In a Venn diagram, the circles representing the worlds of sneakers and high fashion overlap. The size of that overlap has increased in recent years as the lines that divide different categories have blurred.
There was a time when sneakers were strictly limited to the world of sports. They were sweaty, stinky affairs designed for a very specific purpose, such as getting traction on a grass field. But as sneakers morphed from being the shoes you wear for certain parts of your life into the ones you wear for all aspects of your life, it was only natural that the big sneaker brands team up with the leaders in capital ‘F’ fashion. It’s a bit of a mutual admiration society, especially as more prestigious houses in France, Italy, the U.S. and elsewhere have seen customers increasingly seek out garments that—regardless of whether they’re classified as “athleisure"—are more comfortable and allow you to move freely.
Nike, which has worked with the likes of Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci and Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing, always stresses the performance aspects of its creations first and foremost. The company’s mission is to make athletes better, but they also recognize the truth of the Deion Sanders maxim, "If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good.”
That has resulted in Nike, as well as other brands such as Adidas and Reebok, creating a series of collaborations with designers that play off of both partners’ strengths. The resulting sneakers are now as sought after as those by musicians and athletes.
Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director Kim Jones is only the latest to work with Nike on a model. The hype around these sneakers is only expected to increase, which will likely lead to the release of more co-branded fashion kicks. As the size of the market grows, it’s a good time to look back on the best high-fashion sneaker collaborations thus far.
1. RICARDO TISCI X NIKE AIR FORCE 1
Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci showed that a solid sneaker collaboration involves more than just changing up a few colors. Tisci was a big fan of the Air Force 1 and used his 2014 collaboration with Nike as a way to transform the iconic silhouette while preserving its inherent DNA. The super-high women’s boot was the most dramatic of the collection, but even the Air Force 1 low was a standout. Subtle details like the Air R.T. on the heel helped tie everything together.
2. YOHJI YAMAMOTO X ADIDAS Y-3 QASA II
When cult Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto teamed up with Adidas 15 years ago, he was the first big name in fashion to start collaborating with a sneaker company. The resulting Y-3 sublabel has consistently kept Adidas pushing things in a more fashion-forward direction. And it’s easy to see the inspiration that Y-3 sneakers provided for other models, like Kanye West’s Yeezy Boost line. The Y-3 Qasa and the follow-up Qasa II both have a socklike upper that gives the shoe an unmistakable look. The fact that they are also extremely comfortable is like a cherry on top.
3. RAF SIMONS X ADIDAS OZWEEGO 2
First revealed at Simons’s show during Paris Fashion Week in 2013, the Ozweego 2 proved so popular that Adidas has re-released it on numerous occasions in the ensuing years. The sneaker eschews a minimal aesthetic and instead opts to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the sneaker. Almost every component is a different color, which has led some to call the shoe “so ugly it’s beautiful.”
4. OLIVIER ROUSTEING X NIKE FOOTSCAPE MAGISTA
In soccer, the top goal scorer in a tournament receives the Golden Boot award. The color gold also features prominently in the luxury garments that Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing produces. So when it came time for Rousteing, a big soccer fan, and Nike to work together, it was only right that gold be featured prominently. The Footscape Magista was the best sneaker in the collection, with its luxe gold embroidery on the Flyknit upper and a gold zipper on the heel.
5. KIM JONES X NIKE AIR ZOOM LWP
Now the men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones had previously designed highly sought-after collections for Umbro, so his knowledge around making stylish apparel that can also perform runs deep. Jones is the latest high-profile, high-fashion name to work with Nike on the upcoming Air Zoom LWP, which is an updated version of a running sneaker from 1995—and was the first to feature Zoom Air cushioning. Despite being inspired by a 20-year-old shoe, the sneaker still feels modern and is also refreshingly modest, with a simple “Kim Jones” branding on the heel tab.
6. GOSHA RUBCHINSKIY X REEBOK PHASE ONE PRO
Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy is certainly having a moment. His collections filter 90s culture through the lens of end-of-the-Cold-War Russia, and he has applied that design language to numerous sneaker collaborations with Vans, Fila, and Reebok. Rubchinskiy doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with his collabs. In most instances, he is content to keep the original silhouette intact while adding his name in cyrillic somewhere on the shoe as he did on the heels of this Reebok Phase One Pro. That kind of restraint is admirable and produces some great looking kicks.
7. ALEXANDER MCQUEEN X PUMA MEDIUS
The late Alexander McQueen is heralded as a truly innovative designer whose creations pushed boundaries. While his collections with Puma, which continued after his death, were not always ground-breaking, they did present a fresh and luxurious take on Puma’s lifestyle sneakers. The Medius from 2013 was one of the best pieces to come out of the partnership. The sneakers had stitchwork on the upper that looked to be inspired by Native American designs, but upon closer inspection, the outline of the Union Jack was revealed, which was a clever nod to McQueen’s British background.