature, and - perhaps more strangely - mountain bikes. 

The ripples of water as a raindrop hits a puddle influenced the waves in the upper and the reflective Scotchlite 3M taping was inspired by mountain bike design – 90’s frames were finished in silver aluminium and reflective coatings.

The first-of-its-kind concealed lacing system completed the sleek lines; the similarities may be uncanny, but Tresser himself never referenced futuristic high-speed rail as an inspiration. It made for a cool name, though. 

An original sketch of the Air Max 97.

Credit: Nike

The bullet train myth/marketing spin probably contributed somewhat to the Air Max 97 Silver Bullet's popularity, but it was the design itself and the timing of the release that catapulted the sneaker into cultural significance. 

Its futuristic vibe was in line with the aesthetic of the era: with the year 2000 looming large on the horizon, it felt like the space-age future was both tangible, and within reach. The cutting-edge technology of the ’97 was guaranteed to survive the millennium bug, too - who doesn’t want to be cushioned on a full-length air unit while technological progress is crashing down around them? 

Celebrities around the globe championed the shoe - from Michael Johnson to Sporty Spice, icons across popular culture were papped in Tresser’s reflective calling card – but It was in Italy where the silhouette took off.

The original Air Max 97 Silver Bullet.

It's fitting for a country with art and fashion in its cultural DNA to take such a forward-thinking shoe into its heart - the ostentatious design was a hit for nearly a decade despite only being on sale for just over a year upon its original release.

Nike repaid the staunch support for ‘Le Silver’ with various Italy-only special editions, including a black, luxury leather ‘made in Italy’ iteration, and an early rerelease of the OG Air Max 97 Silver Bullet in November 2016. The 20th anniversary of the shoe in April 2017 saw the wider rerelease of the Silver Bullets, with sneakerheads reportedly selling their firstborns to get a slice of Nike history (ok, not literally, but they were tough to get your hands on).

The Air Max 97 has enjoyed a quiet retro cycle compared to its counterparts, however, the iconic status of the shoe has been upheld thanks to collaborations with Undefeated, Skepta and Virgil Abloh.

Check out the full collection of Nike Air Max 97 right here at Footasylum.