Nike Air Presto – The Archetypal Sock-Runner

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Minimalist sock-like runners are all the craze now but I think that the archetype of all these modern day runners was actually made sixteen years ago. Tobie Hatfield, creator of the Nike Free and Tinker Hatfield’s brother, co-designed the Presto to be a shoe which would enable the wearer to take control of the shoe, rather than the other way round. This meant flexibility, lightness and loads of comfort. Sound less like a shoe and more like a t-shirt? Read on to find out more.

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Nike’s Alpha Project aimed to create shoes for the upper-echelon athlete using cutting-edge performance tech to push limits, both of the wearer and of the shoe. The best way to tell if a shoe is Alpha Project material is to look for the 5 dot insignia, as seen here on the heel of the Air Presto. Other purpose-built silhouettes that belonged to this line include the Nike Hyperflight, the Nike Air Dri-Goat, and the beautiful Air Max 120.

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A spacer mesh upper allowed the Nike Air Presto it’s most revolutionary concept, a size range that went from XXXS-XXXL (M covered sizes 9-11), ditched the traditional sizing chart and gave the shoe it’s ‘T-shirts for your feet’ tagline. Spacer mesh is extremely breathable and comfortable and is used for medical applications. The plastic toe cap provided some amount of protection for the toes. A simplistic upper like this with no overlays was a perfect canvas for prints and the Presto became one of the first shoes to have a digitally printed graphic on its upper, the ‘Trouble at Home‘ colorway being a personal and collectors favorite. Every one of those shoes should come with a free copy of Metallica’s Ride The Lightning on audio cassette. Just fits.

Nike ads nowadays just show a bunch of people doing athlete things, but there was a time when Nike advertising was clever and funny and the Nike Air Presto got a lot of that treatment. 13 OG colorways were released with names like ‘Orange Monk’, ‘Trouble at Home’, ‘Abdominal Snowman’ and the “Rabid Panda,” each accompanied by colorful animated shorts that added character to each colorway (see video below). The name of the shoe itself was crowdsourced from the design community. The Nike Air Presto was truly ahead of its time.

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Sitting atop a lightweight Phylon midsole and Duralon outsole, an encapsulated heel Air unit provided all the cushioning you’d ever need. The TPU heel cage kept you locked in and a V-notch at the heel eased pressure on the ankles. The heel actually uses a different outsole compound, BRS 1000, basically carbon bonded rubber which is very durable. BRS, of course, stands for Blue Ribbon Sports.

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Even though this became the precursor to the Free, I feel that the idea of breaking down a shoe to its most basic parts was perfected with the Presto. Nike had done this before too with shoes like the Sock Racer, but I think they got it just right with this shoe.

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In the years that followed the Presto line saw many different models released, an ‘uncaged’ (sound familar?) version called the Presto Chanjo, a laceless basketball version called the Presto Cage, and a beefed up HTM version called the Presto Roam.

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My Presto grail would have to be the Fragment Design ‘Hello Kitty’ Presto, a super limited release that was made to celebrate the iconic cat’s 30th anniversary.

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Nike re-released the Air Presto this year after letting it sit in the vault for more than a decade. Not only that, they even put out a mid cut Flyknit version. Constant innovation is what keeps the shoe game moving. I’d love to see shoe manufacturers return to their competitive heydays and put out some real cutting edge footwear that isn’t trying to sell itself out in 60 minutes. But the next time you see one of those lifestyle runners with a TPU cage and a sock upper, you know which shoe got it right the first time around.

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The Nike Air Presto is available in Nike stores now.

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