Ahead of the official unveiling of Kanye West’s first collection with adidas tomorrow, we take a look back on Yeezy’s history of blockbuster sneaker collaborations.
Utter the words “Kanye West” and “sneakers” in the same sentence and you’re likely to be met either with frantic reaching for credit cards and Paypal accounts from fevered sneakerheads, or rolled eyes and queasy looks of disgust from the rapper’s many detractors. Like the man himself, Kanye’s contributions to the sneaker world are divisive to say the least.
With his debut collection for adidas set to be unveiled this week, we reflect on Yeezy’s long line of collaborations, brought to life by sneakerhead illustrator Stephanie Morris who has highlighted the key points of each of Kanye’s sneakers in her own inimitable style.
From his early forays into footwear with Nike and Louis Vuitton up to the blockbuster Air Yeezy series and soon-to-drop adidas line, Kanye West’s sneakers have left an indelible mark on the world of footwear. His lineage of designs, while fluctuating in line with his personal style (let us not forget, this is the man responsible for bringing shutter shades into the spotlight), all share a common flamboyance and left-field eccentricity that so many lazily co-branded projects lack these days.
FAO trigger-happy sneakerheads: before you jump to the comments section with corrections and omissions, we have only included official collaborations that were worn by the man himself – so that means no Giuseppe Zannottis or Balmains that Kanye may or may not have designed, no bespoke Huaraches for the “Glow In the Dark” tour and none of the countless Air Yeezy sample colorways that have never graced the foot of the good Lord Yeezus himself.
Nike Air 180 “College Dropout” (2006)
The first installment of Kanye West’s sneaker projects, the Nike Air 180 “College Dropout” celebrated the success of Ye’s lauded debut album and was available only in his own size 12 as a highly exclusive friends-and-family release. The shoe sported a playful mishmash of bold colors and leopard print upon the upper, with the record’s bear mascot branded on the tongue and insole. While a far cry from the game-changing pandemonium that surrounded the release of the Air Yeezy series, Ye’s spin on the often-overlooked Air 180 sneaker embodied his personal style at the time – swaggering confidence mixed with playful Ivy League pep.
A Bathing Ape Bapesta FS 001 “Dropout Bear” (2007)
Yeezy’s first shoe to officially hit retail, the “Dropout Bear” riff on the Bapesta landed right in the middle of the BAPE craze that gripped the streetwear world in the mid-2000s. A limited release but by no means as sought-after or groundbreaking as his later projects, the Air Force 1 bootleg was adorned in yet more College Dropout branding, channeling West’s fondness of BAPE’s streetwear in all its petulant, childish glory.
Reebok S.Carter CL Low (2008)
The Dropout bear strikes again, this time making an ignominious appearance on the heel of a dark corner of footwear history – Jay Z’s long-forgotten “S.Carter” signature Reebok shoe. The sneaker dropped in four colorways that took ’00s streetwear’s propensity for bold colors to nauseating new levels, climaxing with the luminous patent leather monstrosity you see above. Unsurprisingly, these haven’t aged well and mark a low point of Yeezus’s sartorial history, with its shutter shades and awkward forays into design with the since-abandoned “Pastelle” clothing line.
Nike Air Yeezy 1 “Grammy” (2008)
When Kanye stepped out for his 2008 Grammy performance performance which paid tribute to his recently departed mother Donda, he did so sporting a murdered-out sample colorway of his yet-to-be-released Nike debut, with a translucent sole unit and a bright crimson lace lock (the very same red that would grace the Black/Solar Red Air Yeezy 2 colorway). The sneaker never saw an official release and the sneakerhead community was buzzing with rumor on whether this new silhouette would ever see the light of day. Countless other unreleased Yeezy 1 samples have since surfaced, although none at such a pivotal moment of Kanye’s career.
Kanye West for Louis Vuitton “Don” (2009)
Don C, Kanye’s manager and erstwhile owner of Chicago’s RSVP Gallery and the Just Don line of luxury snapbacks, was name-dropped in the most straightforward shoe of West’s trio of Louis Vuitton sneakers. A low top with an exaggerated, over-padded heel counter, the fairly run-of-the-mill (for Kanye, at least) sneaker was most notably the debut for the all-red colorway that would become so synonymous with Yeezy’s footwear projects.
Kanye West for Louis Vuitton “Mr.Hudson” (2009)
This bizarre loafer-style Louis V sneaker paid tribute to British musician Mr.Hudson, who signed to GOOD Music shortly after its founding and worked with ‘Ye on 808s and Heartbreak and Watch The Throne. The hybrid shoe took the upper class loafer – tassels, moc stitch and all – and married it with the series’ signature padded heel and an boisterous colorway that epitomized Kanye’s preppy flamboyance at the time.
Kanye West for Louis Vuitton “Jasper” (2009)
Named after his barber Ibn Jasper, the final installment in Kanye’s Louis Vuitton project was a prime display of luxe sneaker pomposity, with a premium leather and suede upper accompanied by the colossal cross-straps that would become an ongoing feature of Ye’s sneaker collabs. Jasper would later go on to design similarly extravagant footwear with Diamond Supply Co. – continuing the Jasper’s luxe DNA but with a skateable sole and a more readily accessible price point.
Nike Air Yeezy 1 (2009)
After months and months of speculation and rumor regarding whether the samples seen on Kanye’s feet would ever see a public release, the Air Yeezy 1 was finally announced and (understandably) sent the sneakerhead population into a frenzy. Taking the blueprint laid out by the “Jasper” sneaker and pairing it with a vertically dissected upper and space-age textured cross-strap, the Air Yeezy 1 stepped away from the luxurious swagger of Kanye’s Louis Vuitton days and into altogether more progressive territory.
Nike Air Yeezy 2 (2012)
Landing three years after Ye’s initial foray with Nike, the Yeezy 2 took the Yeezy 1’s DNA into more abstract territory, marrying the Air Tech Challenge II‘s sole unit with an upper comprised of technical mesh and reptilian textured paneling, finished with a warped heel counter and signature cross-strap. On constant rotation during the blockbuster “Watch The Throne” tour, the sneaker initially dropped in two colorways (both of which sold out in a heartbeat, naturally) – the most memorable of which was the Black/Solar Red version which would later go on to appear on Air Foamposite 1 and SB Dunk releases, after Yeezy’s relationship with Nike came to an end.
Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Red October” (2014)
A year and half after the original Air Yeezy 2 release, the closing installment of Kanye’s Nike sneakers released in February 2014 after months of speculation and cancelled release dates. By far the most coveted of Yeezy’s sneakers, with an average resell price of over $3,000, the Red Octobers marked a fitting end to Kanye’s relationship with Nike, as he finally completed his transformation into the frenziedly-outspoken, Kardashian-marrying, paparazzi-beating style icon that we know and love today (or at least love talking about).
adidas Yeezy 750 Boost (2015)
Lightyears ahead of previous designs, the Yeezy 750 Boost marries previous designs’ cross strap, dissected upper and exaggerated silhouette with a bizarre Boost sole unit, side zips and rope laces. Sporting a gratuitous dose of visvim-esque raw suede, the sneaker features almost no branding and would not look out of place on the runways of the many highbrow designers who Kanye so openly strives to emulate. While we are yet to know the full drop details, if the hysteria surrounding the sneaker’s announcement is anything to go by these will be just as hard to get hold of as Yeezy’s previous Grail-status releases.