Two Of A Kind: The Transparent Mid-Sole

Is Prada doing a Nike?

Can a certain mid-sole technology come to an extreme ubiquity that even if you are not the inventor of that technology, you could adopt a similar and simply join the fun? When Prada’s Linea Rossa revealed their newest kicks, the Collision 19 LR (top left), they potentially set themselves on a collision course with the thinking of sneakerheads who have a fanatical love for Nike Air Maxes, noted for their “visible air” mid-soles, in particular Air Max 97. That the similarity of Prada’s sole to Nike’s, especially its full length, and also called “Air” has encouraged talk of likely copying is not the least surprising. People expect more and better of Prada, the originator of some truly pioneering ideas in shoe design and, to us, the first on the trail of delectably ugly footwear.

While transparent mid-soles filled with air are seen in many kicks these days, they will always be associated with Nike. The first was introduced in 1987, in the silhouette of the Air Max 1, then applied to the back half of the sole of the shoe to, primarily, support the heel. Air, in fact, had earlier been used as cushioning, trapped within the foam frame of the first Tailwind running shoes of 1978. According to Nike’s telling, the NASA aeronautical engineer Frank Rudy had suggested to Phil Knight to use air in the manner Nike is now known for, based on the work Mr Rudy was doing for the space agency at that time. We don’t how much of this account is lore since it seems strange that an employee of a government institution could share the tech that did not really belong to him with a commercial enterprise. But the story is interesting and the NASA link lended gravitas to the usefulness of the sole and added heft to the early marketing efforts in launching the Air Max 1.

The subsequent success of the Air Max and the family it spawned need no recounting here. The most amazing thing is how Nike could, in recent years, used the air sole with other cushioning tech of theirs to yield some arresting hybrids (Air Max 270 React, to name one). This attests to the air sole’s solidness as cushioning, as well as its longevity, both in practical and visual terms. Although there seems to be a shift, trend-wise, to more retro, less tech-obvious styles, such as the Daybreak (so expertly and charmingly reinterpreted by Undercover in 2019) and the recent ‘Type’ series, the air sole is still crucial in Nike’s bag of tricks for shoes that are bombastic, and will lure hypebeasts, such as the more recent Air Max 2090.

It is, therefore, rather curious that Prada has chosen to build a sneaker, based on a mid-sole so associated with the biggest shoe maker in the world. And one that is full-length, with tiny pillar support, and visible. But the sole isn’t the only part of the shoe that is evocative of the Air Max. At first look, we saw the Air Max 2003 SS Triple Black (top right), originally with a Japan-made carbon-based fiber upper. The Prada Collision 19 LR has an oddly similar moulded-looking upper (which, according to the brand, is “technical fabric”), making the sum even more inexplicable. As SOTD contributor Ray Zhang said, “I like the Prada, but it looks too close to one of my all-time favourite Nike shoes for me to even consider my feet in them.”

Prada Collision 19 LR, SGD1,580, is available at Prada Stores. Nike Air Max 2003 SS Triple Black id currently unavailable. Product photos: Prada and Nike respectively

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