The sneaker – and fashion industry as a whole, to some extent – has been dominated by collaborations for years and years now, with new partnerships being formed seemingly every week, some of which being perfect fits, others less so. Many sneakerheads and industry insiders are praying that the collaboration era ends sooner rather than later, while on the other side of the coin, so many people are enamoured by the chance to get pairs endorsed and designed by their favourite artists, rappers, sports stars and brands. In an era where collaboration is king, we’re often asking ourselves what we’d do if we were in the position of these collaborators, or what makes the perfect partnership in the sneaker world. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the sneaker world’s most memorable and wearable collaborations, as well as some definitively bad stabs at design.
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The good collaborations in the sneaker scene stand head and shoulders above the rest, remaining memorable, wearable and timeless for many years – think the Nike HTM range, Virgil’s “The Ten” and the entire adidas Yeezy range. The latter example is actually the perfect collaboration in my eyes – Kanye has been given full creative license to run wild – as he does best – and as such has captured a massive audience of sneakerheads. Because of that collaboration, adidas Yeezy will never be forgotten – it’s just that iconic a collaboration, that it changed the game of sneakers for everyone. Virgil Abloh’s “The Ten” is another fine example, being received to mass hysteria and dictating the design language for many brands over the years which followed. While I don’t necessarily love the design of Kanye’s 350 Boost, I can appreciate that it encompasses the Kanye aesthetic of the 2018/19 era perfectly and will remain an icon as long as people are into sneakers, and while I’d rather collect a cheque and sell on near any Off-White x Nike link-up, I also understand that nearly each and every one the sneakers on offer from Virgil are perfectly in line with his design language. Even J Balvin’s Air Jordan 1 – which looks like it’s been vomited on by a unicorn – is fundamentally a good collaboration because it matches his vibrant personality and fashion sense to a T.
Bad collaborations – which come about far more often than the good ones – are painful to see released, and are often swept under the rug as fast as they came onto the market. The first pairs that come to mind are the ongoing three-way collaborations that Nike is orchestrating as we speak: what on earth does fragment design have to do with sacai? What have they contributed to that LDWaffle aside from a name and a logo? It’s frustrating to see such lack-luster, effortless partnerships come about, which often seem like more of a cash grab for Nike than anything else – Hiroshi Fujiwara is one of the greatest designers of the modern era, and I’m absolutely in love with his Nike pairs from a bygone era (think HTM, the Air Trainers from 2015 and so on) but the current offering does absolutely nothing for me. Yes, I could easily grab a pair of the navy LDWaffles and rock them in a good outfit, but I could do that without the fragment design name on there. This begs the question, why have they collaborated with Nike on this product in the first place?
I could talk bad about these collaborations all day, but I know I’m simply preaching to the choir. I know each and every one of these creatives who get a chance from the big brands are every bit as deserving as one another, I just wish that they’d do some real storytelling, add some flavour, and a bit more character to their collaborative sneakers which more often than not leave us uninspired and bored. To any prospective collaborators reading this: your project will be far more valuable to the sneaker scene – and more importantly, your fans – if the product is true to you and your story. Nobody wants a boring Jordan 1 with your name embossed on the heel, they want to see your style completely emblazoned across a sneaker in new ways they’ve never seen before.
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