Sneakers
From the ground up

When I first got into sneakers (though I called them running shoes or skate shoes back then), Vans were barely on my radar. Beyond a few cool Nike and adidas runners as a young kid, I first got into shoes in the mid-90s when I picked up skateboarding. At the time it was all about the young independent brands; Airwalk was all over and brands like eS, Etnies, DC and Duffs were all young and popping. Vans had recently shifted production overseas, was available at the mall and therefore wasn’t nearly as cool as your local skate-shop exclusive DCs and Etnies. Oh how times have changed…

It was eighth grade graduation when I got my first pair of Vans. It was my attempt to get dressed-up while still holding onto my skate obsession. I can’t recall the exact Vans model but it was a slightly puffy navy suede low top. I wore them with a cheap suit of some kind and after the ceremony skated away from school with my friends like we were Heath Kirchart and Jeremy Klein in Birdhouse’s The End (minus setting ourselves on fire).

Though I’d been skating for years, I still didn’t really get into Vans beyond that one pair until I become more interested in fashion. I started wearing slimmer pants (APC New Standards really kicked that off) and at the same time slimmed down my shoes, primarily with the Vans Era in Black. After that, the first pair I really recall wearing heavily was the navy and red Marc Jacobs Slip-On that I got second hand, followed closely by a pair of black and yellow Supreme Old Skools covered in stars that I sourced via a friend in LA. This was circa 2005, long before Supreme had an online shop. The same year Vans Syndicate launched and I went all-in on Vans.

Though over the years my preferred model has wavered from the Era and Authentic to Slip Ons and Old Skools through Half Cabs and Chukkas and back again, the Sk8-Hi has by and large remained a long-standing favorite. Introduced in 1978 as the Style 38, the Sk8-Hi brought ankle protection and a new look to skating, cementing the jazz stripe as a prominent logo in footwear. Simple today, it was revolutionary at the time, representing the first high-top skate shoe.

In my personal collection, the ballistic nylon model from Syndicate 002 was an early favorite and remains one of my footwear grails. The early WTAPs bones models (though I no longer have the His), the Hosoi rising sun, the Supreme New Order piece, Stussy anniversary joints, and the more recent WTAPS were all in heavy rotation over the years. The zip-in OTH Black Crab ended up being a go-to for any wet weather and the new winterized MTE versions got way more wear than I anticipated. And topping it all off, earlier this year I was able to realize a lifelong dream, releasing my very own Sk8-Hi as part of the Raised by Wolves x OTH x Vans Vault project.

Honestly, for me, I can’t think of a more iconic or important shoe. The Sk8-Hi looks as good today as it ever has. It’s a simple, affordable, legendary shoe: 38 years in production and counting. A true testament to the staying power of a classic design.

Below are my personal top 10 pairs I’ve worn over the last 10 years.

2006 / Vans Sk8-Hi SL Christian Hosoi “Rising Sun”

These were one of the first shoes I recall ever buying from a reseller. I don’t think I paid over retail, but I simply couldn’t find them locally, there weren’t many online shops to choose from and I had to have them. That classic Hosoi graphic fits perfectly behind the jazz stripe and the contrast stitching sets off the red, white and black. Still love these 10 years later.

2006 / Vans Syndicate Sk8-Hi Ballistic

This is the one I mentioned above as a personal grail. Vans Syndicate launched at the my peak interest in sneakers/streetwear, and everything they released for the first few seasons had me in awe. The subtle/premium/tech takes on the classics had basically never been seen executed at this level before and I was so hyped. These came packaged with a matching ballistic nylon bag that I used as my camera bag for years, as well as a skate tool that was the only one I needed for 10 years until it mysteriously went missing last summer. Bummer.

2013 / Defcon x Vans Syndicate Sk8-Hi Notchback Pro “Digital Camo”

The Vans Syndicate Defcon collab was a strong one. I’ve always been big on camo and military references and this one hit them dead on. This shoe also features an inverted waffle sole (perhaps for the first time ever), which was a precursor to the latter MTE outsole. I’ve never been super into brown shoes, but this one works.

2013 / Supreme x Vans Sk8-Hi “Power, Corruption & Lies”

I got really into New Order in my late teens, so when Supreme linked up with Peter Saville to run his artwork on a set a Vans I had to have the Sk8-His (which were the best of the bunch). These were a very generous gift from the Vans team and I am grateful. Another grail of my collection for multiple reasons. Plus they honestly just look great.

2013 / Diemme x Vans Vault Montebelluna Hi Navy

The Diemme Vans Vaults are probably the most expensive pair of Vans ever released, having retailed at $400 USD. Not technically a Sk8-Hi but rather a Montebelluna, this shoe is Diemme’s interpretation of the Sk8-Hi, handcrafted in Italy in luxe leathers. The navy stood out to me and the Italian flag detail on the heel is a great touch too. Truly a special release.

2013 / Ice-T x Vans Syndicate Sk8-Hi OG “Rhyme Syndicate”

The Ice-T Sk8-Hi was another fun music crossover. I was a bit obsessed with Ice-T’s metal band Body Count for some time, so when he got his own Syndicate shoe commemorating that period I was stoked. In top Vans Syndicate fashion, the pair also come packaged in a mini body bag alongside a gold-plated revolver keychain, fully realizing the violent theme.

2013 / WTAPS x Vans Vault Sk8-Hi OG Navy

The WTAPS/Vans project is hands down my all-time favorite on-going footwear collaboration. Year after year they’ve released some of the best takes on Vans classics ever. Though mentioned above, the early Bones Sk8-Hi was one of the shoes that got me into collecting, this more toned down navy model turned out to be one of my favorites, period. Classic done so proper.

2014 / Stussy x Vans Vault Sk8-Hi “8 Ball”

These Stussy Vans Vault joints just feel so classic California with the checkerboard laces, repeating 8 Ball pattern, OG Vans tongue label and red, black and white colorway. Real throwback vibes for Vans 35th anniversary, and the leather lining made these feel premium at the same time.

2014 / Chuck Hughes x OTH x Vans Vault Sk8 Hi “Black Crab”

The Black Crab is one of the shoes I’ve worn the most in my life, period. Created in collaboration with Montreal chef Chuck Hughes, it was Vans first “cooking shoe” which means it’s basically bulletproof. I wore them in the rain, snow and mud (which is still on there in this photo) and remained dry through it all. The zip in/out makes them so easy too. And in all-black, super versatile. These were the springboard to the RBW winterized Vans project.

2015 Gosha Rubchinskiy x Vans Sk8-Hi

From 2006 to 2015, I end off the list with another black shoe with contrast white stitching. That’s the signature of the Sk8-Hi after all, yet modified here by Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, with premium suedes and a slight tweak to the rubber. It’s simply incredible how many ways you can present the Sk8-Hi and still have it feel classic yet new. Another great example of the shoe’s versatility and staying power.

For more on Vans, check out our Op-Ed on Why the Vans Authentic is the Best Shoe Ever.

  • Photographer: Pete Williams / Highsnobiety.com
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