Defining Sneaker of the Year
It is late November, early December, and as the season demands sneaker bloggers and streetwear influencers alike will begin their two-month campaign to crown their own “sneaker of the year”. If you clicked on this link, or opened this article expecting to scroll to the bottom to corroborate your own feelings, or chastise the writings of another so-called enthusiast for overlooking your sleeper pick, you unfortunately are reading the wrong article. This article intends to do more than just proclaim the best sneaker of the year, instead this article will do something that no other article about sneaker of the year will do, define the characteristics of a sneaker of the year.
Quality, Craftsmanship, and Durability
Great quality is undoubtedly a necessary component of any shoe worthy to be crowned sneaker of the year. Subpar or synthetic leather need not apply. When thinking of a sneaker worthy of the yearly crown, sneakers like the Air Jordan Kaws IV and the Afew X Diadora Highly Addictive immediately come to mind. Mixes of premium suede, leather, and other high quality materials should always be features for a sneaker of the year contender. Quality construction is also a serious necessity for the coveted yearly title. Poor stitching and glue imperfections which cause premature rips, unsightly gaps, or leave blemishes on key panels of the sneaker upper or midsole can immediately disqualify a sneaker from the running. For some sneaker brands like Diadora and New Balance, avoiding these imperfections is standard practice even for general releases, but for others like Saucony or Nike, these imperfections can be commonplace and only avoided on high-end collaborations or limited release items. Other sneakers offer craftsmanship and material aesthetics that don’t lend themselves to regular wear. Shoes like the Swarovski Air Max 97 and the Nike Air Mag come to mind. While cool and innovative, these shoes offer limited wearability in everyday and real-life situations. In either case, ensuring that a sneaker meets the highest standards in material quality and construction is one sure way to make it a Sneaker of the Year contender.
While availability for many of the sneakers throughout the year can be scarce, extremely rare or extremely limited sneakers shouldn’t be considered for Sneaker of the Year. Afew X Diadora The Cure and other Friends & Family versions of sneakers can hardly be included in any list with Sneaker of the Year finalists. Similarly, sneakers like the Undefeated Air Max 97 Olive or Sean Witherspoon’s Air Max 97/1 Corduroy with limited stock and even less accessibility for sneaker enthusiasts should hardly be in the running for the yearly crown as well. The reasoning behind not assessing extremely limited sneakers lies in the need for consensus when determining the best sneakers of the year. With so few of a given sneaker in the hands of regular enthusiasts it’s impossible to gauge whether a sneaker is truly worthy of the yearly crown. Many of these pairs are gifted or in the hands of resellers which makes impartiality of opinion on such pairs very rare.
This is a tough category to define or attribute. While on the one hand Sneaker of the Year finalists need to have a wide level of appreciation amongst sneaker fans, that level of appreciation should most certainly stem from the merits of the shoe alone and not mostly on the marketing and celebrity spokespeople singing the shoes praises. Shoes like the Air Max 97 Silver Bullet, Afew X Saucony Goethe, and the Parley X Adidas Ultraboost are examples of shoes that generated popularity based off of their aesthetic appeal, backstory, innovation, and historical importance. Sneakers like the Off-White X Air Jordan 1 and the Supreme X Nike Uptempo generated hype but not based on merits of the shoe. Multiple celebrities, the hype associated with the brands, and massive marketing machines did more to sell sneakers and raise their popularity than the quality and other merits of the shoes. Hype doesn’t necessarily eliminate a sneaker from achieving the crown but in all cases it doesn’t necessarily validate a sneaker as the best and brightest sneaker of the year.
Original colorways come and go, but every year a few sneakers seem to break the mold and bring some new enlightened aesthetics inspired by interesting concepts and intriguing stories. Asics as always was one of the heavy hitters when it comes to creatively executing new looks. They tackled the gel-lyte III with Extra Butter and Ghost Face Killah to produce a reinvigorated take that drew inspiration from the famed leather jackets worn by the rapper. Other collaborations from Asics included a sequel to the Mita and Beams Souvenir Jacket as well as a long-awaited follow-up from J. Crew and Packers that brought newer versions of the Dirty Buck. Ronnie Fieg created a Volcano gel-lyte III, but unleashed his full creative juices on the Air Pippen 1 Chimera/Black and Air Maestros. The latter featured new paneling, materials, labeling, and a side zipper. Unimpressive trips down the road to feigned originality included multiple Nike models such as the many iterations of the Uptempo and the reincarnation of Air Max 97 in the Ultra variants. Varying unoriginal colorways of previous Jordan models popped up per the usual but none of them can claim to really offer a innovative and enthused take on previously offered silhouettes. The march toward Sneaker of the Year must always be interesting, stirred, and something unseen before.
This isn’t a necessity, but it’s one of the features that many past Sneaker of the Year contenders have offered. A traditional box with white tissue paper and a single pair of laces hardly signal the next great release of the year. Great sneaker releases continue the aesthetic and shoe inspiration throughout the entire sneaker offering. Special boxing like the boxes offered on Ronnie Fieg’s trio of New Balance 574sport’s, sporting their rows of varying velcroed N’s and magnetic open boxes. Ubiq and Diadora offered multiple lace options and an array of appropriately labeled accoutrements with their Whiz Wit collaboration. Virgil Abloh’s Off-White collection came enclosed in inside-out Nike sneaker boxes along with multiple lace options, appropriate for the deconstructed and then reconstructed visual offered on his ten sneakers. The New Era X New Balance 574s collaboration offered a matching hat, while Nike and Skepta’s Air Max 97 Ultra came in an appropriately adorned black slide box with gorgeously printed tissue paper. Whatever the case, Sneaker of the Year usually offers more than just a great pair of shoes
Whatever your tastes, Sneaker of the Year is a coveted title to bestow upon only the worthiest of releases. Picking a shoe that hit all of the categories above is usually a tough proposition for even the most well-connected sneakerhead. While the roadmap above serves as a great guide, the ultimate decision lies with each individual collector. As is often said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and at the end of the year picking the best sneaker release from the past twelve months ultimately comes down to exactly that.
By David Blackmon / @jusdave3_2