Best of Times, Blurst of Times

Oh yes, it’s the time of the year for sneaker lists. Are you excited yet!?

I know I’m not yet here it is, a list of sneakers compiled exclusively with my own personal opinions. This was spurred on by many things but mostly an idea that myself and Morgan had with intention to write a collaborative shortlist. Whilst that is still on the way to fruition I got antsy and frankly over-wrote my share (in classic “Matt doesn’t shut up” fashion) and thus I felt it best to chuck it into a post of its own here.

Frankly these lists are pretty arbitrary, it’s incredibly biased and based purely on personal opinions but I always enjoy reading them when there’s something more than just “hey here’s the biggest releases of the year we got paid to mention” and short of a panel situation ala Full Size Run this is about as good as it’s going to get with me. I know for sure nobody wants to hear my muppet voice via a podcast and I feel sorry for anyone who had to edit a video featuring my scraggly long locks.

This year was an interesting one for me on the footwear front, with my purchases being minimal I was often relegated to the sidelines. Over the entire year I bought a total of 4 pairs of sneakers, of that 3 of them were the exact same shoe so really I only bought 2 releases. That being said I was lucky enough to get a few free pairs that were amazing, a couple of boring things and there was plenty of stuff dropping throughout the 12 months that kept me entertained.

Anyway, I wont prattle on any more about how the year was, what my opinion on the political climate is or any of that crap. Instead it’s probably best you stop reading this and scroll on through the list of shoes I felt compelled to have an opinion on. To be honest I could have kept writing but I kept it to about 7000 words, so just some nice light reading then…

BEST

New Balance 35th Anniversary 770

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There’s no hiding my obsession with the N but I’ve also been one of its most devout critics. The amount of time and money I’ve spent on the brand has imbued me with a false sense of ownership over the company itself but alas I continue to spurt both complaints and praise regardless of how irrelevant it really is.

For 2017 NB celebrated 35 years of manufacturing in the UK and to do it they flew some of the world’s most devoted collectors to Flimby to create their own 1-off pairs of shoes. It was great to see all my friends get a once in a lifetime chance to do this, and I was a bit salty about missing out but convincing myself that the shape on the 1500 isn’t the same and I probably would’ve screwed it up anyway is a small consolation.

In a much more democratic form of celebration though they also did 4 iconic silhouettes (although lets be honest nobody really cares about the EPICTRFA and the 991 isn’t exactly known for being a UK silhouette nor “iconic” but they’ve gotta sell shoes) in various forms of the classic grey/navy colourway.

The 770 for me was the star but honestly all 4 shoes are fantastic and completely underrated and I bought none of them as I am almost certain they will all go on sale and I am part of the problem with the world.

New Balance 990 Stussy

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This one came out of the blue for me, blindsiding me with its creamy, boring, nerdy goodness. The 990v4 took the quintessential dad shoe and slimmed them down to the point of working into a contemporary wardrobe. To think that Stussy would work with NB again and chose this silhouette wouldn’t make sense outside of 2017 from a business standpoint but in actuality it would have worked as a concept no matter what time period it fell within.

Looking at a glance very similar to a general release the only real change aside from using a shade of cream suede not yet put onto the silhouette is a hit of leather piping around the lace panel and heel which for all intents and purposes isn’t noticeable at even a 3rd glance.

Sure there will be comparisons with Raf’s Ozweego inspired by Bunny Boots but for me this shoe spoke just as heavily to Stussy’s roots in the streets as well as NB’s penchant for super premium, under the radar footwear collaborations without any outward branding. The lone interlocking S’s on the footbed was the perfect amount of crossover for me.

I know for sure that our friend Gary Warnett would have cosigned this effort and I’m sad we never got to discuss the subtle reference and relevance of these two brands coming together on this shoe, in this way. In that way regardless of objective analysis these will forever hold a special place in my heart.

New Balance 990 Sunrise Rose

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Much like the Stussy these came out of relatively nowhere, this time though they came by way of just a normal everyday GR. A pink pair of NBs, made in the USA, on a model that is ultimately reserved for dads and only the most adventurous of Japanese consumers? Yes fucking please!

If you took away the crossover I think these would edge out the Stussy joints for the fact that NB isn’t exactly known for outlandish colour ways especially on a model like this. For me these hark back to shoes like the Plum Wine 1500 (purple suede on an actual running shoe known for being grey in the early 90s… come on!) and the insane colour and materials put onto the 576 over the last 30-odd years. If footwear wasn’t a “thing” like it is now, and these were found in a storage container in 2037 they would still snap necks.

New Balance 999 Concepts

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I’m fairly skeptical when it comes to the idea of reissuing collaborations; it seems lazy and uninspired. I’ve aired these sentiments previously to varying responses of anger from those involved but surprisingly I’m here to speak about it in a positive light. To add even more shock to it the shoes in question I didn’t really rate in the first place.

For the literal fuckstorm of ComplexCon this year Concepts re-released their New Balance 999 “Kennedy” under the “Hyannis” name. Largely unchanged the main difference was that unlike the original Asian-made version these were built in the US of A, which for me made a huge difference. Initially I found it somewhat contradictory that a shoe inspired by an American president would be made outside of the country when the brand itself possessed the manufacturing capability.

The new version subbed in a few tiny changes plus a red “alternate” colour way with the classic “we nearly did this one” dropped sample story but they finally felt like the concept (pun intended) had reached its final form. Extra points to whoever bought both colours and rocks them at the same time for some MC Shan throwbacks.

adidas Dublin

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The adidas Dublin holds a lot of significance for the older generation of footwear aficionados in the UK but for me it has a far less culturally significant impact on my life; instead I remember watching the CT crew during their AZX interview and being enamoured at just how fluorescent those stripes are. Unfortunately the shoe was shelved to the “one day” section due to a preoccupation with the very footwear being discussed in the video (I still maintain AZX is one of the best mass-collaborations ever). With the professional maturation of the 40-something crowd and their rediscovery of the footwear they coveted as children being available as retros the prices of this particular shoe have skyrocketed in recent years. Fortunately Size? reissued them again this year but unsurprisingly I didn’t get a pair.

adidas SPZL

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No real surprises that I would rate SPZL as a range, I think Gary Aspden is one of the last remaining voices of reason and true knowledge at a level in the sportswear industry that can actually achieve noticeable change. Although it’s been running for a while now I feel like SPZL has really hit its strides the last few seasons and it seems that through some interesting “influencer” seeding practices it is gaining more support from the adidas corporate team as well. With the line Gary is bringing some knowledge that is very rarely shared democratically and giving it to the people whether they care or not.

adidas Futurecraft 4D

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I’m pretty critical of adidas’ output the last few years, mainly down to my personal experience working retail through the boom of Boost and the current rise of the three stripes. The rinsing of BASF’s footwear cushioning system by the German sportswear maker has been the main point on contentiousness for me but with the Futurecraft project it has felt (mostly) genuine in the pursuit of innovation. The 4D takes that to the most extreme level with a sole produced in conjunction with CARBON to create what is arguably one of the most technologically advanced footwear production methods to date. What that means for the future of footwear from adidas is yet to be seen as not much of these Futurecraft innovations have hit the mainstream yet.

adidas Yeezy Boost 700 Waverunner

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This particular selection I feel will come as a surprise to most that know me well but from the very first images I knew there was something different about the Waverunner. As soon as I saw this shoe I knew it had been created by someone who knew their way around footwear and it would come as no surprise that some of the people responsible for the very shoes that inspired this silhouette were involved in its production.

Yes the proportions are cartoonish, but there’s real consideration at a level that is lacking from a shoe like the Balenciaga Triple S. Whilst the latter seems like a leech drawing from a rich world of design and spitting it back with a $1200 price point, the Waverunner takes cues and blows them up as if to put them on display in case you didn’t realise what’s going on. To me it’s no different to a launch colour way from a running shoe using colour to highlight the detail its designer spent months agonising over.

Since its inception the Yeezy range has been pretty lacking in any sort of real design chops for my liking but with this shoe and the “Desert Rat” (or whatever it’s called) there are some definite hallmarks of proper footwear design. The move away from lifeless sock shoes and back towards a cut and sewn layered panel design language is very welcome.

Nike Air Miniswoosh

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Best shoe that never even released goes to the Air Miniswoosh from the Nike Air Max Day competition run this year. Although the eventual winner of the popularity contest was almost uncontested it was the creation from Aussie ex-pat Alexandra Hackett aka Miniswoosh that really stood out for me. Whilst most shoes from the comp were hybrid mashups of varying success Alex’s concept to me was the most fully developed and endearing.

From the combination of iconic AM’s that she admired, to the use of an inverted size tag, Tyvek material and “change roll” pink laces to echo the receipt from a Niketown purchase the whole idea just worked on a level that transcended the “because it’s cool” excuse. Nobody likes the short story accompanying your 3 colour iD creation but when the responsibility of creating a silhouette is passed to a notable fanatic I expect a reason for its existence.

Ultimately these didn’t make the cut, something I was skeptical about when considering the manufacturing process of creating a shoe like this with the spec’d materials compared to a simple cut and paste job. Maybe one day… At the very least Alex could probably make them herself as she possesses the skills to do it.

Nike Jordan 1 Off White

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I’m pretty hard on ya boy Virgil when it comes to just about everything (my main comment is “it looks like things that I already like”) but I can’t front on what came out of The Ten. The Presto was good, the Cons will be an impressive if difficult wear and the Blazers are probably the sleeper of the bunch but the AJ1s were a deserving star.

If I were to keep my cynic hat on then I’d surmise that what draws me to the whole collection is the deconstructed and rebuilt aesthetic that seems to have blossomed some time around when Virgil and Heron Preston did some work with Tom Sachs at his bodega. For a while there was part of me which was expecting an announcement that Sachs had consulted or even designed the collection on Virgil’s behalf much like the graphics and installations that Off White does.

Nevertheless these work, I tried to get them and failed but I will not throw shade at anyone who decided to pay big and wear them ‘cause they are hard.

Nike Mars Yard by Tom Sachs

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I really like this shoe… Like really really like it. I wanted the originals but didn’t possess the money or necessary network (like many) so when this was announced I was hyped… And then I missed out and I am bummed. Watching a 16 year old kid walking down the street in them ‘cause he paid $1500 for them doesn’t make it any better either. I could sit here and try trace it all back to Virgil and Frank Ocean blowing up the Tom Sachs spot a little while back but to be honest it was never going to be under the radar. I feel like these being on the “best” list isn’t really fare in 2017, its more like a missed grail than a notably good sneaker to be created and released this year. Sure it’s updated but I felt that losing the less durable NASA fabric, extra bits and bobs and proper handmade box took a bit of charm away from the release. Still want a pair though…

Nike Spiridon Stash

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Stash is a don and his return to glory by way of the Spiridon this year is both unexpected and at the same time unsurprising in its flawless execution. The “blue pack” is legendary; how someone can apply those colours to those silhouettes and somehow keep it both cohesive yet unique and each execution is an exercise in mastery. Nobody could do what Stash has done with this set without knowing the intricacies of each shoe and every one respects the original silhouette perfectly. I can’t think of any person that would be more deserving nor well suited to collaborating on a Spiridon than Stash and any worries that might have been raised when that first chrome blue swoosh’d variant showed up briefly online were completely stifled when the images of these surfaced.

Forgetting some of those somewhat lacklustre Reeboks it’s a testament to the man’s talent that when the big time opportunity once again presented itself (sorry Reebok) the man stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park.

Nike Vaporfly Elite

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New tech running hasn’t got me feeling fuzzy in a while. The Ultraboost was ripe to get me into the three stripes until I tried them on the day they came out and realised what was going on. I’m still yet to see anyone do serious miles in their “best running shoe ever” (never forget). That all being said when the Breaking2 project was announced and the footwear was shown I got all tingly with marketing-fed excitement. Not since those first Flyknit ads had I felt this way.

The hype around the marathon obviously ended with a somewhat anti-climactic world beating un-official record that failed to break the 2 hour mark but the footwear remains interesting.

Whilst Nike is usually at the forefront of running tech aesthetics the Vaporfly/Zoom Fly family is almost at odds with the classic stripped-down super aggressive stance of classic racing footwear. I fell in love with the “so ugly it must work” sole stack height but still have headaches trying to understand who the hell thought naming a tech that relied on carbon plates “Zoom” when there wasn’t an airbag in sight. Seriously couldn’t come up with anything else?

Ultimately these shoes are kinda terrible for wearing casually, with the extreme stiffness and energy return making them feel almost unstable in instances that don’t including running for your life and I absolutely love it. I liken it to driving a thinly veiled race car on the road. Sure it’s dangerous but that’s why it’s so badass. Extra points if you’re smoking a cigarette whilst doing it.

Nike Zoom Fly SP

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What’s better than new world tech made to go fast? Well that’d be the former made to look good as well. With the SP version of the Zoom Fly; Nike took the upper from the big bro 4% and grafted it onto the less hardcore Lunarlon/Carbon nylon plate sole. There’s a story about this particular shoe being a a development model but I’m pretty sceptical on this being true simply because when looking through the history of Nike’s runners wearing this tech there’s nothing that looks even slightly similar. The Flyknit development program left plenty of prototypes in its wakes that were fastidiously documented as best was possible pre-2012 so to think that there’s absolutely no record of the Vaporfly project by way of prototypes is highly unlikely.

That all being aside these are simply a fantastic shoe, the combination of “so ugly it must work” sole thickness with a super thin sheer material upper is intriguing. The way that the layers are accented through varying levels of transparency came as a refreshing contrast to a year filled with overtly bulbous and thick soled monstrosities and bland woven socks.

Nike VaporMax

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To be fair it was almost easy to forget that the VaporMax only released some 10 months ago in February but it most definitely was a release this year. It’s easy to be fatigued of the shoe given its ubiquity; seemingly endless colour ways and “what if” renderings thanks to Instagram wannabe designers. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that this was the first all-air shoe ever made and when it showed up at Nike’s investors day nobody really thought much of it with the E.A.R.L sneaker capturing everyone else’s imaginations. I did take note of the VaporMax, and I rated it as the best shoe during that whole event. Oddly it never surfaced in that preview colour way with the iridescent swoosh and heavy emphasis on the bubble; instead Nike chose to launch the shoe that was apparently a running silhouette on the feet of Comme Des Garcons’ models for their Spring/Summer 2017 show and to top it all off it was a laceless variant! Needless to say this sent the shoe down a lifestyle fashionista path that follows a similar direction to the #menswear adoption of the (then new) Flyknit Racer in 2012.

The VaporMax’s slim form-fitting upper contrasting against the barely-there air bubble sat nicely amongst the varying silhouettes of trousers and socks that graced the runways and streets of Paris, London, New York and every other “fit pic” appropriate laneway around the globe.

Much like the Ultraboost before it though, this flex-worthy piece of sports footwear never really kicked off with the actual runners who unsurprisingly stick to more traditional layouts focussed on support and energy return in lieu of fancy air cushioning. With the AM360 out with dads-alike and the Vapormax most definitely in; the edgy persona of the shoe at launch has been diluted and slowly eroding any wow-factor first felt when the shoe was fresh off its launch. That aside though the tech on display along with the genuinely futuristic visuals is still stunning. If this shoe had dropped a few years ago, before the sock-like upper had really been rinsed we’d probably be talking about how it “changed the game forever” but instead I’m judging it on its objective merits hoping that people don’t lose sight of just how iconic and impressive this design really is.

WORST

Writing a “worst” list was surprisingly difficult, not because I felt there wasn’t anything less-than good but more that there wasn’t much bad enough to talk about. Many will mention something like the Balenciaga Triple S, a shoe that’s been a pretty divisive silhouette amongst the broad crowd who have opinions on sneakers nowadays. To me though these don’t even warrant attention when talking about best and worst sneakers of the year. Do I have an opinion on them? Yes, I don’t like that shoe at all. Is that relevant when creating a list like this? In my opinion that would be a no, to me fashion footwear & sports footwear are not comparable.

Overall it seemed there was plenty of “ok” footwear, or something kind of bad choices which within weeks became trumped by something worse or just outright forgotten. Plenty of “nothing” shoes came and went, but not much stuck of as glaringly bad. I guess in a way that’s a good sign, the output is massively increased over 10 years ago and arguably the quality has increased as well.

The dodgy holiday themed shoes in candy colours, grotesque exotic material uses and slightly not-quite-right retros of completely unknown models was at an all time low but so was a lot of character. There’s something endearing about a truly awful shoe, the ugliness seems honest and as time moves on that becomes appealing. Shoes like the TN, Climacool gained cult status thanks to their love it or hate it styling; a result of performance design not a fashion mood board creation. Nobody really cared about the adidas Powerphase aside from when it had a Californian town on the side; was it the worst though? No it’s a fine shoe. There’s plenty of fine shoes nowadays but how many do we really need? Maybe then I should be thankful to the parties who managed to create some footwear bad enough to really get me going…

adidas AM4LDN/PAR

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I don’t have issue with this shoe per se but with how this was all handled. The “AM4” range was  being touted as the long-awaited rollout of adidas’ Speedfactory initiative, which pitted the brand’s most iconic tech alongside a new fast-production approach which would allow for quick fire bespoke footwear built to spec.

The idea here as put forward by adidas’ press release is footwear “completely unique for the conditions of the city where they will be worn, utilising all the precision technology benefits you’d expect from adidas produced at great speed”

Seeing this and the accompanying digital campaign had me intrigued to see how this concept would be executed with the Boost technology instead of 3D printed midsoles. Being my sceptical self I came at it with a fair pinch of salt and from what I’ve seen my seasoning was right.

At first look the AM4LDN shoe looked quite familiar; taking a very similar silhouette to the MFG (Made for Germany) shoe that the three stripes had proudly touted as the first shoe to come out of their Speedfactory facility in Germany. My concerns were backed up with some evidence via a CrepeCity member who was able to spot little to no difference when side-by-side in hand. For all intents and purposes they are the same shoe.

So essentially what we have here; regardless of what actual testing and feedback was used during their development; is a shoe that does little to take advantage of the ability to quickly and efficiently create a customised shoe for a specific region and eschews that for the tried and tested “here’s a colour for your city” method.

The adidas Speedfactory and 3D/4D initiatives are exciting and the potential for innovation is superb. It’s obvious that with the financial benefits this part of footwear development will be a growing sector for certain, but what irks me is what seems to be a more apparent lack of respect for the end consumer.

adidas Hu-NMD x Chanel

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I know that I’m writing a shortlist but these are a front-runner simply due to the fact that this could have (and frankly should have) been so much more. On paper is sounds like one of the biggest things to happen outside of LV x Supreme and I’d argue this one sounds even more exciting. Whilst LVMH teaming up with Supreme seemed almost logical, the idea that the family-owned Parisian fashion house would work with a German sportswear manufacturer to release footwear to the public had me sweating. Even the fact that it was going to be on that incredibly dull and unattractive-on-foot Hu-NMD wasn’t enough to sway my anticipation.

Then the renderings dropped, with a black shoe that featured “Chanel” and “Pharrell” on alternate shoes in the house’s iconic typeface. “Ha” I thought to myself “they have no clue, these guys did that Pump Fury and knocked it out the park before anyone even cared about sportswear crossovers”. These renderings were an obvious lacklustre attempt to predict what things might look like based off what crap had come out previously. But I knew that Chanel would never let such a lazy, uninspiring hack-job hit shelves.

Needless to say I was bitterly disappointed when it turned out to be incredibly accurate, with no sign of the iconic bouclé, no signature tweed painstakingly handwoven on a loom with random pieces of tinsel shining through, not a sign of any artisanal craft at all. Instead hopeful hypebeasts were given a run-of-the-mill athletic mesh upper with some white embroidery for a Chanel-appropriate $1000+ retail price. All of this was released at Colette a few weeks before the place closed down and it was all-in-all the biggest, most disappointing thing I saw all year. The only thing I could think that’s worse is the people trying to convince themselves that these are worth paying money for.

adidas EQT Cushion ADV

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One of my pet peeves is the resurrection of iconic model lines by marketing departments to try and shill some second-rate product to unsuspecting masses. Little sums this up better than what adidas’ team did with the EQT ADV series; taking a line that redefined the brand in the early 90s through new logos, sombre colour tones and “no bullshit” naming that said exactly what it did on the tongue. Support gave you that, Cushion softened your ride and Guidance helped with motion control. Fast forward to 2017 and we’ve got a bunch of lifeless mesh sock shoes with an NMD sole tacked on with pointless styling flourishes and limited releases along with some bullshit about cities being touted as spiritual successors to one of the most iconic lines throughout all footwear history post-1990.

We all know that brands are here to make money, it simply has to happen in order for things to continue. Without NMD, Ultraboost and Yeezy things like Spezial, Consortium and the beautiful archival reissues can’t exist. One thing we don’t need is a front-row seat to the cannibalisation of what is almost footwear-nirvana history in search of a quick-buck and some Instagram coverage. Tactics like this don’t bode well for the future, although within a few years we’ll all probably forget about this shit and the ugly things will become “OG head” fodder to a generation who grew up on relabelled sale fodder and co-branded mush.

BBB ZO2 Prime Remix

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Ok so lets get this out of the way first and foremost, I am not educated on the Ball family, Big Baller Brand or basketball in general. I do know that the Lonzo Ball is a good player whose his father is both hated and admired amongst the greater populous of America. To me it seems like a Kardashian-esque family situation with a narrative centered around basketball. From what I know their intentions at the very core of it are just, their execution seems to be the main point on contention.

All of this aside, these shoes have been touted as the first real independent sneaker in the NBA, something that is an amazing feat by all accounts. Before we let this get out of hand though it’s important to consider the situation. The ZO2 is vastly different to the shoe that was pre-sold to customers at launch for $495, a lot of which centered around the fact that this was the first time the “little guy” was taking it to the NBA with their own sneaker brand.

In reality though the ZO2 looks like a combination of Kobe Elite and BrandBlack executed in a way that makes it look like something you’d catch at Pay Less Shoes. The BrandBlack reference makes more sense when you consider that the BBB team confirmed that the company was indeed behind the design AND (this is important) production of the sneaker. So what we have here is basically a rebranded pair of BrandBlack sneakers then? Well it goes a little deeper than that because the BrandBlack guys whilst being their own thing also consult and work with Sketchers. As part of this partnership Sketchers produces BrandBlack product so… (and this is important) what we really have here then is a pair of $495 Sketchers, designed BrandBlack for Big Baller Brand. It’s all quite a bit more contrived than the story would have you think.

Outside of all this shenanigans though this shoe is dull at best and outright offensive at the worst. If this were to drop under the Brand Black moniker and be sans the BBB association it would be passed off as yet another small sneaker company looking towards the likes of Nike for inspiration but rebuilding it with talk of independent business and a made-up story involving a cast of theoretical characters seeking to “travel a different path to the crowd”.

New Balance 576 Footpatrol

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Whilst I am generally much more forgiving of NB than most thanks to a fair bit of bias I’m also willing to go in when things are get out of hand. For me the 991.5 is a complete waste of time for all involved, I felt that way with the “leftovers” pack but understood it kind of worked with the story for that set of shoes but to continue it is kind of pushing it. I like the 991 and 1500 but I don’t need to see them mashed together. Similarly the USA’s hybrid, reconstructed atrocity that is the 997R doesn’t need to exist. The 997 is a popular silhouette, the USA factories need to keep busy so that staff can stay in a job and NB needs to push some newer tech at some point. In theory I can see how the 997R is justified; the simpler upper panels mean there’s less cutting and waste whilst the full REVlite sole would be less complicated to produce than the classic ENCAP system. In reality it’s a pointless shoe that loses all of the cues that made the 997 great. Taking away a mesh toebox and replacing it with perforated one-piece toe caps is never (and I mean never) going to improve a shoe.

The most offensive thing I saw from NB however was definitely the celebratory shoe that London’s Footpatrol put out to celebrate a decade since their first effort. First time around the (then independent) store did 2 versions of the 576 which subbed in a selection of different coloured N’s attached with a velcro system. A novel idea that worked with varying levels of success (they sat out a little too far when attached) but with Ronnie Fieg rebirthing the idea with a 574S recently it must have had some sort of positive impact on people.

To celebrate this achievement Footpatrol and NB came to the conclusion that the best way to honour this shoe would be to re-release it, albeit without the velcro system and instead just stick a different coloured N on each panel. The result is about as underwhelming as you’d have thought. Gone was the fun party trick, in place was the sort of shoe that your dad would have a field day razzing you about… “couldn’t find a matching pair eh?”

For a store whose history is dotted with amazing collaborative efforts these were so lacking effort it makes me worried that the bigwigs at JD Sports have decided to pull all resources from the store and are waiting for it to die a slow death. It seems like more effort was put into the graphic elements used in the promotional imagery than the actual shoe. Even recycling an existing Footpatrol idea from a different brand, or their other NB “Encyclopaedia” release would have been an improvement, but I guess that would have required some effort…

Nike AM197 x Sean Wotherspoon

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To be honest I don’t really think these are the worst shoe, I don’t really care about them much from a design perspective at all. It’s a 97 upper on the AM1 sole, which if I had to critique it just seems pointless. I’ve never quite understood the idea of backdating a hybrid, putting a 10 year old sole onto your newest running shoe doesn’t make any sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Instead my main point of contention with this shoe is more the hoopla surrounding it.

First of all the whole Air Max Day competetion seemed fishy from the get-go, of all the entries there seemed to be one whose rendering seemed much more feasible from a production standpoint than the other. Whilst the Russian Vapormax was  a likely contender for production the AM197 was a simple cut and paste job from a factory’s standpoint. The AM97 has been getting push heavily in 2017 for its 20th anniversary and similarly the AM1 for the 30th. To take both pieces and stick them together would be easier potentially the only thing possible in the relatively short timeline from when voting would finish and the footwear would release. To add to this the eventual release of the Wotherspoon shoe came in November; a full 4 months ahead of the initial launch timeline.

I’m doubtful a Miniswoosh creation in Tyvek with largely bespoke panelling would have been possible, along with the Beijing and New York creations. To execute those would require longer lead times than what was allowed and realistically would have been a pain for all involved. Luckily the young, successful, wildly popular LA-based Sean Wotherspoon won the public vote and it all worked out perfectly then…

To add into the whole debacle you also had unofficial early releases, Wotherspoon getting publicly salty (then deleting/backtracking) at Nike seeding footwear ahead of himself and resellers getting a hold of the shoe before the man who designed it (ironically considering what Round Two does for business). Overall the whole release wreaks of “2017 sneaker scene in a nutshell” and the shoe itself tends to attract the type of people who are also actively partaking in the general lame-ifying of the whole footwear show. Fair play to Wotherspoon though, I’ve no doubt he and Nike are happy with the outcome and if people genuinely like it then good on them.

Nike VaporMax x Marc Newson

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Right so this was an interesting one for me, mainly as I wasn’t sure if I really cared enough to include it but in a Highsnobiety podcast earlier this year Gwar pointed out why this shoe isn’t good enough and therefor deserves a mention. Marc Newson is a great designer, plus he’s a fellow Aussie so I obviously feel like I can have an opinion on everything he ever does and take complete ownership over it.

Marc did the Zvezdochka some years ago, which was re-released not too far back and both times it was met with unusually decent response considering the oddity that it is. The concept of a modular shoe was and still is pretty fantastic; taking a shoe that can have its colour way changed with add-on parts plus customisable cushioning are all ideas that are still being explored some 13 years after the initial 2004 release. In almost every way this shoe perfectly exemplified the Marc Newson approach to design, encapsulated in a piece of footwear. The fact that Nike allowed it to happen and would have spent a fairly considerably amount of money building moulds for all of the parts is testament to the design’s integrity, along with the fact that Mark Parker oft cites it as one of his favourite projects the brand ever facilitated.

So to hear that Newson and Nike were set to work together again in 2017 was exciting, and to learn that it would involve the VaporMax was even better. Nothing I could think of would suit Newson’s fantastic “50s vision of the future” design language better than one of the most revolutionary sole tooling in recent history. The stripped back nature of VaporMax cushioning would be the perfect base for Newson’s clean yet complex upper to sit upon.

You can start to understand then, the weird disconnect I felt when looking at what the actual creation turned out to be. My heart said “yes” but my head (and stomach) said “no”. The only way I can try to describe my initial reaction to this shoe is the feeling of when you’re drifting to sleep and you feel as if you’re falling from a great height only to be snapped back to reality abruptly. They call this a hypnic jerk and to be honest that’s probably a good word to describe the way you’d look walking around in these shoes. Not even Travis Scott could jump-start the hype train on these and that guy could get James Jebbia excited about selling Supreme to a multinational organisation that dabbles in ballistic missiles, oh wait…

Anyway, my point is the Zvezdochka was a great project, it felt organic in creating something that was unlike anything before it and it couldn’t have come from anyone else than Newson and Nike. For this shoe it seemed more forced, I feel like the pitch went along the lines of “we’ve got this new shoe coming out and Mark asked us to get some collaborations involved. He likes what you do, you reckon you can come up with something in the next hour?”. Maybe the initial concept was more complex, more complete but ultimately the outcome, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself it was good and I wanted them, fell short by a long shot. If anything it only served to remind me how much I like the Zvezdochka and how I still don’t own a pair.

Puma Jamming

sneaker-uomo-jamming-verde-nero-puma_4100

Ok so I love Puma, it’s where I started with footwear obsession. The Clyde, Suede, States, Basket (and whatever the hell else they might have called it) family is all-time. Those shoes are up there with Stan Smith, Chuck Taylors, Sk8 Hi’s and every other “you have to own this” model that transcends time and trends. The GV Special has always intrigued me, the Yo! MTV Raps first drop was ahead of it’s time and XS850 remains one of the loudest coloured shoes ever with that retina-searing shade of Infrared on the OGs that must have been made from asbestos or uranium ‘cause nobody could ever replicate it with modern production methods.

That all being said, what the hell is this “Jamming” shit? Puma has been in a rut for the last, oh I dunno, 40 years. Short of selling a billion Speedcat shoes to discerning Asian customers they have never really hit their stride with anything regardless how good certain aspects of their efforts are (think Japanese made Suedes or the Sneaker Freaker BOGs). I’m half expecting a Gucci crossover to take advantage of the hype, or maybe even a GV Special push to jump on that thick-sole trend but instead we get an exciting new piece of running tech: Hudreds & Thousands inside a bootleg 360 Air bubble.

This seriously looks and smells like someone running out of ideas. I mean come on at this point with the adidas BASF “Boost” license having run out; Puma could have just stuck to NRGY but instead someone wasted precious time and money (which I’m doubtful Puma has much of) on making this toddler-ass looking shoe. I feel like kids with light up shoes and middle-aged men who use Wheelies to get around the city will laugh at you if you wear these. What happens when you undoubtedly rupture the midsole? Do all the little beads go flying out and your shoes collapse? I think the only positive thing that could come of this shoe is the chance that someone might do a cartoon-like slide across the room into a well or down some stairs on their rogue midsole shrapnel.

Reebok Furykaze

Reebok-Furikaze-Future-Sand

Whilst the adidas had me angry over some issues with principals and missed opportunities, the Reebok Furizake gets my vote for the outright most trash piece of footwear I came across this year. There’s probably some more objectively bad looking sneakers out there this shoe managed to take two amazing designs and ruin them in ways I never could have imagined. On paper it almost seems to make sense: take the Pump Fury, an insane shoe and pair it with the Kamikaze 2, another shoe that remains another iconic Reebok silhouette from what is arguably the brand’s period of best design.

In reality though what resulted is a shoe that looks like it wants to be put out of its own misery. Turning runners into a mid has never worked, and with a shoe that is so perfectly bonkers as the Pump Fury it serves to only over-complicate yet somehow tone it down at the same time. The Kamikaze shaped air bladder is probably the only saving grace on the shoe but the use of weird heel cutouts and “wings” around the ankle just end up coming off looking like a shoe that would have flopped in 2003 let-alone in one of the most competitive periods of footwear design since the early 90s.

I’d like to think that no footwear designer was respondible for this and instead it can be blamed on a very high Future demanding that his napkin drawing be made else his contract be void and Reebok be sued but I don’t think the man himself would have it in him to think this up alone. This shoe took some planning and design to create, there’s new panels and shapes which make me worried we’ll see more of them in the future.

With a shoe this bad, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Kendrick jumped ship to the swoosh when a pair of these showed up on his doorstep with a passively worded letter from Reebok marketing asking him to “try them out” and how much they would “love to know what he thought” along with a not-so-subtle hashtag at the end along with 3 different company divisions social media account names

That would bring us to the end, if you actually read all of this I commend you on your commitment and also thank you for caring about what I have to say more than probably myself. 2017 was a weird one, mostly down to the fact we all lost Gary Warnett; something I think is yet to be fully realised in just how much that one man did for our community and the industry as a whole. Here’s to 2018 and what it may bring (hopefully no more Furykaze’s)

I took most of the images from Flight Club, the others I honestly don’t know but thank you whoever managed to shoot a pic of that shoe in the same profile.

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