As 2021 finally draws to a close after another intriguing year that saw collaborations dominate the sneaker industry, I look at my favourite releases of the past 12 months.
As with any list like this, there will be some honourable mentions. Kanye West looks to be taking his adidas collaboration in an entirely new direction with the NSLTD Boot, whilst Jordan Brand and Nike ramped up the production of their Air Jordan 1’s and Dunks, respectively.
However, below is a breakdown of the pieces that turned my head over the last year. Feel free to disagree, but I think we all remember how these five silhouettes excited sneakerheads worldwide.
SALEHE BEMBURY X CROCS POLLEX
Perhaps in a slightly odd turn of events, my first Sneaker of the Year isn’t even really a sneaker. Sure, I could’ve picked one of Salehe Bembury‘s New Balance collaborations, but what he was able to do with Crocs is truly iconic.
The fact Bembury was able to grab a relatively uncool silhouette like the Crocs and have the entire sneaker industry scrambling to get a pair speaks volumes. The fingerprint-inspired design paired with a handful of eye-catching colourways and Salehe Bembury’s name attached skyrocketed Crocs popularity overnight. Now I just need to get my hands on a pair and see what all of the fuss is about.
A MA MANIERE X AIR JORDAN 3 RETRO
With the number of releases we have seen in 2021, it is easy to forget the likes of the A Ma Maniere x Air Jordan 3 dropped this year. Releasing back in June, AMM Founder James Whitner put a unique twist on the legendary AJ3.
The silhouette aligned with a short film released by A Ma Maniere called Raised By Women, which highlighted the accomplishments of everyday women in urban communities. You can watch the movie below.
The sneaker was dripping in luxurious detailing. Tumbled leather wrapped the uppers whilst quilted satin lining lined the shoe. Grey suede and cream accents completed the design, with co-branding present throughout. The vintage aesthetics on display made this sneaker a must-cop for collectors and moodboard enthusiasts alike.
JOE FRESHGOODS X NEW BALANCE 990V3 ‘OUTSIDE CLOTHES.’
Joe Freshgoods once again returns to the Sneaker of the Year competition, as his New Balance collaborations continue to go from strength to strength. The Chicago native first landed on my radar after releasing his ridiculously good valentines-themed NB 992 in February 2020. Fast-forward to today, and Freshgoods is back at the top with the 990v3 Outside Clothes.
Joe Freshgoods has quickly become the name to beat when it comes to the SOTY awards. I look forward to seeing what ludicrous concept comes to life in 2022.
The concept behind the release was the countless summer days spent playing outside with friends, going to block parties or simply hanging out on the porch. This idea came to life further with the vibrant desert rose and blue colour combo used across the upper. The Outside Clothes
vision was completed by a one-of-a-kind trailer directed by Mike Carson and produced by Alchemist, making this release truly special.
AIME LEON DORE X NEW BALANCE 550
It is hard not to acknowledge the impact of the New Balance 550’s resurgence on the sneaker community. Let’s be honest; it is down to Teddy Santis and Aime Leon Dore. The New York City-based brand has blown up more than ever over the last few years, and the continuing relationship with New Balance has definitely helped.
The NB 550 was a forgotten-about silhouette from the 80s, with Santis plucking the ex-basketball sneaker from obscurity and resurrecting it under the ALD banner.
The sneaker hit all the sweet spots, the retro aesthetics paired with the instantly recognisable Aime Leon Dore vintage campaigns. An alternative to the ever-popular Air Force 1, the New Balance 550 has become the go-to sneaker for a minimalist sneakerhead. With Santis now the Creative Director of New Balance, expect more heat to drop from this collaboration in the not too distant future.
OFF-WHITE X AIR JORDAN 2 LOW ‘WHITE’
The Off-White x Air Jordan 2 Low will forever hold a special place in sneaker collectors hearts, as the silhouette would be the final release to come from Virgil Abloh whilst the illustrious designer was still alive. Although I expect a fair few posthumous sneaker drops to come from Off-White, Nike and Jordan Brand, this AJ2 will always act as a reminder of Abloh’s illustrious career.
Adopting a previously unloved model, the Off-White x Air Jordan 2 looks as if it was plucked directly from 1986 when the OG version dropped. An intentionally crumbled sole unit adds to the allure of this silhouette, with a traditional Chicago Bulls inspired colourway wrapping the upper. The sneaker is a nod to how Air Jordan’s age and comes complete with Michael Jordan’s signature across the shoe’s lateral side. You will also find the Off-White address design on the sneaker’s medial side, completing the fusion of Off-White and Jordan perfectly.
So, there you have it, my definitive list of the best releases we saw in 2021. The year saw some fantastic collaborations release, with creatives across the globe empowered by the drops we have seen. But what does 2022 have in store?
Nike’s renowned Cortez model is celebrating its 50th anniversary, so expect to see Forrest Gump’s favourite sneaker surge once more. Prada also looks set to rekindle its partnership with adidas, with the infamous re-nylon Prada pouch starring on a Forum 84 silhouette.
The sneaker space is not known for standing still, though, so expect plenty of movers and shakers over the next few months and just enjoy the ride. There really is no way of predicting what will happen.