With each passing year, I think to myself that there’s no way that sneaker culture can get any bigger. And then, sure enough, the earth makes a trip around the sun and sneakers reach new heights.
2015 was no different. Rumors of a sneaker bubble bursting did not materialize (oops). Instead sneaker culture seeped further and further into the culture at large. President Obama received a pair of Kanye West’s sneakers, and another guy tried to trade his pair for a new kidney.
The economics of sneakers also expanded, with the reselling market growing into a $1 billion industry and people being able to finance their footwear purchases. A museum even dedicated an entire exhibit to sneakers.
In the end it still comes down to the shoes, and 2015 definitely brought the heat. From new collaborations to shoes with a historical twist, here are my picks for the best sneakers of 2015.
10. PHARRELL x ADIDAS SUPERSTAR SUPERCOLOR
Release Date: March
This sneaker pack makes it on this list for sheer volume alone. Pharrell didn’t just drop one colorway of the classic shelltoe, he dropped 50! “It is more diverse than any pack ever before and therefore it is more individual than any pack ever before,” Pharrell said. The result was a vast array of options that allowed sneakerheads to pick the precise hue that suited them best.
9. GOSHA RUBCHINSKIY x VANS OLD SKOOL
Release Date: January
Gosha Rubchinskiy burst onto the scene in 2015 with his line that blends skate culture with references to Russian history. He also showed that a great sneaker collaboration doesn’t have to be flashy or over the top. These Vans Old Skool kicks had a minimal off-white and white upper that was perfectly offset by the bright blue stripe around the midsole.
8. COMME DES GARCONS x CONVERSE CHUCK TAYLOR ‘70
Release Date: May
Comme des Garcons and Converse already collaborated three times in the past before releasing this Chuck Taylor All Star '70 pack in 2015. But something about how the cheeky CDG heart mascot peeks out from the heel of this sneaker made it a standout. The fact that it was done on the Chuck '70, with its heavy duty canvas and beefier midsole, also made the sneaker feel more substantial.
7. KENDRICK LAMAR x REEBOK VENTILATOR
Release Date: July
The best sneakers tell a story and that is exactly what rapper Kendrick Lamar’s first capsule collection with Reebok did. The shoe itself had great details, such as the pigskin nubuck upper, pigskin leather lining, and rope laces. But it was the message around ending gang violence that really set them apart. The left shoe said “Blue” on the heel, while the right said “Red"—a nod to the colors of the Crips and Bloods gangs in Lamar’s native Compton—while the inside of each tongue read "Neutral.”
6. COLETTE x ASICS GEL LYTE III
Release Date: June
When Colette does a collaboration with anyone on anything, you can bet that blue will be involved. The bright color has become a signature of the Paris boutique. Colette deployed blue to perfection in this iteration of the Gel Lyte III. The contrast between the blue-on-white polka dots and the white-on-blue polka dots made the shoes feel like an optical illusion. There were a lot of great collaborations on the Gel Lyte III in 2015, but this one was the best.
5. AIR JORDAN I “SHATTERED BACKBOARD”
Release Date: June
This was a good year for fans of the Air Jordan I. For many, the “Chicago” version with its Bulls-inspired colors was the best of the bunch. For me, it was this one that pays tribute to a 1985 exhibition game in Italy where Michael Jordan broke a backboard on a slam dunk. The orange and black colors are pulled from the jersey that MJ wore in the game and they blend together perfectly in this shoe which is balanced nicely by the white midfoot section of the upper.
4. ADIDAS ULTRA BOOST
Release Date: June
Adidas is really onto something with the Ultra Boost. It’s hard to find someone who’s worn them that doesn’t swear they’re the most comfortable sneakers ever. And, oh yeah, they look awesome. Nowhere was that more apparent than with the all white version that first came out in the spring. The fact that Kanye West wore them ensured that they sold out quick, but anyone that scored a pair was set with the coolest shoes of the summer.
3. CONCEPTS x NEW BALANCE 997 “LUXURY GOODS”
Release Date: March
It’s hard to think of another boutique that puts out as many incredible collaborations as Boston’s Concepts. (Ronnie Fieg’s Kith is probaby the only other one in the same league in terms of quality and quantity.) These “Luxury Goods” 997s were the follow up to Concepts’ “Rosé” colorway, which was one of the best shoes of 2014. The bright orange suede and leather on the “Luxury Goods” pair was a not-so-subtle nod to the color popularized by Hermés.
2. ADIDAS YEEZY BOOST 350
Release Date: November
You knew Kanye West was going to be on this list somewhere. From the first samples that were spied on a plane, sneakerheads have been unable to get enough of every sneaker Ye has created in his partnership with Adidas. While the Yeezy Boost 750 high-tops were the first ones to come out, its the low-top Yeezy Boost 350 that are destined for future classic status. Everything about the sneakers—from the half moon shaped tab on the instep to the heel tab to the ribbed midsole—comes together in a way that is both fashion forward and higly wearable at the same time.
1. SUPREME x AIR JORDAN V
Release Date: October
Perhaps the only entity that had a bigger year than Kanye in 2015 was Supreme. From its work with us at Playboy to a collection with the New York Yankees, Supreme continued its streak of seemingly being able to do no wrong. That was especially true in its collaboration with Jordan Brand on the Air Jordan V. Details like the “Sup” behind the mesh and the “94"—Supreme was founded in 1994—on the heel, where Michael Jordan’s jersey number usually sits, helped this sneaker live up to the hype, and the hype was so extraordinary that Supreme couldn’t even sell the shoe at its U.S. stores for fear that a riot would break out.