Sneakers
From the ground up

At the end of every year we take the time to look back on how the past 12 months have affected the street fashion scene we know and love. Shortlisted by us, but chosen by our readers, the Highsnobiety Crowns are our way of celebrating the leading forces in our field, and the changing face of our industry. And like last year, the winners will receive special aluminum key trophies designed by Snarkitecture and Highsnobiety.

Here’s how you voted in this year’s Highsnobiety Crowns awards, along with one extra Editors’ Choice for each category, chosen by us. Check out the full list of stores, fashion collections, brands, sneakers, people and more below.

The Best Store of 2017

Bronze – Round Two Hollywood + NYC

Round Two

With the opening of their second location this year in New York City, home of the likes of Supreme, Alife and Flight Club, and arguably the birthplace of streetwear itself, it was always bound to be a busy year for Round Two. But hey, all that hard work seems to have paid off.

At the heart of it, the Round Two team weren’t doing anything revolutionary. The relatively-underground Unique Hype store on Elizabeth Street in Chinatown has been offering New Yorkers a second chance at copping streetwear grails for quite some time, and the consignment store model has been a tried-and-tested element of the sneaker world for years.

But Round Two made a few subtle tweaks to the framework, taking the grail-level stock of the former and the clean, professional presentation of the latter to give a sophisticated touch to the crazy world of the secondary streetwear market.

Resellers and collectors alike gained a place where they could sell their goods without the hard work of online selling, and buyers had a new, brick-and-mortar location where they could flick through the rails, try things on and walk out of a store with a shopping bag in their hands – an experience which is still important to a lot of us when it comes to buying new gear.

And by the looks of our poll, the store has been well-received by the customer. With the hype machine not looking to slow down anytime soon, we’re sure next year will only be even bigger for the Round Two team.

Silver – colette

Asia Typek / Highsnobiety

Considering 2017 was their final year of operations, it’s hardly surprising that the iconic Parisian store colette pulled out all the stops to cement their status as one of the original concept stores.

They didn’t disappoint, either. Beyond their usual offering of high and low fashion complemented with weird and wonderful pop culture ephemera, this year saw colette playing host to all manner of collaborative in-store pop-up events with the likes of Balenciaga, Thom Browne, Sacai, Chanel and Saint Laurent, each one bringing with it a slew of luxury-branded everyday items, from Balenciaga sleeping masks and travel pillows to Saint Laurent rolling papers.

Ultimately, colette’s final year was a comprehensive demonstration of why they were one of the very best in the industry at creating a comprehensive retail experience from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave, regardless of whether you even bought anything.

It’s not surprising that their final year would be a hit with our readers; just like the fundamental philosophy of colette itself, their final year of collaborations offered a little bit of something for everyone. They were just edged out of first place, however, by a store that surely wouldn’t exist were it not for their influence…

Gold – KM20

Pavel Kryukov

That’s right. This year, the Highsnobiety Crown for Best Fashion Store goes to the Kuznetsky Most 20 concept store in Moscow, voted for by you. The ambitious and oft-bewildering store undoubtedly takes a few leads from colette, but their Russian locale and harsh, modernist aesthetic has fit perfectly with the prevailing trends of 2017, proving a great success with customers at home, abroad and all across the internet.

The biggest story for KM20 this year was undoubtedly their relocation to a huge, multi-floor space on Pereulok Stoleshnikov, and they didn’t hold any punches in presentation, creating a holistic in-store experience that had the eccentricity of Dover Street Market, the playfulness of colette and the fashion-forward perspective of Machine-A.

Beyond that, a slew of exclusive collaborative releases with the likes of Off-White, Heron Preston, ALYX and Gosha Rubchinskiy demonstrated, quite comfortably, that KM20 has its finger firmly on the pulse of fashion right now.

Their victory over colette for Best Fashion Store in the latter’s final year might seem bittersweet, but in many ways, it’s the best possible result, reassuring us that though one of the originators might be closing its doors for good, there are many others who have studied the model closely, learned the game, and are ready to start the next chapter. Congratulations, KM20.

Editors’ Choice – Grailed

Grailed

In a year where everything was turned on its head it only makes sense for the Best Store award to go to the place that, well, isn’t a store in some ways. But it’s because of this that Grailed can do something that no “proper” store ever could; offer every fashion brand you could ever think of, all under one roof.

Whether you’re looking for vintage Raf Simons, rare Helmut Lang samples, Kaws collectibles or that one Supreme x Louis Vuitton piece you might actually be able to afford, Grailed has something for everyone, and the fact that all of this is provided by other users means Grailed has really put a spotlight on how vast and diverse the world of modern fashion really is.

The jury’s still out over whether all this exposure has helped to fuel people’s passion to learn more about the history of fashion design, or just applied retroactive hype to vintage pieces that would previously have been well-kept secrets for the fashion world’s intelligentsia, but the fact remains; Grailed has done something that no other platform had gotten right before. And now, someone with a spare $7,000 lying around has the chance to get hold of that Raf Simons A/W’03 Peter Saville parka they’ve always wanted. Come on, that has to count for something.

The Best Fashion Collaboration of 2017

Bronze – Junya Watanabe x The North Face

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

Our world is built on great brands (and minds) coming together to create products and ideas that are stronger than anything each respective contributor could have come up with on his or her own. That’s why Vetements’ collab-heavy S/S 2017 collection wasn’t that groundbreaking for us—we’re used to seeing “X” between brand names. Junya Watanabe is no exception. Some of the brands he often works with have a provenance of hardworking heritage, like Levi’s and Pendleton. But what he always does is dig into the core of what makes that brand great, and plug it into the zeitgeist.

His F/W 2017 collab with The North Face sums that up perfectly. In a collection that included co-branded product with Carhartt and Levi’s, it’s the pieces he did with the storied outerwear manufacturer that stood out the most. For anyone who thinks the workwear trend’s heyday is over, Watanabe never ceases to make it relevant again.

For the real heads, there’s the attention and appreciation of craft—Watanabe took one of TNF’s most popular bags, deconstructed it, and reformed it into several directional outerwear pieces. And for the more casual fashion fans, he simply took TNF’s Canyon puffer jacket, made it in three colorways, and exploded a screenprint graphic on the back.

The result is something in line with today’s obsession with visible signifiers of status and brand alignment, but also something that communicates membership in the cognoscenti—the uninformed may see it as simply another TNF jacket, but those who know, know—and they silently approve.

Silver – Vetements x Champion

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

Vetements—a brand whose name is literally the French word for “clothing,” and Champion, a humble sportswear manufacturer whose name is synonymous with winning, created one of the most subversive and polarizing collaborations of the year. Egregiously expensive for what it is, that’s part of the appeal. It calls into question what “luxury” even means anymore, and further pushes designer Demna Gvasalia’s agenda of making an uncanny valley between forward-thinking design, utilitarian garments, and high-priced status symbols.

It begs the question—if you simply wear a Champion sweatshirt, is it still as cool as the Vetements collaboration? Granted, the Rochester, NY-born knitwear company is worthy of attention on its own merits—after all, its reverse weave hoodie is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art, replete with a purchasable MoMA collab. But it also inadvertently points out the very quandary the fashion industry is in: As fashion is more democratized, how can it retain its aura of exclusivity?

This particular collab, with its aspirational price range, limited availability, and unpredictable shelf life, may not be the total answer, but it’s certainly got people thinking about where this is all headed.

Gold – Supreme x Louis Vuitton

Asia Typek / Highsnobiety

The “One Ring” of all possible collaborations, Supreme and Louis Vuitton coming together to create an expansive capsule collection is the perfect example of how street fashion has superseded fashion as a whole. What used to stand as a contrast to stuffy, aspirational brands has now become the new aspiration.

Some diehards see it as a nail in the coffin, while others see it as the smashing of a glass ceiling. Streetwear as we know it is now seen as much on the catwalks as it is on the sidewalks. The sky is truly the limit for any young kid who wants to start a brand around some cool T-shirts.

But on the upside, now that labels like Supreme are becoming so entrenched in the establishment they once never thought they’d be a part of, it demonstrates the need for younger minds and brands to fill the gap in their place. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that Supreme got a cease and desist from Louis Vuitton for flipping its designs. What better time than the present to kill the old gods and start worshipping something new?

Editors’ Choice – Junya Watanabe x The North Face

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

It was a real toss-up between this and Martine Rose’s Napapijri collaboration, but in the end we had to give it to Junya. The two projects are arguably similar–a left-field designer putting their own unique twist on a storied outdoors brand—but the meeting of Junya and The North Face was the collision of two iconic names in contemporary fashion, and created such fertile ground for experimentation.

And as the end product showed, Junya ran with it. He’s long been known for his alchemic ability to re-contextualize styles, fabrics and even entire objects into new forms, but seeing him turn a The North Face duffel bag into parkas and varsity jackets – complete with the webbing tape handle across the back of that varsity–was perfect. It was one of those collaborations we’d all been waiting for without even knowing it.

As for Martine Rose, she’s now demonstrated unequivocally that she knows how to bring a big name brand into her world and make it her own. If I’m not wrong, she’ll be back on our shortlist very soon, and it’ll be hard to overlook her a second time.

The Best Under-the-Radar Brand of 2017

Bronze – GFT

GFT

Fresh out of Los Angeles, GFT‘s “Sinsanity” collection was one of the strongest U.S. streetwear debuts we’ve seen in some time. The graphic references included Lucy Liu’s character from Kill Bill Vol.1, some trippy canines, and an eye-catching “EXORCISE” logo with abstract prints on the back.

Their latest collection features a recurring chain motif, which adds instant impact to the streetwear staples of shorts and black track pants. Across the board, we think that zips haven’t been utilized in an interesting way for some time, but GFT have made them a valid talking point again with a graphic “skeleton crew” hoodie that sees the zipper run all the way up the hood and down the back of the garment.

Silver – Sundae School

Sundae School

From Seoul/New York comes new smokewear brand Sundae School. Their objective is two-fold, firstly to bring visibility to an underrepresented Asian-American counterculture and secondly, to create some really dope clothes to smoke weed in. Their first collection, titled “Genesis” set a precedent for their innovative design instincts that blends some highfashion concepts — such as a denim jacket with transparent plastic coating — with functional stoner-details such as hats with double-stitched spliff holders at the side.

For their second collection, “When Tigers Used to Smoke” (an old Korean saying that translates to “a very long time ago”) Sundae School channeled the nostalgia of pre-war Seoul by referencing the traditional Korean garb of Hanbok. Their contemporary spin on the traditional garment was conceived in pinstripe denim which they modified with covert pockets and straps to carry spliffs, lighters and the rest.

Gold – Jacob Kane

Jakob Kane

Jacob Kane is a British designer from Northern England. A welcomed antidote to a slightly crowded London fashion scene, every collection from Jacob Kane’s Manchester studio has been refreshing, immaculately conceived into a lookbook, and of course, totally wearable too. The label’s debut collection, titled “Unite or Perish,” shows an amalgamation of the designer’s interests” including photography, the rise of political tensions from Brexit, Northern art exhibitions, and old issues of ’90s counter-cultural tome, The Face.

Shot in and around a garage with vintage cars, the collection included logo T-shirts, hoodies, patchwork denim jeans with an oversized ring-pull zipper, and as a standout item, a one-of-a-kind parka jacket that fuses grey and technical khaki, mid-blue denim, metal ring pulls, and a detachable faux-fur hood. Also, a big shoutout to the very long-sleeve, oversized oxford shirt which, when styled with Kane’s more street options, is as steezy as you can get.

Editors’ Choice – Domestik

Domestik

For our Editor’s Choice for the Best Under-the-Radar entry this year, we had to single out one brand from a wealth of emerging talent. It would be remiss not to mention how much we liked the metallic chain motif from GFT, or the webstore design from 1KCORP. However, after some debate, we’re championing what we believe has the tenacity to grow into something really special (while also bringing us back to our streetwear roots), which is why we’ve chosen Indonesian brand, Domestik.

Firstly, what’s not to like about repurposed images of ’80s Indonesian pornos, martial arts and tropical firestorms? In its relatively short lifespan, what Domestik has done so well is tap into the core of what makes streetwear so brilliant: slapping interesting and esoteric graphics onto T-shirts.

Domestik has now traveled over 7,000 miles to be sold at the prestigious Dover Street Market, which is commendable for such a young brand. By drawing attention to the colorful Indonesia-inspired visuals, Domestik is comparable to Gosha Rubchinskiy who effectively put Russia on the map as a go-to aesthetic for styleheads around the world.

In 2018, we’re excited to see what other kind of graphic offerings Domestik can surprise us with, as well as hopefully watch them expand into designing other garments and build on their international presence, possibly turning Indonesia into the next style hotspot.

The Best Breakthrough Brand of 2017

Bronze – Palm Angels

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

As the brainchild of artistic director at Moncler and famed Italian fashion photographer Francesco Ragazzi, Palm Angels was unlikely to have a hard time breaking into the fashion industry. The label’s confrontational mix of surf, skate, and grunge culture, framed through a romanticized memory of the West Coast, slotted perfectly into the fashion world’s current infatuation with late-20th century nostalgia, and the past year has seen Palm Angels really claim its territory on the contemporary fashion landscape.

Featuring on the brand roster of Marcelo Burlon’s distribution and production company New Guards Group alongside Off-White, Heron Preston, Unravel Project and, of course, Marcelo Burlon, Palm Angels has been naturally predisposed toward linking up with all the scene’s most influential figures. Earlier this year, the brand created pieces for Maxfield LA’s Guns N’ Roses pop-up shop, a theme into which Ragazzi’s flame and palm tree-soaked aesthetic slotted perfectly, while the brand also opened its own standalone pop-up spaces in Milan and Tokyo — the latter modeled on a strip club known as the “Lonely Hearts Club.”

But ultimately, 2017 was the year Palm Angels really found its place on the mainstream circuit, with collections being picked up by some of the most influential boutiques and department stores around the world, as well as receiving celebrity cosigns from the likes of A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, and Joe Jonas. As the brand’s name suggests, Palm Angels is a label immersed in glitz, glamour, and high-life with a streetwear twist, and the brand’s growing list of celebrity clientele is a testament to the value such an offering holds right now.

Silver – A-COLD-WALL*

A-COLD-WALL*

Young British designer Sam Ross was pegged for greatness early on, and when he first emerged in the press as an alumnus of Virgil Abloh’s label Off-White a few years back, one of the big questions was how his work would develop. Would A-COLD-WALL* be a reflection, or even an imitation, of Off-White, or would we see where Virgil was getting some of his ideas from?

A few seasons later, and Ross has clearly proven to be a talent of his own making. His fascination with modernist design and pioneering disciplines such as the Bauhaus School has returned from collection to collection, gradually evolving with consistency and pace. As a result, the designer has successfully crafted an A-COLD-WALL* “universe,” and it’s possible to look at releases and see continuity and themes – something that isn’t always easy for young and emerging labels.

Ross kicked off 2017 with his label incredibly well, debuting at London Fashion Week with his Fall/Winter 2017 presentation, and receiving a NEWGEN award from the British Fashion Council alongside Liam Hodges and Grace Wales Bonner. This was shortly followed, in May, with the announcement of the brand’s two-day “ACADEMIA CORRECTION WORKSHOP” pop-up in London.

Another significant moment for A-COLD-WALL* in 2017 was during the brand’s Spring/Summer 2018 presentations, when a number of bespoke Nike Air Force 1s customized by Ross were shown. For a long time, it was not clear whether the shoes would be seeing a broader release, but a few iterations have slowly begun to release via ticketed events and unannounced launches. With Spring/Summer 2018 still yet to come, we can only hope to see more of the Nikes next year.

Gold – Kappa

Lou Rolley / Highsnobiety

The appearance of Kappa is a bit of an anomaly on a shortlist for breakthrough brands in 2017, but difficult to argue with. Though the brand is now decades old and experienced its heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s with football casual culture, Kappa has gone through something of a renaissance in recent years.

This was kicked off by a number of collaborations with Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, most significantly during his Spring/Summer 2017 presentation at Pitti Uomo last year. As 2017 progressed, this was amplified by new partnerships with Opening Ceremony, C2H4, and Kinfolk, setting the stage for the triumphant return of one of Italian sportswear’s most iconic brands.

Kappa’s return to form isn’t purely down to tactful association, however. The brand’s Kappa Kontroll label, launched in 2017 and named after the label’s original quality control label introduced back in the ‘60s, dug back into the brand’s extensive archives and brought classic European sports style back in a way that only a brand that was there the first time around could.

In the same way that the rise of workwear and heritage a few years ago saw brands like Carhartt, Dickies, and Doc Martens returning to vogue, it makes sense that fashion’s current infatuation with tracksuits and sportswear should open the door for another element of heritage fashion to make a comeback. And frankly, it’s a welcome return.

Editors’ Choice – ALYX

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

Though he might have broken onto the scene through his work with Kanye West’s DONDA agency and the meta-streetwear memelord collective BEEN TRILL, 2017 was the year that Matthew Williams, creative director of ALYX, really came into his own.

And if many of his previous projects demonstrated his savvy grasp of popular culture and modern marketing, ALYX has been where Williams flexed his high fashion pedigree, and with the label’s expansion into menswear for Fall/Winter 2017, that same pop culture perspective reared its head again in a sharper, more refined form.

Playful pieces like a graphic t-shirt displaying the correct pronunciation of the brand (“Aleeks”) poked fun at the fashion world’s typically watertight protection of brand identity, while playful releases like their collaboration with Vans and their now-trademark rollercoaster belt encapsulated the idea that sometimes all you need to do is offer a refreshing new take on an old favorite.

Because of this, Williams’ label was one of the most talked-about brands during the fashion week presentations, and with good cause. And we’re putting our money on it—you’re going to hear even more about Matthew Williams in 2018.

The Most Relevant Brand of 2017

Bronze – Supreme

Supreme

In some ways, you’ve got to feel for Supreme. Ever since the brand launched back in 1994, they’ve been leading the way in defining and redefining what streetwear means, and it can’t be easy having to reinvent the wheel twice a year. That being said, if there was ever a year that Supreme managed to completely tear up the rule book, 2017 was it.

First up, there was arguably the biggest story of the year; a full collaboration with the historic French fashion house, Louis Vuitton. Comprising leather goods, apparel, accessories, and footwear, the collection combined each label’s most iconic symbols – from monograms to box logos, from jacquard denim to the color red – to set the fashion world on fire.

On the one hand, it was the collaboration that cemented Louis Vuitton style director Kim Jones’s deep roots in the world of British streetwear, and his fascination with style led from the sidewalk upwards. For Supreme, on the other hand, it was arguably just another collaboration in a long history of collaborative releases for a brand that has already worked with fine artists, outdoors brands, musicians, and fashion designers alike.

But there was another level to this particular collaboration. After almost 25 years of creating clothing for the counterculture, Supreme’s working with Louis Vuitton was a double-edged sword. A brand which for years had been one of the fashion world’s best kept secrets – “fashion,” but not “fashion fashion” – had proven itself, working with one of the most revered labels in the world without ever holding a runway show. But how does one square a brand built on rebellion and outsidership with a collaboration and public spectacle that all but cements its place within the structure? There are unquestionably two sides to the debate, and you’re unlikely to change your view, whichever side of the fence you land on. One thing can’t be questioned though – Supreme did that.

And as if that wasn’t enough for one year from the Supreme team, there were plenty more stories to come. First there was the announcement that the brand would be opening its third store in the U.S. and its second in New York, with rumors circulating all summer that a new store would be opening Stateside. Pictures of potential locations arose, word traveled down the grapevine, and the buzz that accompanies any Supreme release grew.

Only that news was then supplanted by an even bigger revelation. In early October, news broke that Supreme had sold a 50% stake of the business to The Carlyle Group, a multinational private equity firm with over $150 billion worth of investments and assets, for $500 million–giving the downtown New York skate brand a cool billion-dollar valuation. If debates about Supreme’s status as a symbol of rebellion had been raging after the Louis Vuitton collaboration, this latest revelation only served to fan the flames. It remains unclear what the future holds for Supreme even today, but the same point has to be made – they did that.

Silver – Balenciaga

Lola Paprocka & Pani Paul / Highsnobiety

With Demna Gvasalia’s takeover as creative director beginning with the brand’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection, 2017 was destined to be a big year for the historic French fashion house, and the rising Georgian designer didn’t disappoint. Followers of the label knew what to expect with its Spring/Summer 2017 runway show early last year, laden with the disruptive cuts and confrontational fits that placed Cristôbal Balenciaga’s historic transformation of the human form into a whole new context. It was arguably the house’s Fall/Winter 2017 presentation, however, where Gvasalia really laid out his vision, laden with the streetwear-esque graphic flips that made his own Vetements label one to watch in the preceding years.

Most notable of these was a graphic which appeared to reference the logo of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Democratic Party nomination campaign, as well as hoodies and T-shirts featuring the logo of Kering, the luxury group which has owned the Balenciaga brand since 2001. As with his own label, it seemed clear that Gvasalia was here to poke behind the curtain of the fashion machine with an uncompromising, irreverent hand. And just as his Vetements DHL T-shirt made waves as the must-have item of 2016, so the Bernie flips became an essential purchase for fashion insiders who liked their politics with a little bit of fashion, and not vice-versa.

The flips went far beyond graphics, however – it was Balenciaga’s “Arena Extra-Large Shopper” bag that garnered the most press earlier this year, bearing more than a passing resemblance to IKEA’s iconic blue Frakta shopping bag. Retailing for over $2,000, the luxury upgrade of a household item created serious buzz, as well as inspiring a number of DIY projects repurposing the IKEA bag for shoes, face masks, apparel, and more.

The foray into streetwear models continued this summer when, during its Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2018 presentations, Balenciaga performed a complete takeover of the second floor of colette, decking the store out with the aforementioned Fall/Winter 2017 collection, as well as a number of Balenciaga-branded accessories such as sleeping masks, travel pillows, and cigarette lighters. There was also a special piece by Berlin-based artist Yngve Holen – a Porsche Panamera cut with laser-precision into four quadrants – placed at the center of the space. No big deal.

Rounding things off, the store also hosted an exclusive Balenciaga T-shirt creation event, where customers could design and print their own Balenciaga T-shirt using a range of pre-supplied graphics, live-printed onto a tee before their eyes. Simple and ingenious all at once, it was a massive hit with visitors, and stayed true to Gvasalia’s core mission – exposing the production behind the mystique of fashion.

If the streetwear influences of Gvasalia’s work with Balenciaga weren’t already clear enough, it’s worth turning our attentions to the brand’s recent footwear releases. Big, brash, ugly, and yet strangely fantastic, the Balenciaga Triple S sneaker was the unquestionable hit of the season. Coming with a triple-layered sole unit that’s anything but practical and a fierce $800 price tag, its release was heavily anticipated throughout the summer, and quickly disappeared off the shelves when it finally released this fall.

On the other end of the spectrum, the brand’s recently unveiled high-platformed Crocs, plastered with kitsch rubber badges and jaunty Balenciaga branding, revived the question of whether Gvasalia is celebrating or mocking the fashion world and beyond. The jury’s still out on that one, but there’s one thing you can’t deny: people are talking about it.

Gold – Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

As each year goes by, Virgil Abloh continues to go from strength to strength, both as a designer in his own right, and as the leader of his own label, Off-White. Ever one to lead the conversation and capture the public’s attention, 2017 was business as usual for the American designer, who continued to turn heads with his inimitable mix of modern design, social media savvy, and penchant for public spectacle.

Of course, the big story from the Off-White camp has to be the brand’s mammoth “The Ten” collaborative project with Nike. Teased by Virgil ever since his presentation at Columbia University back in February, the project’s slow and steady unveiling, preview and launch over the course of almost the entire year was a demonstration of Abloh’s unparalleled command of social media, internet culture and, of course, hype.

Beyond the shoes themselves, Off-White took part in a number of different projects to support “The Ten” which provided a deeper insight into the collaborative process and Abloh’s approach to design. Multiple “Off Campus” events at Nike locations around the globe invited members of the public to meet Abloh, create their own custom Nike sneakers, and get shoes signed by the man himself, while panel talks with the likes of Kim Jones of Louis Vuitton gave him a platform to discuss his process further.

Elsewhere, Abloh kept busy with a slew of other collaborations. The brand created a number of exclusive collaborative pieces for Daft Punk’s pop-up shop at the beginning of the year. Moncler released a new collection with Abloh for their “Moncler O” project, and other collaborations throughout the year included Boys Noize, KITH, Dover Street Market Ginza, Travis Scott, Takashi Murakami, and even Snapchat. As demonstrated by his work with Kanye West’s DONDA agency, and the number of designers who have come out and started their own projects after working at Off-White, Abloh is a designer who understands the power of collaboration, and he put this to great use in 2017.

Elsewhere, 2017 also saw the opening of two new Off-White flagships; one in Toronto, and one in Hong Kong. As with all the brand’s locations, each store adopts a particular theme expressed through Abloh’s oft-esoteric lens. For their second Hong Kong flagship, the Off-White “Permanent Store” adopted a heavy, industrial aesthetic laden with concrete, glass panels, grey curtains, and harsh lighting, while the Toronto store, named “Land,” took inspiration from a North American desert in the form of light wooden flooring, dried plants, sand, and limestone blocks.

Speaking of spectacle, it’s difficult not to mention Off-White’s elaborate presentation for Pitti Uomo Spring/Summer 2018, complete with large-scale projections from artist Jenny Holzer. In recent years, Pitti has worked with different designers each season creating a special presentation for the show, and Abloh had no trouble creating something unique for his outing. The project spanned topics as diverse as the ongoing conflict in Syria, poetry by refugee Omid Shans and the uneasy political climate around the globe today. It was an undoubtedly ambitious presentation by Abloh, and garnered a mixed reception for its attempt to blend complex political issues with men’s fashion, but nonetheless demonstrated the designer’s ambitious nature.

Editors’ Choice – Balenciaga

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

Considering Demna Gvasalia was our Editor’s Choice for the Most Influential Person Crown, it’s probably not surprising that the label where he’s currently helmed as Creative Director would win the award for relevance.

But hey, can you argue with us? This year was unquestionably Balenciaga’s year, with so much of their activities setting the agenda in fashion. Their Fall/Winter 2017 presentation, dripping with self-aware nods to parent company Kering’s corporate character and tributes to the man who would be president, Bernie Sanders, let everybody know that irony was the name of the game in 2017.

Then they held their colette in-store pop-up, kicking things off smack bang in the middle of Paris Fashion Week. letting everybody who walked down the Rue St. Honore know who the hottest brand of the season was. Inside, their “Copy Shop” concept flipped the DIY ethos of streetwear with the ivory tower reputation of high fashion, letting customers create their own custom luxury fashion t-shirts there and then.

And then, that same week, their Spring/Summer 2018 men’s presentation set a firm agenda for the next 12 months – “dadcore”. And though the grand vision may not be setting in with the public just yet, we’re certainly beginning to see it emerge with the return to vogue of stonewash denim, tacky trainers and the ever-iconic shallow, bent-brim, belt-adjustment cap. It starts as a ripple, and then it becomes wave.

The Best Sneaker of 2017

Bronze – Sean Wotherspoon x Nike Air Max 97/1

@Seanwotherspoon / Instagram

The face of curated consignment shop Round Two, Sean Wotherspoon was the winner of 2017’s Nike Air Max Day “RevolutionAir” contest. Designed in collaboration with the likes of Ben Baller and A$AP Nast, his concept sneaker saddled the Air Max 97’s upper on an Air Max 1 sole unit, going even further to replace the 97’s rippling 3M panels with characteristic corduroy in a pastel color palette. Wotherspoon made sure to really finesse the details, also including Velcro patches on the tongue for mixing and matching, in addition to an infrared air bubble.

Although the shoe is slated to drop on Air Max Day 2018, several limited release events were held before the end of the year at Union in Los Angeles and Need Supply in Richmond, Virginia, the latter of which was actually canceled when a mob showed up at the shop’s front door.

Silver – Tyler, The Creator x Converse Golf le FLEUR*

Converse

In July, Tyler officially confirmed his departure from longtime partner Vans, finally going public with his new Converse deal. The project brought to life his Golf le FLEUR* footwear concept, using the One Star silhouette as a canvas. Initially arriving in four color choices, the low-top featured Tyler’s signature flower motif, with GOLF le FLEUR* branding on the tongue and insole, overlaid floral panels on the upper, and a floral outsole.

In an interview with Dazed, Tyler made it clear that he wants people to enjoy and wear his shoes, but not belabor the designs: “It was literally pick four colorways I want to do and that was it. It’s not as intricate and deep as people be making shit out to be.”

While the 26-year-old was candid about his straightforward design process, this doesn’t detract from the instant appeal of the colorful low-tops. With this collaboration, Tyler once again reinstated himself as one of the most influential characters in both fashion and music, and although the sneakers launched just this year, you can be sure to expect more drops in 2018.

Gold – Virgil Abloh x Nike Air Jordan 1

Bryan Luna / Highsnobiety

Virgil Abloh’s “The Ten” collection with Nike was arguably the biggest sneaker release event of the year. After months of Instagram leaks and anticipation, the collection (minus the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star, which releases Spring 2018) finally landed at retailers in November, with the Jordan 1 in a “Chicago” colorway considered by many to be the highlight of the pack.

The pack is seminal for a number of reasons, largely because it features a total of 10 reworked sneakers, technically including silhouettes from three brands: Nike, Converse and Jordan. Utilizing a deconstructed motif across the entire release, Virgil noted to Nike: “The Jordan 1 was done in one design session. I work in a very like dream-like state. I see it, and it’s done.”

Abloh was given unprecedented permission to chop up the iconic silhouette, unstitching the shoe’s top and bottom lace eyelets, delicately pinning Nike’s iconic Swoosh onto the shoe’s upper, and irreverently placing “AIR” branding on the midsole.

Editors’ Choice – Virgil Abloh x Nike Air Jordan 1

Bryan Luna / Highsnobiety

In straight terms, Virgil Abloh’s “The Ten” collection with Nike was the biggest sneaker release event of the year. From the grand total of ten shoes, Abloh’s re-work of the Nike Air Jordan 1 possibly best exemplified the spirit of the collaboration, becoming the unofficial flagship model of the ten, and showing a universally loved, 32-year-old sneaker in an entirely new way. A trained architect, Abloh’s deconstructed take on the high-top basketball silhouette became covetable after months upon months of teasing and celebrity co-signs on Instagram. The shoes quickly became major status symbols far before they were even available.

The iconic silhouette was presented unfinished, and unstitched on the shoe’s top and bottom lace eyelets, with Nike’s iconic Swoosh delicately pinned onto the shoe’s upper, and irreverent “AIR” branding on the midsole. In terms of profile, collaborations of this magnitude don’t come around that often, and it seems unlikely that Nike would soon let any other collaborator go as far to drastically upheave the fundamental design of the Jordan 1, which was presented in “The Ten” alongside sneakers from Converse and Nike. Even with other strong Jordan 1 executions throughout 2017 – “Top 3 Gold,” the Art Basel pack, and Aleali May’s collab – Virgil’s iteration should remain unprecedented even in years to come.

The Most Influential Person of 2017

Bronze – Kanye West

Thomas Welch / Highsnobiety

You know, there’s an argument to be made that 2017 was a pretty quiet year for Kanye West. But then, even when it’s quiet, it’s never really quiet.

After the spectacle of his YEEZY Season 3 presentation at Madison Square Gardens, followed by a Season 4 presentation plagued with mishaps and debacles, Kanye decided to make Season 5 a distinctly more low-key affair, eschewing social media spectacles or global broadcasts in favor of the more familiar model; a few invites here and there, a closed location, a classic runway presentation. Such a quiet approach is obviously out of character for Kanye, but then out of character is very much part of his character. Confused?

But where Kanye cut back on public statements and outrageous behavior this year, we started to get a glimpse of his broader vision being implemented. More specifically, the revealing of his collaborative “Calabasas” line with adidas Originals was arguably the biggest step forward in West’s dream of creating stylish clothing at an affordable price. Of course, the product sold out almost immediately, as you might have expected, but the point remains: sweatpants and sneakers priced at $120 is pretty big when you remember the eye-wateringly high prices of the first YEEZY line.

Elsewhere, Kanye has continued to prove his worth as a tastemaker and industry leader. At the beginning of the year, he gave an unexpected boost to Finnish sneaker brand Karhu after being spotted out in a pair of their Fusion 2.0 sneakers. On the YEEZY side of the sneaker world, meanwhile, 2017 was the year that the hype surrounding the YEEZY Boost 750 and 350 models finally began to die down, with only four releases of the 350 V2 model at time of writing.

Instead, attention turned to the YEEZY Wave Runner 700, a new silhouette clearly inspired by the aggressively designed running models of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, strongly inline with the “dad sneaker” trend emerging in fashion right now. Considering Balenciaga, Dior, Acne Studios, and countless other labels have all tried their hand at the style, it’s no surprise that Kanye would be close behind with his own take, and with the recent emerging of another new “Mud Rat” 500 model, he’s clearly getting deep into the movement.

Turning to the music side of things, 2017 was a relatively quiet year for Kanye, but not as far as the rumor mill goes. Throughout the year there have been whispers that he was working with the likes of Migos, Post Malone, Kid Cudi, PARTYNEXTDOOR, even Mary J. Blige. Rounding things off, reports recently emerged that West had registered a trademark for “Yeezy Sound,” sparking rumors that he might be in the process of launching his own music streaming service. As is so often the case with Kanye West, nothing’s clear — for now. But when you want to talk about influence, nothing says it quite like having a relatively quiet year, and yet somehow still managing to be the center of conversation.

Silver – A$AP Rocky

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

Considering he made his name as the fashion-forward pretty boy of rap, it’s no surprise that 2017 was just another year for A$AP Rocky as far as fashion influence goes. He began the year by stepping out as one of the faces of Dior Homme’s Spring/Summer 2017 campaign, alongside Mr. Robot star Rami Malek and ‘80s pop icon Boy George.

Rocky’s ever-popular collaborations with Guess Jeans continued throughout the year, and most recently the rapper confirmed a new partnership with Under Armour. It’s not yet clear what form this new collaboration will take, but there’s no doubt it’ll draw a lot of young eyes to the UA brand, as intended.

Of course, perhaps the largest project A$AP Rocky undertook this year was his AWGE pop-up space at London’s Selfridges department store. Laid out in the style of a typical New York bodega store, the space offered all manner of A$AP-branded merchandise — even Krispy Kreme donuts.

But the main reason Rocky has made our shortlist this year is simply his continued ability to lead the conversation. People watch Rocky as an indicator of where fashion is right now. If he wears it, it’s cool. If he disses it, it’s over. His personal endorsement of Raf Simons, Balenciaga, and Gucci helped to define some of the year’s “must-have” pieces. When you’re talking about influence, it doesn’t get more straightforward than that.

Gold – Virgil Abloh

Jun Hyeong Yang / Highsnobiety

He just might be the most divisive individual in fashion right now, but then, you know what they say: There’s only thing worse than being talked about–not being talked about.

Ever since he emerged from his role at Kanye West’s DONDA with his own label, Pyrex Vision, Virgil Abloh has been a point of contention among streetwear fans, fashion heads, Kanye stans, and pretty much every other clique in our little corner of the internet. This year, the debates surrounding Abloh reached fever pitch. Rumors that he would be taking over for Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, for example, fired up the old arguments about his validity as a designer, as did later rumors that he was being scouted for a job at Versace.

But this year, Abloh embarked on one of the most ambitious projects of his career, and one that just might have put to bed some of the dissenting voices. His collaborative “The Ten” project with Nike was a monumental event for sneakerheads, fashion fans, and more, and was arguably proof of concept for his particular approach to design and style. When you’ve got scores of teens lining up for hours to buy sneakers, meet the designer, and get him to sign their shoes, suddenly the negative voices in the comment sections seem to matter less.

But the influence and impact that Abloh has personally had is much broader than any single collection or release. Abloh is a black American designer who has climbed his way to the top of the fashion industry a different way; no years of bouncing around doing internships at fashion houses praying for a leg-up; nor slugging it out at one house for a decade or more in the hopes that the CD position might one day be yours; no familiar ties to one of the handful of remaining fashion dynasties that not only provide a healthy supply of cash but also, in turn, all but guarantee your success.

Investment from the New Guard Group notwithstanding, the key thing about Virgil Abloh is that his is a self-built empire, and one that flies in the face of much of what the old guard (pun not intended) of fashion stand for. Which is why, whenever you hear one of those people complaining about Off-White or deriding Abloh, is it because his work isn’t good, or because he’s a threat?

Editors’ Choice – Demna Gvasalia

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

In our industry, the word “influence” is one that at times has become more and more meaningless, referring to anything from Hollywood stars who can make a pair of sneakers sell out in five minutes by wearing them once, to teenage girls who can garner 5,000 likes on a photo of some highlighter in the grips of some incredibly well-manicured nails. But for this, we’re taking it back to that core, dictionary definition of the term; the ability to do something, and for others to follow. And love him or hate him, 2017 was the year that Demna Gvasalia proved beyond all doubt that he’s leading the conversation right now.

In some instances, it’s debatable whether it was Demna who even started many of the zeitgeist’s biggest trends – the chunky sneaker thing arguably traces back to Raf Simons’ Ozweegos, and the transformation of banal household brands into fashion pieces has done the rounds a few times (Supreme x Rust-O-Leum, anyone?), but it was Demna’s recent forays into those fields that made the world beyond the fashion commentariat really sit up and listen.

When the Triple S sneaker stepped out on the runway at the beginning of this year, the audience collectively said, “Okay, this is a thing now.” When Vetements announced they were effectively throwing out the traditional fashion presentation calendar in favor of two shows a year, showing men’s and women’s collections together, it triggered a slew of think-pieces and op-eds asking, “Is it time for change?” It genuinely made people question the status quo – all of which made the brand’s reversion to the regular schedule for their FW18 presentation all the more satisfying. Demna says, “Jump,” and the fashion world says, “How high?” That’s influence.

Lifetime Achievement Award 2017 – Gary Warnett

Leo Cackett for Sneaker Freaker

If a tree fell in the woods, Gary Warnett could tell you what kind it was based on the sound, why the structure of the bark caused it to make the particular thud it did, and every single plant that came before it. Back in the days when street culture was a B-side, a gem of a rarity tucked away in the back of an independent record store, he never stopped digging.

Now, in a world where several streetwear brands are equivalent to garage rockers selling out stadiums, his type of cultural criticism and sheer referential knowledge is sorely missed. His blog, Gwarizm, stands as a testament to what sites like Highsnobiety aspire to—part educational, part humorous, but always excited about the future of whatever label we want to slap on this shared culture. The logo—a Ben Davis flip replaced with the popular Moomin comic character, was designed by a mutual friend, Charlie Morgan, and really spoke to Gary’s penchant for venerable brands with a second life in subculture, and his inimitable appreciation for cheeky pop culture.

One of the things Gary and I often shared were references about The Simpsons and Seinfeld, where we compared things like Ned Flanders’ covetable “Assassin” sneakers to Raf Simons’ 2008 De Stilj-inspired hiking boots. It’s the type of connection super nerdy enthusiasts have about any hobby, we just found a way to make it into our jobs. It never ceased to amazed anyone that knew him his ability to connect the dots between just about anything, from a rare sneaker to an obscure pop culture reference on a Supreme shirt.

In 2017, there’s always a new sneaker on the way, a new lookbook to peruse, and a new collaboration on the horizon. Gary Warnett had seen everything under the sun over his short lifespan, but he was still excited to see it rise the next day.

Career-wise, he started out by finessing his way into Crooked Tongues, he started as a very informed forum member who went onto work for the company, and witnessed its downfall firsthand under an acquisition by ASOS. So that’s another thing we connected on, seeing forum heads getting legitimized by a growing industry, and realizing it was possible to make a living out of being a super nerd about your interests.

After leaving CT, he occupied a space between copywriter and freelance journalist, touching just about every relevant brand you can think of: Supreme, Nike, adidas, New Balance and many, many more. He put himself in a place where he wouldn’t have to work on anything he thought was wack—after all, he was a self-described ”lameaphobe.”

What’s more important is that he was a cultural critic not in the sense that he could rapid-fire tell you whether or not he thought something was good or bad, it’s that he had the ability to put it in the context of everything that preceded it. But what’s most inspiring is how he never lost the passion for good product, or the genuine excitement about seeing a brand “get it right,” like when he helped make the Skepta Air Max 97 a reality.

The last time I ever spoke to him, it was for a podcast we did earlier this year about the 30th anniversary of the Nike Air Max. He was one of the talking heads featured in Nike’s campaign about the remastered Air Max 1, and while he appreciated the excruciating amount of detail put into getting that reissue perfect, he was equally excited about Nike’s newest VaporMax silhouette.

It wasn’t even because he was in Nike’s pocket, he was genuinely psyched that a company he liked was making new stuff that didn’t fully rely on past relevance. And as we closed our conversation, he hit me with a quote that I’ll take with me forever in how we approach things at Highsnobiety: “If there’s something genuinely strange and beautiful that comes out from a brand, then I’m backing it. Fully.”

Thank you Gary. We miss you, and will forever be lameaphobic.

To see the full list of Crowns nominations, head here.

Director of Content Strategy

Brock Cardiner is Highsnobiety's Director of Content Strategy. He oversees Highsnobiety's editorial approach across platforms & mediums. Brock splits his time between Berlin, Los Angeles and New York.

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