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You may not recognise his face but you’d recognise a pair of his sneakers any day. As Nike Senior Sportswear Design Director, Dylan Raasch is the leading man behind the world’s biggest-selling sneakers. That is, the Nike Air Max.

Since the lauded release of the Nike Air Max 1 in 1987, popular culture has been shaped by the bold style and furthermore has proved to be the pinnacle of sneaker technology for over 30 years. Combined with the air cushioning technology from Marion Franklin “Frank” Rudy and the sneaker design of Tinker Hatfield, Nike have continued to reimagine the iconic shape for three decades.

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In 2009, Raasch was appointed the opportunity to further drive the success of the sporting powerhouse and in a bid to reach new heights of technology and design, the newly launched Nike Air Max 270 React was born. It’s a mouthful to say but with the considered and meticulous combination of the Element React 87 and the Air Max 270, the fresh design literally puts a spring in your step.

Dubbed as Nike’s first lifestyle Air unit, we caught up with the prolific designer for insight into the design process, a changing industry and what we can expect from new sneaker trends.

ICON: How did you find your way to working with Nike?

Dylan Raasch: “I worked in the skate industry for about nine years before joining Nike and made the move as I really just felt like I was ready to try something new. In 2009 there was an opening in Nike Sportswear so I applied for a footwear design position there as it seemed like good transition where I could use my street wear experience and continue to explore new ideas from there. I knew the resources Nike had would allow to create some things that were impossible to make up to that point.”

ICON: With your experience in the industry, how has the sneaker landscape changed in the last decade?

DR: “The biggest change has definitely been the shift of high fashion into the street wear market, or vice versa depending on how you want to look at it, which has changed not only the fashion landscape, but really shifted the role sneakers play in fashion now. People today are looking for functionality and the comfort that allows them to wear it all day, but with that overt personality which traditionally came from more thoughtful design solutions. Sneakers have become the staple item for a lot of brands, including fashion houses which has brought streetwear to the forefront of fashion, as well as the designers from that street wear background. Sneakers continue to be the star of the show as they have longevity and good design can transcend the short lived trends.”

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ICON: The Nike Air Max has been around for three decades. What sort of considerations are taken when designing a new silhouette?

“Almost every Air Max model that has become an icon, broke the rules at that time and did something that had never been done before.”

DR: “With every new Air Max model comes a lot of expectations behind it due to its deep history, but fortunately this history has created a playbook of sorts that set out some ground rules that we try to follow. The first rule is break the rules. Almost every Air Max model that has become an icon, broke the rules at that time and did something that had never been done before. Whether it was making air visible with the AM1, making the midsole black on the AM95 which was unheard of up to that point, making it full length with the AM97, or having only Air underfoot which was another break thorough with the Vapormax. The second consideration is the story. We love to tell stories in Air Max as it creates a connection with people and also becomes a snap shot of the current time period, so we work hard to bring in these cultural ties, innovation shifts, and new aesthetic changes which usually defines what makes a modern sneaker modern. The last thing is just the iconic nature of Air Max. This is the hardest consideration as a lot has been done with footwear, but this is what we enjoy the most as it forces us to constantly evolve our thinking and seeing if we can bring something new to the table that challenges conventional thinking.”

ICON: What do you think draws people to the Air Max style?

DR: “Air Max has an authentic personality. I could say it’s that Air Max only sensation combined with the iconic and bold Air Max only design language, but really each model has its own unique personality which allows people to play up, or play down their own personal style in a way that feels authentic. There are very few shoes you can put on that have functional comfort and a style element that are so timeless.”

ICON: Where do you pull inspiration from?

“What better way to implement change than to create a story with a positive outcome that supports the change people want to see.”

DR: “We pull inspiration from everywhere but the best inspiration comes from the shifts that are taking place in society from a global perspective. There is a great deal of tension and concern that people are experiencing around the world right now and this creates opportunity for a conversation and more importantly change. What better way to implement change than to create a story with a positive outcome that supports the change people want to see. This gives us the opportunity to put ideas into action instead of just talking about it.”

ICON: Nowadays, fashion demands functionality. Is this a key concept when creating a new style or design iteration?

DR: “Yes. I have always been on the side of form follows function with the intention that we are creating a benefit for the user. In todays world, waste and planned obsolescence is a design flaw that needs to not only be addressed, but should be avoided. As we design into the future, we will need to address not only style and the improved functionality of every product but sustainability through improved manufacturing, pure material streams for circular processing, and eventually a fully bio based product stream. A big shift is taking place in the world but due to the complexity of the process the change happens at a pretty slow pace so we are focusing on progress over perfection in hopes that we can eventually reach our goal of a zero waste product stream that is 100 percent sustainable.”

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ICON: How did the idea to fuse two of Nike’s most popular silhouettes come about?

DR: “Since the launch of both the Air Max 270 and the Element React 87, the reactions to both models have been overwhelmingly positive, so the team felt like a great way of evolving the Air Max family would be to combine the technologies and further improve the underfoot sensation. Once we established a new method of make and the addition of the React foam, it was matter of creating that unique Air Max only story that would help define the new aesthetic.”

ICON: What was the design process like? How long did it take to perfect the AM 270 React?

DR: “From start to finish the process took about 24 months, so there were quite a few iterations that the team went through to get the shoe in the perfect spot. One hurdle was combining the two technologies so they became seamless and activated at the right points in the foots stride. The next big hurdle was creating that iconic and story that is synonymous with Air Max. This took about six different upper and tooling iterations as we wanted that perfect on foot proportion combined with that iconic upper that would have authentic colour and materials story.”

Men’s Nike Air Max 270 React Bauhaus / $220 AUD SHOP NOW
Women’s Nike Air Max 270 React / $220 AUD SHOP NOW

ICON: Each colourway translates a specific artistic style or movement. Why was that important to showcase?

DR: “Personally I believe good storytelling brings products to life and gives them authenticity, otherwise it’s just a collection of materials. As I mentioned before this is what gives makes Air Max its uniqueness and sets it apart from regular footwear. This year the design direction was Vibrational Energy and the Air Max 720 was inspired by Nature so I thought a great counterpoint would be to explore the beauty that has come from humankind. Growing up with a passion for the arts, I looked back and thought about what art movements really inspired me and influenced me to become who I was as a designer. It was those eight art movements that ultimately became the colourways in the launch season for the AM 270 React. Now more than ever I think we need to embrace and celebrate the beauty of Nature and Art that surrounds us and use it to inspire instead of focusing on the negativity and division that grabs the headlines.”

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Where the AM720 was inspired by the vibrational energy of natural phenomena, the AM 270 React was inspired by the vibrational energy of art movements born from humankind. Each of these movements were hugely influential to me as a designer and I wanted to show how each one has its own unique energy by taking an element from each model and illustrating it in that genre. Starting at the top moving clockwise is the (Op)tical art movement that came out of the Netherlands in early part of the century, then the Psychedelic movement that came out of San Francisco is the 60’s, then the American Modernism movement that flourished in the early part of the century, the Memphis movement that defined the 80’s and 90’s which came out of Italy, the Pop art movement which emerged from both the UK and the US during the mid to late 1950’s, the Mid-Century Modern design movement that grew from the 30’s to the mid 60’s, the Impressionist art movement of the 19th Century, and finally the Bauhaus design movement that began in the early part of the century. At the most fundamental level beauty is born from vibration and can be expressed in countless ways whether through nature or humankind. #270react #airmax #airmax270react #artmovements

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ICON: Lastly, where can you see sneaker trends heading next?

“The topic of trends has to come into the conversation because now that the chunky sneaker trend is slowing down, we have to question the sustainability of trends versus functionality and longevity of product.”

DR: “There’s an interesting shift happening right now because it’s not so much an aesthetic shift as it is a wholistic shift to move to a more sustainable way of thinking and creating. This is the number one topic that comes up when we speak with people and as a company we making huge changes to how we design and manufacture our products, but ultimately it’s the consumer who votes on what they want with their money. The topic of trends has to come into the conversation because now that the chunky sneaker trend is slowing down, we have to question the sustainability of trends versus functionality and longevity of product. That’s why Air Max, the timeless nature of the product is part of the design process. People are still wearing styles that were designed 30 years ago and they are still relevant cause they are authentic, and that never goes out of style.”