SNEAKERS & FASHION

Nike Air Max 97 “Gold Bullet” Is Coming Back

After only a few years in the vault, an iconic retro runner from the Swoosh is set to return in 2023. This time around, it has all the makings of a mass favorite and cash cow.

Sneakerheads around the world were treated to good news over the weekend. The Nike Air Max 97 “Gold Bullet” is set to release once again in 2023, Complex’s Brendan Dunne first reported.

The shoe appears slated for a Spring ’23 launch, likely in February or March, putting it as an early candidate to energize 2023’s Air Max Month.

Despite dropping in original and altered form as recently as 2018, the fever for the Nike Air Max 97 “Gold Bullet” is profound. The model itself is well regarded for bridging an array of audiences, while an accelerated appetite for nostalgia makes this archival colorway a sure-fire hit.

Nike Air Max 97 “Gold Bullet” via Nike

Typically speaking, news of a revered retro returning begins with high hopes only to transition to fears of Ls. However, there’s good reason to believe this launch will be different.

A win for sneakerheads? For sure. A win for retailers? Absolutely. A change in the guard of how and why Nike re-releases shoes when it does? Perhaps.

The Need for Speed

When it comes to mass appeal, no category compares to the Nike Air Max range. Whether it be by way of retro, revised, collaborative, or progressive pairs, multiple variations of visible cushioning silos speaks to consumers of all ages, incomes, and interests.

Still, nothing sparks sneakerheads more than what once was. Where the Nike Air Max 97 “Gold Bullet” is concerned, the shoe’s history is responsible for its cultural cache, making familiarity the calling card for its future success.

Designed by Christian Tresser, now a creator as part of Kanye West’s Yeezy team, the Air Max 97 was inspired by the ripple effect of water dropping into a pond. Other elements of artistry came from metallic mountain bikes as well as Japanese bullet trains. The symbiotic relationship between art and life has proven pronounced and profound in the retro run of the Air Max 97.

Like a bullet train, the ’97 has sped through regions, emerging as international icon in both East and West. Like water, the shoe sees fluid adaption in modern fashion, acclaimed amongst all ages, genders, and genres.

2018 Nike Air Max 97 “Gold Bullet” via Nike

In recent years, the Air Max 97 has been reimagined by the likes of vegan vintage king Sean Wotherspoon, NBA All-Star Jayson Tatum, and British grime MC Skepta. Back in March, an Eminem exclusive Air Max 97 from 2005 was listed for a whopping $50,000.

“Air Max 97s never go out of style,” Foot Locker Global CMO Jed Berger told Boardroom in March. “They’re icons in sneaker culture and have been a part of our business since they first came out.”

While Berger cited the 2017 “Silver Bullet” Air Max 97 retro as a “real moment” that “took on a life of its own,” there’s reason to think that 2023’s “Gold Bullet” bring-back could be bigger.

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As Dunne notes, the “Gold Bullet” take is heralded as an OG favorite, though not necessarily an original colorway in traditional terms. The metallic makeup actually debuted in 1999, just two years after the revolutionary runner first released at retail. In the time since, it’s been retroed and revered as an original, returning to retail in 2004, 2010, 2017, and 2018.

Though drop dates are subject to change, projections peg the Spring 2023 “Gold Bullet” Air Max 97 launch as taking place less than five years since it last launched in May 2018. This speaks to the new normal of nostalgia in an online era where time and trends move much faster.

“I expect a lot of Air Max 97s,” SoleSavy founder Dejan Pralica told Boardroom in January 2022 when forecasting future footwear trends. “Look at how much the sneaker culture has evolved since even 2016? It feels like a decade ago. Stuff moves fast and the internet pace of the world is so different. It’s only been five years since the last retro restock of the ’97 and that feels like it was 2010.”

Since the “Gold Bullet” Air Max 97 last launched, not only has time moved faster, but demand has steadily grown.

Worth its Weight in Gold

Nike Air Max 97 “Gold Bullet” via Nike

The latter two Nike Air Max 97 release dates (2017 and 2018) are assumed to be the catalyst for the 2023 release. Despite dropping as an anniversary homage in 2017 with widened availability by way of another launch the following year, both late ’10s launches of the “Gold Bullet” still fetch anywhere from $187 to $494 across an array of sizes on StockX.

The fact that those aftermarket price-points have endured over the course of half a decade plays a pivotal role in the shoe coming back so soon.

“The brands are very wise to resale demand,” Pralica said in January. “If you look at the Air Max 97 ‘Silver Bullet,’ those are going for like $500 US. If I’m Nike? Let’s release it every five years and get our money. I think the brands are wise to where they can reset the market when resale gets out of control because obviously the demand is there. When they realize the price is too low or effecting the hype? They can put a pause on it.”

Heading into 2023, the hype is still very real. That buzz, along with inflation, is also why they’ll return at an adjusted price.

Nike Air Max 97 “Gold Bullet” via Nike

Following an MSRP of $160 in 2017 and 2018, the 2023 Nike Air Max 97 “Gold Bullet” is reported to start at $185. This price jump joins Air Jordan retro releases that have climbed in retail rate in recent years due to popularity that’s pushed perceived value, thanks to aftermarket indexing. It’s worth noting that in 1997 when the annual Air Max model first released with its ’97 notation, the shoes started at $149.99 in men’s and women’s sizing, advertised as offering “40% more air” in iconic Eastbay mail order catalogs.

As StockX suggests, selling “Gold Bullet” Air Max 97s for $185 in droves will be easy for Nike and their retail partners next year. This is true for curated boutiques likely to order in dozens of pairs as well as Foot Locker locations around the world buying in by the thousands.

“Air Max is such a steady and strong part of our business, always,” Berger said in March. “The relationship with Nike is terrific. Air Max is, has always been, and will always be a staple of sneaker culture and Foot Locker. I truly believe it will always be significant to the consumer.”

Despite debuting as race-ready runners, Air Max models appeal to all walks of life. Though sneakerheads may be moving slower than designers first intended, pairs will be releasing and selling faster than ever imagined.

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