It wouldn't be overly self-important to say that sneaker culture started in the U.S. and has lead the industry since the community really got rolling in the '80s. But now, that community is now global, and it's about time the brands really played to each of those markets. This spring, Jordan Brand created a pair of Jordan 3s for Seoul Korea to celebrate the Olympics. On a quick look, they look like a strange version of the True Blues or maybe White Cements. But upon closer inspection, you'll notice they're a play on the Korean flag, with the actual flag elements appearing as embroidery on the tongue. They're a very subtle flex, considering not many pairs of them exist in the world.
A-Cold-Wall*’s Air Force 1 from 2016 is this writer’s favorite sneaker of the last decade, so any related follow-up is going to land squarely on this list. What made the original such an incredible pair was how it took fresh out-of-the-box lacing and turned that into the default for a pair of Forces—it formalized a counter-culture aesthetic into the only option. The Low version released at the end of this year continues the same lacing pattern with a mostly smooth upper that approximates the panels of the high. We’ve lost some of the textures off the original, but ACW has hit it out of the park again thanks to their grasp on how sneaker culture interacts with the wider world.
If you know Bape, you know it rips heritage designs from other companies, but that's also sort of their thing. Also sort of why we love them. The Bapesta is a shameless rip-off of the Air Force 1, and while Bape consistently puts Bapestas out year after year, it's far rarer that we see them in Bape's iconic "1st Camo." The 1st Camo is the graphic camouflage that made Bape famous, so the combination of camo and sneaker promised a firestorm of hype. And the shoes made good on that promise. Even if you're not caught in the hype, they have a unique charm to them and will ultimately prove to be one of the best releases of the year.
After initially teased in collaboration with Undercover, the Element React 87 became one of the most highly anticipated sneakers of the summer. The shoe combines the sole tech of the React with an innovative translucent upper that reflects some subtler trends in the sneaker industry. The shoes have only released in the black and white versions, each selling out whip quick. Expect Nike to roll out a ton more colorways of this sneaker. Nike has been hurting for a win like this. They finally got it.
We don't know how much time is left with the ongoing collaboration between Air Jordan and Drake's OVO brand, but each one of their releases has been a banger—even if you're not a fan of the rapper. Much energy has gone into speculating about Drake's relationship with Jordan Brand (and the possibility that he's moving over to Adidas), but regardless of where he ends up, the sophisticated color combinations of black, white, and gold have graced a number of classic Jordans. These black and white versions of the Jordan 8 are elevated staples. These will never go out of style, even if Drake's with the three stripes this time next year.
At first blush, the Travis Scott Air Force 1s with Nike don't seem like much. In fact, they might even seem familiar because the silhouette was introduced late last year. But if you take a closer look, you'll see how special this version actually is. The canvas-like upper lends itself beautifully to customization, something we've already seen work out gloriously. But the shoe goes even further. The unique piping all over the sneaker is colored 3M, and the swooshes are removable; each sneaker comes with a collection of different swooshes made from different materials that can be swapped out depending on your mood. These Travis Scott Air Force 1s end up representing our favorite kind of footwear—the kind where there's more than meets the eye and invites a personal touch.