For the past month we’ve been asking you to vote for your favorite brands, collaborations, stores and sneakers of 2014. Here you’ll find the results of the first ever Highsnobiety Crowns.

In an industry as outspoken as ours, it’s always good to hear a range of opinions. This year, for the first time ever, Highsnobiety rounded up the best examples of streetwear and street culture from the past 12 months and let our readers decide which were the best. From a shortlist of 15 nominees (30 for the sneakers) we selected three winners based purely on the number of votes they received, and then added one more to reflect our own personal opinion. Read on to find out exactly who earned a Crown in 2014.

Bronze – Goodhood

With physical retail locked in a fight to the death with the world of e-commerce, never before has there been more need for brick-and-mortar stores to offer a complete shopping experience. Having at least partially grasped that with their existing clothing and homeware outlets, 2014 was the year Goodhood finally realised their dream of a comprehensive lifestyle destination that caters for the complex needs of the modern customer.

With its own dedicated cafe serving artisanal coffee and hot food in one corner, the new Goodhood Store is somewhere where the people of East London can come both to explore an eclectic range of well-made products (with brands and prices from across the board), or to simply soak up the ambience of an impeccably decorated living environment. We’d say it’s the kind of space no website can compete with, but one look at their stellar online presence and its clear they’ve got that base covered too. That’s how the pros do it in 2014.

Silver – KITH

There’s been much talk of the huge boom in the streetwear industry these past twelve months, but for a more tangible idea of just how well it’s performing, simply head down to KITH on a Saturday. With a weekly footfall of the kind ordinarily reserved for major tourist attractions, it’s little surprise to find Ronnie Fieg’s grandiose Manhattan boutique in our top stores of the year – and, in many respects, that’s exactly what it is.

Attracting customers from across New York, America and the rest of the world just as much through its own celebrity status as its catalogue of in-demand brands, the store has become a pilgrimage destination of sorts for disciples of the cult of streetwear. And, ever since its lavish redesign this fall, it seems KITH is edging closer and closer to “holy” status in the minds of many across the globe.

Gold – Sneakerboy

In any market, those who succeed are the ones who embrace not only the present demand, but the future potential. More so than any other store in our list, Sneakerboy fits that mold. Having shrewdly gauged the upswing in high-end, luxury sneakers around the world, the company has managed to stretch the traditional retail paradigm with an entirely new kind of shopping experience in surroundings unlike any other store of its kind. In fact, so innovative is Sneakerboy’s approach that there may come a time when the entire world adopts its space-saving, zero on-site inventory model. Right now, however, it’s a wholly unique force in the world of fashion, and it’s flying lightyears ahead of the pack at the top of our list.

Editors’ Choice – the POOL aoyama

Given that it’s located in a residential district of Tokyo and only opened this year, it’s not surprising that the POOL aoyama didn’t have the public support to take it into our top three winners. However, there’s simply no other entry on our shortlist that can touch Hiroshi Fujiwara’s latest project in terms of its ambition or level of originality, and for that reason it was our clear Editors’ Choice.

While the shop layout is an obvious stroke of brilliance, perfectly accentuating the angular 1970s architecture of the original swimming pool that once stood there, it’s its approach to merchandise that’s the real masterstroke. With a fresh title given to each new season, the POOL’s entire stock for that period is made up of exclusive collaborations relating to that theme, supported by a rotating pop-up space at one end. In short, it is the very essence of a “Retail Concept” and that alone made it one of the most exciting things to happen to the industry all year.

Bronze – Marcelo Burlon County of Milan

They’re such a common sight now, it’s almost hard to remember a time without Marcelo Burlon’s kaleidoscopic works plastered across the shoulders of streetwear fans worldwide. But that time was, in fact, just two-and-a-half years ago, making County of Milan one of the strongest breakthroughs we’ve seen in decades. What started out as a straightforward line of T-shirts has since grown into a remarkably well-rounded collection for both men and women, characterized by its daring and outlandish choice of accessories.

In an industry awash with simplistic and uncreative branding, the County of Milan line is a pleasant reminder that it takes more than just a box logo to build a brand, and its place on our podium proves there’s still space for an inventive graphic print, even in the age of ever-encroaching stylistic minimalism.

Silver – i love ugly

As an increasing share of the industry departs from the heavily branded, logo-centric looks of old, a new wave of names has risen to prominence that far better reflects the state of men’s fashion today. With their emphasis on the simple and understated, i love ugly has come to embody everything about the new generation of streetwear consumers now inheriting the scene – a group with far more mature tastes than their gaudy forebears.

Having spotted this trend as a blip on the horizon, the prescience of founders Valentin Ozich and Barnaby Marshall (neither of whom is over 30) is remarkable, and it’s no surprise to find them at no. 2 in our list alongside arguably their kindred spirit in the footwear game. Given all they’ve accomplished in six short years, we’re in little doubt they’re set to be a serious force in global streetwear, and we can’t wait to see what more they have to bring.

Gold – Filling Pieces

Some of the results in this contest were close – but not this one. With an amazing 30% of the public vote, Filling Pieces were the undisputed Gold Crown winners and few could deny they deserved it. At the spearhead of their own personal sneaker movement – one that draws heavily on the upscale minimalism of the high-end luxury market, only without the eye-watering price tag – their recognizable arrow-like silhouette drove a path through 2014 street style like no other, picking up new fans wherever it struck. Despite entering what is without question the hardest corner of the market to compete in, Filling Pieces defied all convention to emerge as everything a “breakthrough” brand should be: on-trend, on-point and on the feet of half the industry. Bravo guys.

Editors’ Choice – Cav Empt

20 or so years ago, those in the know were getting their rocks off for a little-known Japanese streetwear label by the name of A Bathing Ape. While you wouldn’t often see it on the streets, when you did, you knew the wearer was a connoisseur who would go that extra mile to source something a cut above what most stores were selling. Two decades later, and the nearest we’ve come to such hype is Cav Empt.

Proudly enigmatic, with branding that calls on dated millennial tropes like Habbo Hotel, 3D rendering and the early Macintosh, C.E’s adoration of retro iconography has, paradoxically, made it the hottest label of the future. Then again, perhaps that’s not so surprising when you realize it was founded by former BAPE designer Sk8thing. Coincidence? We think not.

Bronze – Patta x Stussy

Like two battle-hardened veterans meeting up to swap stories of the old days, Patta’s 10th anniversary collaboration with Stüssy was like a paean to the scene they each helped foster. At once incredibly on-trend in its use of leathers and monochrome, yet with a retro emphasis far more genuine than the sea of opportunistic ’90s cash-ins flooding the market right now, this was a capsule collection that felt both honest and full of integrity (a fact reinforced by its decidedly gritty lookbook). While one end of streetwear veered off to play dress-up with the catwalk crowd in 2014, these two old dogs looked at each other and laughed, before going back to doing exactly what they’ve always done so well.

Silver – Wood Wood x Disney

When you consider the size of the names it was up against, Wood Wood’s snaring of the Silver Crown in this category is nothing short of remarkable. Who would have thought a design trope as old and overplayed as Mickey Mouse could still find relevance in today’s market, outside of some obnoxious retro revival? However, the Copenhagen brand’s iconoclastic take on the Disney mascot was not only original and inventive, but decidedly current too, breathing new life into subject matter that most would have considered deader than the proverbial dodo. And, if that’s not the very essence of a brilliant collaboration, we’re not sure what is.

Gold (tied) – H&M x Alexander Wang 

Our Best Collaboration award was evidently the hardest to call, as our joint winners both scored EXACTLY the same number of votes, suggesting streetwear in 2014 was a much more level playing field than it has been in years gone by. Still, that didn’t stop H&M throwing almost everything they had in the ring with Alexander Wang, and the reaction it received would suggest it was worth it.

Overwhelmingly in line with the public zeitgeist, the arrival of this luxe sportswear collection could not have been better timed, signalling a watershed moment for arguably 2014’s biggest trend. Sure, the marketing got a little excessive at times, but anyone in doubt of the relevance a fast fashion retailer like H&M still holds today surely found themselves with little more to say on the matter.

Gold (tied) – Nike x Riccardo Tisci

Did the Air Force 1’s rising popularity help steer this collaboration to success or was Tisci’s endorsement the catalyst that kicked off the shoe’s revival in 2014? That’s a chicken and egg scenario we’re not about to undress, but one thing we’re sure of is these shoes were unavoidable this year. Selling out across the globe in all shapes, sizes and colorways, Nike’s first major project with a top-level fashion designer was a resounding public and critical success, drawing lines between streetwear and high-fashion in a way they had never done before. While some might question whether the world needs yet more areas for Nike to expand into, when the results look as good as this, it’s hard to argue against it happening again in future.

Editors’ Choice – Raf Simons x Sterling Ruby

Having debuted way back in January at New York Fashion Week, it says something about the impact of this collection that it remained at the forefront of our attention a full 12 months later. While by no means the most popular choice on the streets, Raf Simons’ second hookup with artist Sterling Ruby had the rare effect of staying with you wherever you encountered it, even if that only happened once or twice over the whole year. At a time when the Belgian designer’s name is being passed around more than ever before, this collaboration felt like the turning point in his acceptance by a scene outside the high-fashion community, and it’s one we’ll remember for years to come.

Bronze – Nike

With a brand the size of Nike’s, it’s difficult to draw the line between relevance and prevalence. Yet, in the year that adidas showed real signs of taking a bite out of the Beaverton hegemony, Nike too made a couple of big plays that sent shockwaves through the scene.

Its inaugural foray into the high fashion community alongside Givenchy director Tisci was a huge encroachment on traditional Three Stripes territory, proving that no area is immune to its charm. More importantly, however, the tipping of the World Cup sponsorship balance in Nike’s favor was a first in the company’s history and has no doubt set a precedent they will be keen to repeat in future sporting contests. While it’s true their release schedule this year felt a little heavy on the classics, at the end of the day, no one ever pulled a gun for a pair of ZX Flux, and that about sums up the company’s untouchable status in the minds of so many.

Silver – adidas

If the sneaker wars were a biblical parable, 2014 would be the point at which David began stockpiling stones. While adidas are a long way from felling their personal Goliath, their position ahead of age-old foe Nike is surely a reflection of the potential for one hell of a fight in the not-too-distant future. One look over the power plays they’ve made in the past twelve months and it’s impossible not to feel some rush of excitement. Three top designers poached, four promising high-fashion franchises, the most successful new silhouette of the year, Kanye West jumping ship – the pieces on the board are slowly moving into place and judging by the number of votes cast here, the crowd has decided who they’re rooting for. After all, everyone loves an underdog.

Gold – Supreme

In many respects, there’s no surprises here. Twenty years after it first appeared on the streets of New York, the world is every bit as in love with Supreme as it ever was. What is remarkable, however, is how even now, with a full two decades under their ever-widening belt, the brand has managed to continue picking up new followers, many of whom are likely too young to have any personal connection to its rebellious, rabble-rousing roots.

Yet, while the Supreme of today is a far cry from the outspoken enfant terrible of streetwear that first ripped off Barbara Kruger in the ’90s, the brand has managed to retain a countercultural cachet that’s still somehow irresistible to youth culture. If relevance is seen as the ability to remain current, Supreme have achieved it in the most subtle and clever of ways – by doing as they’ve always done and convincing the world it’s something entirely new. Only they could ever pull that off.

Editors’ Choice – adidas

There’s not much to say that’s not already been said, but, for us, no brand played a hand as strong as adidas in 2014. From the very start of the year, with the return of the Stan Smith on feet everywhere, this was destined to be an auspicious time for the Three Stripes. At present, they are the only brand really testing the market with ideas outside its comfort zone. Crazy new sole technologies, avant-garde silhouettes, custom printing capabilities – while other brands make do with updating tried and tested models to produce items they know will sell today, adidas is taking chances on what might change the game tomorrow. Granted, there will always be those for whom nothing but the great Swoosh will suffice, but for the more open-minded individuals out there, adidas’ almost aggressive openness to try new things represents the most exciting time for the industry in an age.

Bronze – CNCPTS x New Balance 997 “Rose”

In a year that felt dominated by talk of high-fashion silhouettes and aggressively minimal chic, it’s a huge comfort that a back-to-basics shoe like the “Rose” can still kick it with the best of them. While CNCPTS have been responsible for some moments of true outlandish brilliance in their time, for 2014’s big New Balance collab they chose to keep things simple. Built from the same premium suede that has come to characterize their Made In USA line, the shocking magenta upper was a bold challenge to the world’s sneaker sartorialists, daring them to forget all they knew about that much-maligned shade. If it takes a bold man to wear pink, then it takes an even bolder brand to make a shoe that color, and CNCPTS are among the bravest out there. After all, they launched a whole store with it.

Silver – Y-3 Qasa High “All Black”

In 2014, black was the new black, and it seemed no sneaker was more black than the Qasa High “All Black.” As ridiculous as that sounds, the Y-3 Qasa’s success this year owed everything to the veil of darkness that has descended over fashion in recent times and it soon became the unofficial footwear of the movement.

Were this shoe to have arrived half a decade ago it would have likely been escorted quietly off the premises with little more than a few bemused looks. But today, with the market’s increasing hunger for something more adventurous on its feet, the Qasa’s futurist reimagining of traditional Japanese “Tabi” and “Geta” (that’s socks and platform sandals) was just the right mix of daring and sophisticated to make them the most exciting thing on the shelves. That is, for the three minutes they were actually in stock anywhere.

Gold – Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Red October”

In fitting tribute to the man himself, the Nike Air Yeezy 2 was original, attention grabbing, controversial and extraordinarily popular, and such is Kanye’s sway over public opinion that it was going to take a miracle to knock it off the top spot (although the Qasa came close!) What’s most remarkable about this shoe is that, with only a couple thousand pairs ever produced, the vast majority of its supporters not only won’t own a pair, but will likely have never even seen one in the flesh.

In many respects a vote for the Yeezy is less about the shoe itself, but what it represents: one man’s ability to influence global pop culture with everything he does. In the wake of the Red October’s release, more tonal all-red sneakers were produced than at any other point in history. Regardless of your opinions on the shoe itself, there is simply no other sneaker on the market that can claim such authority. All hail.

Editors’ Choice – Hender Scheme “Air Jordan IV”

There was some debate around the Highsnob table as to whether the Hender Scheme Jordan IVs qualified as enough of a “sneaker” to make our Editors’ Choice. After all, they’re over $1000 a pair, hand-stitched from an array of premium, untanned leathers at an artisan workshop in Japan, and come with a lifetime guarantee. That doesn’t sound like any other sneaker we’ve heard of. What’s more, while most fawning sneakerheads will go to neurotic lengths to keep their prized kicks looking boxfresh, Hender Scheme actively encourage you to give their shoes a good wearing. In fact, with the natural patina that develops across the leather, they’ll look better for it.

No, these are not sneakers in any traditional sense – they are an entirely new way of looking at sneaker culture that celebrates form, craftsmanship and, above all, longevity. Three things that are, ironically, much more traditional than anything else you will find in sneakerdom.

If you’ve enjoyed reading the Highsnobiety Crowns this year, please share this post. Then check out our rundown of 10 Trends That Defined 2014.

Words by AJ Gwilliam
Features Editor

Proud Brit. Pathologically addicted to white trainers (AKA "sneakers").

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