1988 was a pivotal year for sneakers. Building on momentum accumulated in the 1970s and 80s, Nike was ready to explode into an unstoppable supernova.
Ascendant Nike architect Tinker Hatfield achieves flawless victory by following Air Max 1 and Safari Print with Air Jordan III and its Elephant/Jumpman combo. Nike as a whole makes a huge leap in 1988 in manifesting a precise creative vision.
Nike selects Spike Lee to reprise his role as Mars Blackmon in support of the original 1988 Air Jordan III.
Weiden+Kennedy’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign debuts in July. These iconic campaigns are pivotal for the company and marketing in general, and begin the careful cultivation of an edgier brand identity.
Along with a new personality in the media, Nike expresses its personality with over sixty new colors in 1988. Instead of just a few hues in use, Beaverton designers now employ a whole range of vibrant shades while enriching the traditional base that had for the company’s first fifteen years been simple enough to symbolize with two or three letters and a slash.
Interestingly, the Nike Basketball division and its monumental flagship Air Jordan product skip most of the new colors in 1988. Over sixty new choices spread amongst the various sports but basketball chooses just a select few greys and blues along with the legendary Fire Red for the year’s team-targeted catalog.
Nike Running is the other branch making big moves in the late ‘80s. Swoosh runners go further, foreshadowing the coming years with a selection of wild new colorways. Highlights include the Nike Air Max 1 Aqua/Thistle for men and women, along with the original 1988 Air Mariah in Clockwork Orange/China Blue and the Amazon Green/Purple Passion Air Flow that sold well into '89.
Nike Tennis sees a similar energetic burst as the Andre Agassi signature line begins in 1988 with Air Tech Challenge ¾ (and Low) utilizing a rainbow of accents to communicate his rebel image within the stereotypically stuffy sport.
Nike Air Ace ¾ in Capri Blue is more intense and traditional, while the off-court/spectator styles like Wimbledon Classic make use of muted looks like Natural full-grain leather.
Nike Training continues the momentum of 1987’s Air Trainer 1 success with new colorways and the original Air Trainer SC (*now known as Air Trainer III). The SC’s Medicine Ball is an earthy foil to the Aquatime, Cloudy Jade and Rosestone in use elsewhere in the division.
1988 Nike casual sneakers use many of the same muted colors as the toned-down tennis models. Nike Outbreak is one of the company's most striking designs of any year, and manages its impact with 'generic' color names.
The equally colorful Aqua Sock foreshadows All Conditions Gear during a year when all the Nike boots stick to earth tones.
The craziest part about all of this might be that even though sixty is a helluva lot of new colors for a single year, we haven’t even gotten into the more dynamic years. Most of the new shades are limited to accents and many are only available on casual and/or women's releases.
A key difference with today’s extremely expressive designs is that they draw upon the best of the past twenty-five years. Instead of a white shoe with teal Swoosh, there’s so much variety these days that one of those classic builds connects with vintage and/or old school varsity appeal.
Part 2 of the SNEAKERscholar #NikeColorGuide turns the corner into 1989, a year that capitalizes on ’88 momentum by refining many of the same themes.