The best sneakers of 2018
You like sneakers ? Here are our favourite from the past year.
Words— Marc Richardson
Making year-end sneaker lists is an exercise in setting ground rules. Unlike albums, sneakers are often talked about months before they’re ultimately released, with imagery slowly trickling out and pairs ending up on the feet of industry insiders and VIPs before stores even know when they’ll be carrying them. Does a shoe that was teased throughout 2017 but was released in 2018 count? What about a re-release?
In short, here are our rules: shoes that were considered for the Best of 2018 had to be released to the general public for the first time in 2018. Seeding pairs could have popped up in 2017, but they could not have been sold before January 1, 2018.
For a year that was supposedly the year where sneaker culture peaked and where the sneaker became ubiquitous, from designer runways to skate boutiques, 2018 was remarkably bereft of any truly great, transformative sneakers.
Vault by Vans x WTAPS Sk8-His
Whenever Vault by Vans and WTAPS team up, the result is almost always noteworthy. While the Old School and Half Cabs from this year’s collaboration were nice, they were predictable from WTAPS. The Sk8-His, on the other hand, were interesting because blue flames are not necessarily what one expects from WTAPS.
It offered a moment of levity from the often serious and military WTAPS — and it was a tasteful take on cartoonish flames that Vans, and others, have so often failed to get right. In an era of maximalism, this felt like minimalist maximalism, something that only WTAPS could achieve.
Maison Margiela Fusion
Okay, the price probably precluded most individuals from even considering buying the Maison Marginal Fusion sneaker, but it has a place on this list if only because it stands as the most garish sneaker to emerge from capital-F Fashion’s sneaker fetish. The Balenciaga Triple S is a terrible shoe — no matter how commercially successful it is.
There is no denying that the Fusion looks unique — because it is. It looks like literal garbage, but is actually the product of an intricate production process that involves pieces being assembled and glued together by hand!
Not only does the Fusion represent the zenith of Fashion’s sneaker obsession, but it also signalled the beginning of the end for “new things”. There was a time where the best denim was that which was overly distressed and ripped to shreds; eventually, that was replaced by flawless raw denim. The Fusion is but one hint that we’re heading back towards an aesthetic punctuated by well-worn garments.
Nike x Supreme Gato SB
The Gato SB is an important sneaker in the annals of Nike’s foray into skateboarding — though it is often overlooked for the SB Dunk and SB Blazer — so the fact that Supreme would choose the Gato ought not have surprised. Still, though, the execution was somewhat surprising.
Supreme has always made a habit of having hit-or-miss colourways for collaborations and this was no different. The black colourway wasn’t nice, the powder blue was original, the red was a bit too obvious — the white one, though, was incredibly clean. It was also incredibly versatile and offered a silhouette different from some of the chunkier entries on this list.
Vans VARIX WC
This silhouette kind of came out of nowhere. It appeared online, in limited quantities at some retailers and on some of Vans’ various national e-commerce platforms. There is no real back story. It’s just a shoe inspired by classic ‘90s skate shoes.
It’s not hard to notice similarities between the VARIX and, say, Margiela’s Fusion, but the VARIX is authentic because it comes from a core skate brand. It was an interesting silhouette and represented one of the few times in recent memory where a new Vans silhouette has enjoyed crossover cultural success, as the brand is so often reliant on decades-old models like the Old Skool or Authentic.
The multicolour version of these was definitely the strongest of the trio.
adidas Consortium 4D Runner
Compared to recent years, 2018 was a rough one for adidas. In 2016 and 2017, the brand enjoyed the success that came with the UltraBOOST and NMD. Anything that the Three Stripes put out, sold out. It’s crazy how much things can change in such a short period. That being said, one of the only models that has consistently performed has been the various iterations of the adidas Consortium 4D Runner.
The 4D outsole is not only aesthetically interesting and different, but it also represents what adidas claims is the future of manufacturing. While that may be true, it’s still too early for 4D to be produced in commercial quantities, which explains the high price point — but it also explains the shoe’s appeal. As we saw with BOOST, once something because too available, it’s no longer special.
Nike x A-COLD-WALL* Air Force 1
As of this writing, the Nike x A-COLD-WALL* Air Force 1s have yet to release, but they’re slated to drop on December 21st. This is the benefit of making year-end lists for sneakers compared to music. There is no such thing as a surprise sneaker release. Someone, somewhere, knows what’s coming and that inevitably forces the brands into being more transparent about upcoming releases.
Nike and A-COLD-WALL* have something of a propensity for making it count when they team up and their first take on the Air Force 1 is a veritable grail when it comes to collaborations on the silhouette. The upcoming release, in both black and white, is true to the Air Force 1, but also to Samuel Ross’ cold, dystopian aesthetic. It also might be one of the few times where the black model is nicer than the white when it comes to Air Force 1s.
Vault by Vans x Needles Slip-Ons
In a few months, this shoe may hold even more importance. For the last two or so years, it has been incredibly fashionable for brands to collaborate on sneakers and give their aesthetic an athletic, casual spin.
But, what Needles did differently with these crushed suede Slip-Ons is transform a sneaker into something more formal, by imitating luxurious loafers and adding the gold tassels. It is one of the clearest examples of prep and traditional menswear making a comeback at the expense of streetwear and sneakers.
Also, it was only a matter of time before someone did something like this using the Slip-On and Needles absolutely hit it out of the park.
Nike x Undercover React Element 87
Nike’s React Element 87 was a direct response to adidas’ UltraBOOST. React was the Nike equivalent of BOOST technology and a carefully orchestrated hype campaign made the React Element 87 the most anticipated sneaker of the year. But Nike largely overplayed their hand and the end result is that the React Element and its now many derivatives are on discount and played out.
That being said, the quartet of Nike x Undercover Reach Element 87s made a case for sneaker of the year. From the time the shoes debuted on Jun Takahashi’s Undercover runway, sneakerheads were enamoured. It had all the makings of a classic — limited quantities, collaboration, new technology, a fresh eye-catching silhouette, and impossible to miss colourways.
While they may not fetch the resale prices of Nike x Off-White sneakers, it’s a poignant reminder that sneaker culture isn’t exclusively about resale.
ASICS x Kiko Kostadinov GEL-BURZ 1
This list could have exclusively comprised of shoes from Kiko Kostadinov’s prolific collaboration with ASICS. The project has brought some of ASICS’ core running silhouettes to the fore, after years of the brand’s lifestyle Gel-Lyte silhouettes dominating its fashion footprint.
If we had to pick a singular model, though, the GEL-BURZ 1, released in the first week of 2018, was arguably the most unique of the bunch. And, from that trio, the slime green model stands out, not only as the most recognizable but as a shoe that portended the fact that neon greens and yellows would come to dominate the fashion world before 2018 was out.
Nike x Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1/97
It feels like these dropped forever ago, mainly because they first popped up as part of Nike’s Vote It Forward contest in early 2017 and then on Sean Wotherspoon’s feet at Complexcon in November 2017. They only released for Air Max Day 2018, though, which makes them eligible for our list.
There was no single shoe that was more hyped than this shoe. It brought together one of the most influential and iconic outsoles of all time — the Air Max 1 — and one of the most loved uppers of all time — the Air Max 97 —, while also offering a new twist thanks to Wotherspoon’s choice of different coloured corduroy for each of the upper’s layers.
The shoes sold out instantly, resell for considerable sums and, thanks to their unique look and groundbreaking hybridization — combining different Air Max models is now something Nike does regularly — the Nike x Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1/97 will have a lasting impact on sneaker culture. You can’t really ask for more for a sneaker of the year.