Has there ever been a sneaker more hyped to death, more desperately hated-on and more certain to sell out in nono-seconds that the Yeezy? When Kanye's first strap-happy high-top debuted in 2009, the sneaker world was mesmarised by the sheer audaciousness of the package. RUN-DMC aside, it’s hard to think of another hip hop artist who has put their name to a sneaker with any real substance. Even the omnipotent Jay-Z’s S-Carter range was little more than a sideshow at RBK. And yet here was Jigga’s precocious understudy harnessing the full powers of the Nike juggernaut to catapult his signature sneaker into a stratosphere usually reserved for the most exalted of athletes.
See the Yeezy 2 in Sneaker Freaker issue 24!
Not only was Kanye clambering for the prestige exclusively afforded to his royal highness Michael Jordan, but in a further act of sacrilege, he even threw a Jordan III sole straight into the Yeezy’s mondo- mélange. With its knee-scraping ankle padding, pillowy tongue and mammoth velcro wrap, there was nothing subtle or sporty about the Yeezy’s steezy. It was a statement – the ultimate symbol of cockily manicured excess – and the mania that met the shoe on its release date was only matched by an eBay price that quickly reached bubble-status five seconds later.
Three years later comes the Air Yeezy’s inevitable sequel. Despite the shoe being largely slammed by the all-knowing social media swarm, Yeezy fever seems as contagious as ever. Perhaps there’s some serious foxing going on in the FB comments, for those hating hardest seem destined to be the first in line on release day. Speaking of which, at the time of writing, no firm date had been announced, yet kids in Los Angeles at the Beverly Center had bizarrely already begun camping out. In comparison, Kanye’s previous collaborations with A Bathing Ape and Louis Vuitton barely sparked a cinder of interest.
Although glimpses of the shoe arrived through some ‘mysterious’ paparazzi snaps of Kanye wearing them months ago, one suspects it’s all part of a calculated hype campaign that’s as fastidiously preened as the Lanvin sweat pants kanye jogs in nowadays. Kanye and Nike are no rookies when it comes to courting media attention and Kanye himself is one of the most photographed men on the planet (dating Kim Kardashian hasn’t harmed in this respect). In contrast to the military precision of Nike’s shock-and-awe promotion of last year’s McFly shoes, the Yeezy II has been a slow tease and the sneaker/music community has been completely entranced by the tantalising way the story has been revealed.
As for the shoe itself, the lineage between the air Yeezy II and its predecessor is obvious. Instead of being welded to a Jordan sole, the Yeezy II is built upon an Air Tech Challenge II base, providing just enough athletic DNA for the shoe to bridge the sports/fashion divide. The translucent sole still glows in the dark and the trademark strap is back, albeit without the same jumbo dimensions.
Perhaps casting himself as a mystic seer in the same vein as Sun Ra or Bambaata, Kanye has – apparently on Molly Meldrum’s advice – gone big on the Egyptology references, dotting the upper with hieroglyphics, pyramid-shaped ventilation holes and the falcon deity Horus who peers out from the rubber badge nestled in the tongue. The protector of the king, the Horus seal might be interpreted as an extension of the themes present in Watch the Throne.
The most striking visual feature is the molded rubber ridges protruding from the shoe’s heel. Like a bony spine stretching through a taut membrane, it gives the Yeezy II an animalistic look, as though the shoe is a living, breathing hypebeast! Just as the original Yeezy was inspired by the sky-high tongue and jumbo straps of Japanese brand Ato’s cow hide boot, the Yeezy II’s heel clearly has parallels with the molded batman-suit look of Hussein Chalayan’s urban mobility experiments for Puma.
Cynics will dismiss the Yeezy II as a fabricated concept with a tenuous relationship to anything other than a fashion cash-in. Indeed it’s hard to separate the shoe from the egotistical antics of its enigmatic namesake. Whether you think Kanye West is the most iconic musical artist of today or a pampered pop poser will likely determine how you feel about the Yeezy II, which is a shame. For all its intricate details and obvious influences, there’s something about the Yeezy II that elevates it far beyond being a product of facile hipster flamboyance. Sure, it’s obviously contrived on one level, but then again, the overwhelming majority of sneakers today are sold purely on their looks alone. When was the last time anyone dunked in a Dunk? Or skated in a Dunk SB for that matter? Despite Nike’s protestations, sneakers are street fashion and the Yeezy II is right at the apogee of this connection.
We might also view the Yeezy as a forerunner to colour and creativity creeping back into the sneaker game. This would be a relief in itself. Two decades ago the Harajuku fashion explosion wrote the formula for creating demand for sneakers and streetwear. Celebrity endorsement + limited production + high prices = surefire sellouts. While Harajuku’s vitality may have petered out as its founding fathers matured into retirement, the Yeezy seems to be a genuine throwback to this thrilling era.
What’s truly fascinating about the Yeezy II is that the pandemonium that’ll accompany its release is so utterly predictable. This thing will vaporize wallets on a global scale! Like the Galaxy Foamposites from earlier this year, the Yeezy II is just like Kim Kardashian’s ass – big, bold and breathtaking in both scale and desirability. It’s a far cry from the grimly conservative black canvas vulcs that have dominated the scene for the past few years and for that reason alone, we should be thankful.
YEEZY ILLUSTRATION BY JASON MUNRO