There’s a line in the Norm Macdonald film Dirty Work, where Chris Farley’s character (a bar regular with a bad attitude) says: "In the land of skunks, the man with half a nose is king." While his character is, in fact, missing half his nose, the line also defines his motivations and attitudes. We believe that this philosophy can also be extended to sneakers: In the land of ever-scarcer and more visible collaborations, the humble general release is king.
For sneakerheads of a certain age, the general release was all there was: a certain shoe, in a certain color, widely available at certain stores, with all discernment left to the customer. In the last fifteen years (especially the past five), the sneaker economy has moved to constant retros and collaborations, ones with built-in marketing. All the while, shoes still get general release, without much to-do – some of them selling, some not, without a big marketing push and without collaboration. Some, like the Air Max 97, are obvious, but others just get ignored.
Our pick of great general releases – some favorites from the past few years – share several qualities: they aren’t scarce, they (mostly) aren’t widely discussed, and they don’t come with many options.
Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo Shield: Every year, Nike makes a few futuristic and showy basketball sneakers that resemble I.M. Pei buildings and reference earlier designs – in this case, the Gary Payton Zoom Flight Glove ’98. These also remind us of the Hyperizes from a decade ago. You know this is a GR because there is only one colorway and no one talks about it (though that second part might be because it just came out).
New Balance 990: What can be said about the most generally-released sneaker of the past decade? Always in stock, the new v5 (launched this year) improves on the v4. It’s an ounce lighter – that’s two sticks of gum – and a darker shade of gray. 990s can be worn with any outfit, in any social situation. You may not be able to wear them to both clamming and church, but you can do one or the other. The 990 collaborations, especially Engineered Garments’, are just as good (though perhaps superfluous) and best bought if you already own the gray.
Nike Air Ghost Racer: This OG colorway dropped in July, and while our editors loved it, the shoes now sit discounted on Nike.com. It’s a shame – the Ghost Racer is Nike’s quietest silhouette, close to the P-6000, another great (and more successful) GR. A 1998 retro with a delicate color scheme, it got ignored in favor of simultaneously released collaborations. But this neon/white/red design is a clearer representation of what Nike was going for, and is therefore a more confident stylistic decision.
Mizuno Sky Medal OG: This is a great retro. Almost too much white, with a puffy hospital-shoe midsole that recalls Oakland Athletics home cleats. At first sight, it might be disconcerting, but the gradient swoosh is what makes it. In going off-brand, it’s best to stick to either a representative shoe (see below) or an original colorway, like this one. It doesn’t matter that it’s loud – wearing a classic from a not-immediately-classic brand is a quiet statement.
Asics Gel Kayano 5: One nice aspect about the rise of functional sneakers is that sleek designs like this are more readily accepted. The UCLA colorway is loud, but it’s the original. Why are jeans blue? Well, they are. The Kayano is one of the slimmest retro runners, as slim as the original, something that retros usually are not (last sizes often widen). A nice surprise, and proof that someone at 1 Asics Plaza cares about how things are made.
Nike Air Max Plus, blue and yellow: Is a GR really a GR if it started a movement? Sure. There’s something reassuring about a culturally important shoe only being available at Foot Locker. Going to FL’s Air Max Plus page is an experience: 25+ colorways, many great, most unseen. This latest retro is lower quality than the 2013, but the air bubbles work, and it’s wearable. Besides, if someone is close enough to your feet to administer an A/B test, they respect you already.
Adidas Consortium Edberg Comp: Stefan Edberg’s 1990 model – the year he won Wimbledon and was later ranked No. 1 – was re-released just now. The post-canvas flat sole runner is not an in-vogue silhouette, but does it matter? A timeless, simple shoe is just that, and it’s executed close enough to the original that it’s worth keeping as an archival piece. The nice thing about this shoe is that its air-free sole means it will be wearable for a good 40 years.
Other awesome general releases from this year: the Shox R4, which can be found for cheap and were executed perfectly; the Nike Air P-6000s, a women’s shoe, superior with a flawless foot shape; the Reebok Pump Fury in Bjork colors, finally available for mass consumption; and the very deranged Air Max 720 Saturn.
I think general releases are worth looking at, because they leave it up to the consumer to decide if they’re great or not. Exercising that choice is what being a sneakerhead is all about. What shoes out there do you like so much that they’re you? While the best collaborations are special and cool, GRs are shoes you can really make your own. And what's cooler than that?