Sneakers
From the ground up

As this year winds down we’ve recapped its highlights to bring you the best of 2017 in fashion, sneakers, music, movies and more.

It was the Boost of times; it was the thirst of times. In 2017, sneaker culture hit primetime.

Once reserved for underground enthusiasts, the rise of social media sneaker groups, efficient online resale and undeniably-hyped silhouettes like the Yeezy Boost have propelled the shoe game to a prominent, if not permanent, place in popular culture. Yet despite this round-the-clock media exposure, sneakers are still damn cool.

From the world’s fastest marathon shoe to adidas jumping over the Jumpman, join us as for a look back on the blockbuster moments that made 2017 one of the biggest years in sneaker history.

Virgil Abloh x Nike “The Ten” Debuts at OFF-CAMPUS

Josh Sobel / Highsnobiety.com

The leaks started in March. The spottings started in May. After six months of teasers and “AIR QUOTES,” the Virgil Abloh x Nike was finally revealed to the world during this September’s New York Fashion Week. It was, in a word, monumental.

The collection, dubbed “THE TEN,” was shown through a special activation called “Nike OFF-CAMPUS,” and features 10 Abloh-remixed Nike icons, most notably the Air Jordan 1. All week, crowds flocked to 23 Wall Street for workshops, concerts, and an invite-only after party. Then, OFF-CAMPUS packed up, went to London Fashion Week, and did it all again. Due in no small part to the hype around these Nikes, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that sneaker culture hijacked fashion month.

The shoes may be cool, but the cultural moment created around their unveiling and subsequent launch (Federer on clay in the Jordan 1?) was white hot. Small wonder that Virgil’s take on the Jordan 1 earned Footwear News’ “Shoe of the Year.”

#BREAKING2 and the Nike Zoom VaporFly Elite

Nike

In May of this year, Nike staged “#Breaking2,” an epic (yet ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to break the 2-hour marathon. While Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge fell just 25 seconds short of the mark, his chill-inducing performance —the fastest recorded marathon by any human being, ever—inspired athletes all over the globe. Another thing it inspired: one of the single best shoes of the decade.

Featuring a Flyknit upper, ZoomX midsole, and heel-mounted carbon fiber spring plate, Kipchoge’s shoe was a bullet train with laces: uncompromising performance, with the stealth fighter aesthetics that accompany those bred for speed. While consumers will likely never have a shot at the ultra-hardcore Zoom VaporFly Elite worn by Kipchoge and his teammates, the slightly-detuned Nike Zoom VaporFly 4%, Nike’s fastest available marathon shoe, is a worthy runner up. If more performance runners balanced looks and function as well as Nike’s VaporFly series, the sneaker game would have a new top category.

NikeCraft “Space Camp” and the Mars Yard 2.0

Thomas Welch / Highsnobiety.com

Mere weeks after the Zoom VaporFly propelled Nike runners to a world record marathon, a propulsion experience of a different kind landed in New York. Dubbed “Space Camp,” this June’s special Nike-sponsored obstacle course took lucky participants through an exercise regimen planned by design legend Tom Sachs. At the end, Space Campers were rewarded with a shoe worthy of their day full of great leaps: anyone who finished had the opportunity to buy the Tom Sachs x Nike Mars Yard 2.0.

In 2012, Nike and Sachs collaborated on the first “Mars Yard,” a lightweight low-top designed for rocket scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The shoe, featuring panels made from the same vectran fibers found on the Mars Rover, sold out in an instant. Unfortunately for all those quick-react buyers, the original Mars Yard had a hidden long-term flaw: with repeated wear, the vectran fiber that gave the shoe its Mars moniker would tear. Houston, we have a problem.

Five years later, a stronger, redeveloped Mars Yard was ready for liftoff. With “Space Camp,” Nike gave both the shoe—and sneaker fans—a truly stratospheric launch. The Mars Yard 2.0 would go on to release to the public at large on July 27.

A$AP Bari Loses Nike Partnership Following Sexual Assault Allegations

Thomas Welch / Highsnobiety.com

Just page through any street style album from before this July, and you’ll see VLONE everywhere. For a brand that launched in March 2014, A$AP Bari’s streetwear imprint had achieved nothing short of triumph. A Nike collab within three years; a Paris Fashion Week show in June. Nothing, it would seem, could stop VLONE.

Then, the video surfaced.

On July 14, 2017, a video showing an alleged sexual assault by VLONE founder A$AP Bari caused the brand to collapse almost overnight. Fans turned their backs overnight, and before the end of the month, Nike officially cut all ties. VLONE—the buzz-driven streetwear line whose meteoric rise had included a Parisian runway just weeks before—was alone once again. Toward the end of November, TMZ also reported that the alleged victim was pressing charges against Bari.

The adidas Speedfactory Comes Online With the AM4 Runner

adidas

When most think “adidas innovation,” the magic stops above the ankle. However, with the launch of the AM4 running shoe this October, the Three Stripes took a quantum leap towards the future of shoemaking itself. The AM4—a Boost-soled training shoe—is the first major project from adidas’s Germany-based “Speedfactory,” an all-autonomous production facility unveiled to the public in May 2016.

The AM4 is unique in the breath and depth of its customization. Because of the Speedfactory’s focus on small-batch additive manufacturing (as seen in its Futurecraft prototypes), shoes made there can theoretically feature significant changes made further along the development cycle. On the AM4, this translates to six city-specific editions tailored to the unique needs of runners in London, Tokyo, New York, and others. We, for one, welcome our new Speedfactory overlords.

adidas Recognizes Hender Scheme With Official Collab

Mathieu Vilasco / Highsnobiety.com

Japanese luxury shoemaker Hender Scheme launched in 2010 with a collection of boots and bluchers, but it would take just one season to introduce the high-end sneaker homages (“Manual Industrial Products”) for which they’re known. Their second sneaker: the MIP-02, a hand-stitched low-top basketball shoe featuring raised leather ridges on top of a defined toe cap. It was an ultra-luxe knock for an adidas Superstar, except, of course, for the removal of those three lateral stripes.

Hender Scheme would go on to introduce other homage shoes (including the Micropacer-inspired MIP-09), yet perhaps due to both the small sales volume and inherent respect they represented, the company was never sued by any major sneaker brands. In fact, this past August, adidas granted the ultimate compliment: a Hender Scheme x adidas sneaker collab, which saw official Three Stripes branding hit Hender Scheme sneakers for the very first time. Don’t worry, exclusivity-conscious MIP owners—although this was indeed a Gucci x Dapper Dan-style legitimizing of one of the shoe game’s true artisans, the collab shoes are still prohibitively expensive.

adidas Overtakes Jordan as No.2 in U.S. Sneaker Sales

Asia Typek / Highsnobiety.com

The accelerating adidas resurgence has made headlines for a while, but this September, the Three Stripes officially jumped over Jumpman. In the US market, at least.

While Nike’s combined sales across major units still make it the best-selling global sneaker brand by a wide margin, adidas’ undeniable momentum in the Swoosh’s home market has affected its competitor’s strategy and stock price alike. With a World Cup year just over the horizon, the stage appear sets for a 2018 title fight. Who ya got?

Rick Owens and adidas Call It Quits

Adam Mastroianni / Highsnobiety.com

Unfortunately, not everything out of Herzogenaurach contained such cheerful news. As of this August, the adidas x Rick Owens collaborative collection will cease production, citing the legendary designer’s switch to American heritage brand Hood Rubber as motive. The adidas x Rick Owens FW17 will be its last to hit stores.

Rick Owens’s adidas collabs were wild and wonderful in all the weirdest ways. From the Vicious Runner to Springblade Boots, the partnership created some of the decade’s most avant garde sneakers. Considering part of adidas’s Jordan-jumping strategy is its high fashion footwear partnerships with designers like Raf Simons and Stella McCartney, watching an icon like Rick Owens leave the family is surprising, to say the least.

Then again, would it really be Rick Owens if it weren’t?

LaVar Ball Launches Big Baller Brand

ZO2

While at UCLA, freshman Lonzo Ball led the Bruins to a Sweet 16 berth in the 2017 NCAA Tournament on the strength of his explosive offensive capabilities. On the sidelines, his father LaVar was busy taking shots of a different variety.

LaVar Ball’s ridiculous claims about his and his son’s basketball careers (plus his open antagonism of Michael Jordan) would unfortunately overshadow Lonzo’s athleticism, contributing to an NBA-bound Lonzo being turned down for sponsorship from all three major basketball shoe manufacturers. Unfazed, his father LaVar made the only move audacious enough for media personality: starting a shoe brand to sponsor his son.

In May, Big Baller Brand launched the Z02, a $495 signature sneaker debuting five months in advance of Lonzo Ball’s first minute of NBA play. The shoe was immediately ridiculed for its design and price point. Yet, Big Baller Brand powered on: in August, BBB launched the MB1, granting Lonzo’s high-school aged brother LaMelo a $395 signature shoe of his own. 2017, folks.

50% of the NBA Finals Starting Lineup Has Own Signature Shoe

Under Armour

This June’s NBA Finals pitted the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers against the “dream team” Golden State Warriors in a rematch series seemingly made for primetime. If you were a sneaker brand, it was reason to celebrate.

While both teams’ starting five compiled some of the best basketball talent of a generation, it was equally notable for compiling a lot of signature shoes. Of the Game 1 starters for both teams, 50 percent (Nike: James, Irving, Durant; Under Armour: Curry; Anta: Thompson) have their own signature basketball shoes. From a surprisingly-clean Curry 4 unveil to the on-the-court-off-the-court launch of the “Still KD,” the 2017 Finals were all about the shoes.

The team with more shoe endorsements did in fact win this year’s championship, but we’ll chalk that one up to coincidence.

Luxury Dad Shoes Peak With Balenciaga Crocs

Balenciaga

Demna Gvesalia’s second collection of Balenciaga menswear got a lot of heads talking. The ’80s-inspired clothing—oversized shoulders, flowy trousers, “Greed is Good” power ties—was as much American Psycho as “Psycho Killer,” but one specific part of Demna’s Reagan-era caricature stood well above the rest: the grotesque, the undulating, Triple-S luxury sneaker.

For better or for worse, nothing the sneaker world had ever seen looked quite like the Triple-S. Within months, every luxury brand was announcing an “ugly dad shoe” of their own. Gucci, Acne, YEEZY, Louis, Dior; the list goes on. However, a summer’s worth of dad domination was only the opening act.

This October, Balenciaga—the father of the luxury dad shoe—returned to the runway with 10cm-tall platform Crocs. Whether subversive fashion commentary or merely cynical meme-bait, the Balenciaga Crocs made a flashbulb impression on the culture at large. Both in altitude and attitude, Balenciaga’s 10cm Crocs were the peak of dad shoes.

RIP Gary “Gwarizm” Warnett

Last but certainly not least: Gary, this one’s for you.

This September, the sneaker world was rocked by the passing of Gary “Gwarizm” Warnett, the legendary journalist, critic, and cultural scholar whose blog, gwarizm.com, cataloged the rise and maturation of what we now call streetwear.

For those who didn’t know him, Gary both shaped and chronicled the sneaker world. His blog—including the writing he contributed to industry publications, including Highsnobietyis the closest thing the world will ever have to a history of this unique cultural moment. Through vintage ads, candid opinions, and a deep appreciation of the mechanisms that bring products to life, Gary shared his warmth with readers, peers, and colleagues alike.

His infectious blend of humor and rigor brought an invaluable perspective to our corner of the world, one missed by all but forgotten by none. Thank you, Gary. Rest in peace.

To stay updated, follow @Highsnobietysneakers on Instagram.

This article was presented by Gucci Guilty. Occasionally brands or sponsors will support our editorial content to help it reach more people. Highsnobiety’s editorial team maintains its editorial independence.

Alex Rakestraw is a writer, strategist, and creative based in New York. He covers fashion, footwear, sustainability, and tech.

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