Every so often, a special sneaker is introduced to the market. Maybe it’s an iconic design. Maybe it features a brand new, industry-shifting technology. Maybe it’s a shoe that becomes intertwined with a legendary moment in cultural history. Or maybe it’s just a shoe that’s brilliant in its simplicity and speaks to the common man.
The Air Monarch is just that: a brilliantly simple sneaker. It’s never been at the forefront of culture. It doesn’t fetch crazy prices on the resell market. Nobody can tell you about the time they remember (insert influencer here) wearing their pair while doing something that became iconic. But it is among Nike’s best-selling and most important models because it’s accessible, available in a variety of widths and colorways, and most importantly … it’s so damn normal.
The Monarch has lived many lives, from the favorite sneaker of suburban dads the world over to an ironic, tongue-in-cheek joke perpetrated by self-aware sneakerheads. And in 2018, it just may enter a new phrase of its life cycle: as a favorite sneaker of normcore nerds and bulky shoe afficinadios the world over.
To understand the cultural legacy of the mighty Monarch, you’ve got to understand its history … so today we’re giving you the most interesting history lesson on one of the most un-interesting sneakers of the last decade. In this article you’ll learn everything that you never wanted to know about the Monarch: its origins, its evolution from a plain old dad shoe into an ironic fashion statement, and its place in culture today, plus where it might wind up tomorrow. You’ll never look at Monarch Mondays the same after this, so lace up your Monarchs tighter than Ellen Degeres laced up her “Damn” Cortez she got last week. It’s gonna be a wild ride.
Nike Air Monarch
Let’s start at the very beginning. Originally brought to market in the early 00’s as a competitor to “court” shoes like the New Balance 621 and designed to be stable, supportive, and comfortable for all-day wear, the original Monarch, concepted by Rob Dolan (who’s since worked on everything from the Nike Free line to the Flyknit Lunar 2) was one of the few Nike shoes made available in various widths, all the way up to 4E.
Nike Air Monarch II
The first iteration of the Monarch sold well if unspectacularly, and Nike handed the design reigns for the second model over to a fresh new designer named Jason Mayden. The Monarch II was the first silhouette that Mayden created for Nike, and his simple touch was what made the shoe take off. Mayden stated that his design inspiration for the Monarch II came from archetypal father roles, like a football coach or 5th grade teacher. The Monarch aimed to be a go-to shoe for the everyman, with Maden stating that the quintessential Monarch wearer was “Dan from Rosanne, Carl Winslow From Family Matters. So everybody knows that guy and this is that guy’s favorite shoe.”
Nike Air Monarch 3
Although Mayden’s ability to translate the everyman American dad’s laid-back, unconcerned aesthetic into sneaker form was essential to to the shoe’s early success, he moved on to Jordan Brand to work on the Chris Paul line shortly thereafter (he’s since designed iconic shoes like the Air Jordan 2009 and the Doernbecher III for Jordan Brand as well). The man behind the design may have been gone, but his everyman aesthetic was around to stay, as the Monarch III and IV were mostly permutations of the II with minor design tweaks.
Nike Air Monarch IV
Today in 2018, the Monarch has firmly established its place as the favorite shoe of American fathers all over the country. They’re inexpensive in an age where sneakers have become more pricy than ever, retailing at a low MSRP of $64.99 (you can grab three pairs of Monarchs for less than the price of one pair of Vapormax Mocs), they fit all foot types, and they’re widely available. You’d be mistaken to think that the expensive “premium” shoes in Nike’s lineup are always the most important. They’re what keeps the brand sexy … but a shoe like the Monarch that maintains a loyal core audience, and always sells independent of trends or cultural shifts is what keeps the brand afloat.
But the story of the Monarch doesn’t end with its design history and best-seller status. There’s a cultural side of things too, as the Monarch has grown to become more than your childhood best friend’s dad’s favorite pair of shoes. Over the last few years, it’s become a favorite of ironic sneakerheads the world around, so uncool in every way, shape, and form that it’s somehow managed to become cool in a bizarre way.
The era of the Monarch being used as a fashion statement (sarcastic or otherwise) began in May 2013 with the inception of the Team Monarch Instagram page, founded by former Nike footwear developer Ian Williams. Featuring images of normal people wearing the Monarch while going about their day-to-day activities, humorous Photoshopped images like Kobe Bryant cradling a white-and-blue pair, and excessively stylized on-foot photos (like the one above), Team Monarch brought one of Nike’s most humble, simple models into the sneaker culture spotlight in a way that it never had been before.
The Monarch’s ascension was also aided by the steadily increasing popularity of “normcore”, a style that blurs the line between a fashion trend and an inside joke by featuring mundane pieces like baggy jeans, college sweatshirts and plain tees. The essential goal of normcore fashion is to make a conceited effort to look as normal as humanly possible (think suburban dad), so the Monarch was at once the perfect norm core sneaker because much like the rest of the style, the wearer is toeing the line between a serious style statement and an outright joke with a wink and a nudge.
Pete Carroll’s Monarch IV PE
From there, things were off and running for the Monarch. Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carrol’s love of the clunky sneaker came to a head when Nike gave him his own Monarch P.E. Wild customs, re-designed to look like iconic Jordans started popping up everywhere you looked, and #monarchmonday became a favorite hashtag of many a sneakerhead on Instagram. One of Nike’s most reliable, best-selling sneakers had somehow done the impossible, and become ironically cool.
A custom pair of “Undefeated IV” Monarchs
How’d this normcore nonsense come to be? It’s anyone’s guess, but it’s likely because the sneaker game had became altogether too serious. The widely available Monarch provided a humorous respite from the constant grind of trying to collect limited-edition kicks, and a sneakerhead wearing Monarchs was acknowledging that they were self-aware enough to poke fun at their sneaker obsession. By willfully giving in to rocking a normal pair of shoes, they were temporarily freeing themselves from the need to always be exclusive with their footwear.
The Monarch continues on as one of Nike’s best-selling models in 2018, and many a sneakerhead still appreciates the irony that the shoe provides, but we may soon be seeing the third (and strangest yet) stage of the Monarch’s never-ending life cycle: as a bona-fied street style piece.
A pair of Monarch IV’s featured in the Paa (an NYC-based normcore brand) S/S ’18 lookbook
The Monarch as a street style piece? Upon inital thought it may seem outrageous, but with the way footwear is trending in 2018 it certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Sneaker culture is currently in a strange transitional period that combines extreme maximalism with 90’s-inspired silhouettes/designs. Monolithic, chunky, bulky shoes like the Yeezy Wave Runner 700, the Gucci Rython, and the Balenciaga Triple S are currently enjoying a lion’s share of the spotlight, so if there was ever a time for the Monarch to truly break the barriers between everyday wear and fashion, that time is now.
Consider this: all three of the aforementioned silhouettes come with a hefty price tag, well north of $500. The Monarch offers the same chunky aesthetic (albeit with less flair) than those three silhouettes for less than a tenth of the price. If a shoe as garish as the Fila Disruptor (already spotted in many a Fashion Week street style photo) can become a style staple in 2018, the mighty Monarch certainly can too.
The Concepts collaborative edition Air Monarch IV
And that’s not all: there’s a rumored collaborative pair with Boston-based Concepts on the way as well too. In today’s extreme hype-driven culture, nothing gives a shoe more clout than a collaboration with a desirable brand, and Concepts has proven time and time again that they’ve got the Midas touch when it comes to creating a lifestyle and experience surrounding a collaborative product. From SB Dunks to New Balance to Asics, they’ve done it all, and although there’s no official release date for their luxe take on the Monarch just yet, the collaboration may rocket the humble silhouette into the stratosphere.
So be ready. Love them or hate them, the Monarchs are here to stay. You may see them in the streets or SoHo, or you may see them trudging the endless halls of the Mall of America, but you’re going to see them everywhere you look, bypassing cultures and conventions. That’s how you know this once-humble silhouette has truly become great.
Do you own a pair of Monarchs? If so, do you wear them for the irony, the comfort, or both? Do you think the Monarch will take off in street-style popularity in 2018? What’s your favorite Monarch colorway or custom that you’ve seen? Sound off in the comments or hit us up and let us know on Twitter!