Not surprisingly, everyone wants to be a sneakerhead nowadays. Sneaker collecting — once a niche habit, the domain of forum-dwelling history buffs and in-the-know street style mavens — has been thrust into the mainstream and turned into a big-money business with plenty of glamour. 2019 was the best example of this yet: StockX was valued at over a billion dollars; Farfetch acquired Stadium Goods for $250 million USD; even Foot Locker got into the aftermarket, investing $100 million USD in GOAT Group, the parent company of GOAT and Flight Club.
The money wasn’t the only thing that was big this year: the changes at the top of many companies were seismic. Longtime Nike CEO Mark Parker stepped down amid a scandal that enveloped the brand’s Oregon Project, the world’s most elite track team. Executive board member of adidas Eric Liedtke, the man responsible for the brand’s partnerships with Kanye West and Beyonce left his position. Even Under Armour’s founder and CEO, Kevin Plank, announced that he’ll be transitioning to a new role as executive chairman and brand chief come 2020.
Amidst this occasionally volatile cocktail of dollars and decisions, the releases shined just as bright as ever — maybe more so. Collaborators, from musical artists to designers, used their sway and influence to create truly unique products. Old favorites got new spins, and new silhouettes changed the game. In short, it was anything and everything a sneakerhead could ask for.
To pay homage to this smorgasbord of styles, HYPEBEAST has selected the 10 best sneakers of 2019, with three honorable mentions. Lace up, step out and let’s get started: it’s bound to be an interesting, and no doubt controversial, walk back through a watershed year.
adidas x Reebok Instapump Fury BOOST
They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and that often rings true when it comes to collaborative sneakers. Once a rare and special occurrence, collaborations are now seemingly released on a daily basis, but adidas and Reebok’s Instapump Fury BOOST was a true first in every sense of the word, and by virtue of that, one of the year’s most singular silhouettes.
A much more advanced version of the brand-to-brand partnerships first started by the use of Nike Lunarlon foam in Cole Haan dress shoes or the Converse Chuck Taylor 2, the adidas x Reebok Instapump Fury BOOST is the confluence of two of the world’s biggest sneaker brands and their most influential tech. Although both may be under the same corporate umbrella, this doesn’t dull the impact. The design bridges both decades and history-defining advancements in technology by melding together the Pump fit system and BOOST cushioning, not to mention adding both brands’ signature marks side-by-side on the midfoot. It’s rare that you see a new avenue of collaboration in today’s occasionally saturated market, but this is just that: the combination of one footwear juggernaut’s most recognizable silhouette with another’s most-lauded cushioning system.
Air Jordan 1 SB “LA to Chicago”
Thanks to renewed interest caused by the cyclical nature of sneaker collecting and co-signs from the likes of Travis Scott and Virgil Abloh, Nike SB enjoyed the beginning of a renaissance in 2019, one of the foremost proprietors of which was the Air Jordan 1 SB “LA to Chicago.” Since its original release in 1985, the AJ1 has been embraced by basketball players and skateboarders alike, so this in-brand collaboration nodded to that juxtaposition with both design and details.
Featuring the wear-away detailing first popularized by Lance Mountain, the shoe’s Los Angeles Lakers-style gold and purple outer layer strips away with wear, giving way to a Chicago Bulls-esque mix of red and black on its base layer. Nodding to both the nexus of skateboarding and the city that made Michael Jordan an icon, the Air Jordan 1 SB “LA to Chicago” managed to encompass two key pieces of footwear history, while presenting a rich take on one of the most popular silhouettes in the world of sneakers today, certainly no small feat.
Awake NY x ASICS GEL-Kayano 5 360
How does a footwear brand acknowledge and amplify its past while still pushing towards its future? This is a difficult, ever-evolving question, and ASICS answered it in compelling fashion this year with the hybrid GEL-Kayano 5 360 silhouette. Mixing an OG GEL-Kayano 5 upper with a modern, full-length GEL-Quantum 360 midsole, the Kayano 5 360 presented the perfect blend of old and new.
The shoe’s appeal was aided by a duo of thoughtful collaborations with Angelo Baque’s buzzy Awake NY: one of which acknowledged Baque’s hometown of Queens and the famous Unisphere in Flushing Meadow Park with its silver and green colorway; the other of which nodded to Parisian nights with a glistening gold and black mixture. The co-created effort opened the door for in-line and special releases alike, ranging from remakes of classic colorways to rugged, GORE-TEX equipped styles, perfect for the winter months.
Bodega x New Balance 997S “No Days Off”
The steadily popular New Balance 997 was brought into the modern world with the 997S this past year, and no makeup of the fresh-yet-familiar hybrid silhouette was more warmly received than Bodega’s “No Days Off” iteration. With a moniker drawing from the brand’s running history but with a bold colorway that was unquestionably lifestyle-geared, the “No Days Off” was one of 2019’s biggest surprise hits, selling out instantly and fetching high three-figure sums on the aftermarket. It was then followed up by a “No Bad Days” style in the fall.
This fervent fandom for a silhouette that the casual sneakerhead might have missed completely shows that in a market that can seem to be inherently stacked in favor of heritage styles, all you need is the right design, a good colorway, a compelling tale and a popular partner to produce a hit.
Cactus Plant Flea Market x Nike VaporMax 2019
Cynthia Lu’s Cactus Plant Flea Market was one of Nike’s most productive collaborative partners in 2019, and its pièce de résistance was a whimsical, women’s-sized take on the VaporMax 2019. Lu’s signature perfectly-imperfect stylings and warm, amicable point of view provided an undeniably compelling juxtaposition with the VaporMax 2019’s advanced tech and materials, thanks to embellishments like three-dimensional Swooshes and wrapping “Just Do It” text. This was taken even further on a special friends-and-family edition, which featured a neon light detail.
Although CPFM followed this up with a duo of vivid Nike By You collections centered around the Blazer Mid and a hybrid Air Force 1/Air More Uptempo, its first effort was certainly its most impactful, and left the sneaker-loving general public wanting even more in 2020.
Hajime Sorayama x Dior B23 Sneaker
After leaving Louis Vuitton, the incomparable Kim Jones kicked off his career at Dior with hit after hit. From collaborating with KAWS on a compelling capsule collection to calling upon Matthew M Williams’ ALYX 1017 9SM for its signature hardware, nobody in high fashion did streetwear in a more authentic way than Jones. He had his first footwear sensation at Dior thanks to the B23 silhouette — a shoe that looks somewhat like Converse’s Chuck Taylor.
Although the monogrammed, translucent makeup of the B23 was the most commonly spotted, his most unique style today is an iteration created with Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama. Known for his highly detailed, typically erotic portrayals of robots, Sorayama’s mechanical machinations yielded a metallic T-Rex graphic on the B23’s upper, mixed with sublimated Dior print and colorful floral hits. All of this made for the most vivid high-fashion shoe of the year and a design that boasts the highest MSRP on this list by far — $1,100 USD.
sacai x Nike LDWaffle
High-fashion brands collaborating with sneaker companies has become commonplace over the last few years. However, Chitose Abe’s sacai has never been one to do what’s par for the course. This fiercely-independent ethos was on full display at Paris Fashion Week when the brand unveiled its unique Nike LDWaffle — a doubled-up silhouette that combined two classic Swoosh Brand running shoes, the Waffle and the Daybreak. A conceptual art project come to life that introduced Abe to a whole new audience, the shoe was instantly striking with its twice-as-nice style that called upon two midsoles, two Swooshes and even two sets of laces.
A favorite of core sneakerheads and Japanese fashion lovers alike, the Waffle released in a quintet of colorways over the course of the year that ranged from the bold and vibrant “Varsity Blue/Varsity Red” to the stark and elegant “Summit White.” Although the LDWaffle was also accompanied by multiplied takes on the Nike Blazer, it stood in a class of its own, and helped remind us what collaborations are all about: bringing the best attributes of the contributing parties to the table.
SpongeBob SquarePants x Nike Kyrie 5 “SpongeBob”
It’s been 20 years since SpongeBob SquarePants first bubbled onto Nickelodeon in 1999, so this year was full of tributes to the smiling sponge and his beloved cast of side characters. The most notable was Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving and Nike’s collaborative “SpongeBob” collection, made up of three Kyrie 5s and two Kyrie Low 2s.
One of the NBA’s most unique personalities, Irving has long been open about his adoration for SpongeBob, and this light-hearted, inherently fun collection was well-regarded across sneaker culture. Many factors played a part in this — historical significance, instantly recognizable colors, and nostalgia — but nothing translated sponge to sneaker more than the collection’s little details, making sure that SpongeBob, his best pal Patrick Star, his clarinet-playing coworker Squidward, greedy boss Mr. Krabs and the ever-upbeat astronaut squirrel Sandy Cheeks were all given their proper moment in the spotlight. The paradigm of how branded property sneaker collaborations should be done, the SpongeBob SquarePants x Nike Kyrie collection garnered acclaim, became a pop culture moment and — above all else — was just plain fun.
Tom Sachs x Nike Mars Yard Overshoe
Sneaker companies have long had a growing fascination with space, but few have explored the final frontier in quite as much detail as Nike’s NikeCraft partnership with bricolage artist/sculptor/maven of all things creative Tom Sachs. Nowhere has this been taken further than the Mars Yard Overshoe. Sach’s long-term obsession with our universe has resulted in two other Mars Yard releases in 2012 and 2017, but this Overshoe was one giant leap as it’s quite literally an astronaut boot.
Apart from the unique look and weather-resistant technology, the Mars Yard Overshoe was also a canvas for customization. Many DIY designers took a blade to the Dyneema fabric shroud that covered the upper, cutting it off to reveal the strapped-up Mars Yard base underneath. Between the raw material look, rugged construction and compelling story, the Mars Yard Overshoe hasn’t come down since liftoff this past spring.
Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 “Cactus Jack”
If you had to encapsulate 2019 in a single sneaker and single collaborator, the choice is simple: Travis Scott and his Air Jordan 1. All you need to do is look at the deciding factors. Jordan Brand’s most popular and influential silhouette? Check. The hottest rapper in the game, with the most voracious fans you’ll find anywhere? Check. Limited availability and surprise drops, each of which was an event in and of itself? Check. Scott may have also released highly desirable takes on the Air Jordan 1 Low, Air Jordan 6 and Air Force 1 Low, but few would argue that the AJ1 takes the top spot on La Flame’s footwear chart.
Although it was a perfect storm of events that combined to make the Houston-born rapper’s Air Jordan 1 one of the most extolled shoes of the year, it certainly wasn’t short on unique design details either — with its backwards Swoosh, hidden stash pocket, and white, brown and black colorway seemingly drawn from 2007’s SB Dunk Low “Trail.” This AJ1 featured a look that more than backed up the blazing fires of hype that surrounded it.