In early 2015, adidas was poised to be the next big thing. ‘Athleisure’ was the new cultural buzzword and the Three Stripes were all over it. Primeknit was winning fans the world over, retailers couldn’t restock Superstars fast enough, and Stan Smiths were everywhere from Paris Fashion Week to far-flung suburbia. And thanks to Yohji Yamamoto’s fashion-forward Y-3 imprint, sock-based sneakers were suddenly mainstream. But adidas knew a fresh weapon was needed to kick things into overdrive. And they knew just where to find it.
The Past, Present and Future of adidas UltraBOOST
Date: December 01 2017
By: Adam Jane
In 2013, after partnering with German chemical manufacturer BASF, the first BOOST-bolstered runner was released. The Energy BOOST was a hardcore running shoe – a function that doesn’t generally mesh with heavy-hitting hype aesthetics. Sensing an opportunity to tinker, adidas merged know-how gleaned from the Tubular range with masses of data acquired using ARAMIS motion capture technology and created what they claimed to be ‘the world’s best running shoe.’ UltraBOOST was born.
The original black and purple colourway was inspired by a cityscape cast in shades of dusk and dawn – prime times for urban runners. From the stretch web outsole to the lace cage and the ‘s-curve’ heel shape, every part of the UltraBOOST was highly considered and informed by rigorous R&D.
When Kanye rocked the ‘Triple White’ on stage at the Billboard Music Awards, the UltraBOOST’s popularity skyrocketed – as did its resale value. Numerous collaborative releases – such as those with Sneakersntuff, Reigning Champ, Kolor, Haven and Wood Wood – helped fuel the hunger. Then something unusual started to happen. People were going to excruciating lengths to acquire their coveted UltraBOOST – then chopping them up. Savvy YouTubers posted instructional videos demonstrating how to slice the supportive lace cage in order to remove it altogether. And while customising shoes wasn’t a new thing, never before had such a specific, surgical-like alteration been so widespread. The resulting cageless shoe lost the support that was needed for use as a runner, but that seemed to be the point – the now ultra-streamlined UltraBOOST was streetwear-ready.
The designers at adidas were tuned in to global chatter and recognised the opportunity that all this DIY nipping and tucking presented. Teaming up with Hypebeast (and later Solebox), the first factory-made cage-free UltraBOOST was released. It was what the people wanted, but adidas decided to take the concept even further. They took the shoe back to the lab to tweak, revise, refresh, repeat. The result was the UltraBOOST Uncaged with new-design uppers, a fresh Primeknit pattern, fused support around the lace holes and a cuff-like knitted collar. Despite the overhaul, the silhouette retained the essence of the OG.
Once the Primeknit sock was liberated from its lace cage, the UltraBOOST franchise gained even more momentum. The original version was brought back into focus with revitalised energy, while new Uncaged colourways started dropping almost weekly. Then, when the BOOST midsole was given an inky black finish, the sneaker world well and truly went nuts.
Due to its chemical composition, BOOST can’t be coloured during the manufacturing process, so the best option was a lick of paint. However, paint with the right elasticity to work with BOOST’s springiness had to be invented from scratch. After the ‘Triple Black’ release, an all-red version was followed by the super-limited ‘New York’ edition boasting a vibrant orange midsole. Before the year was out, the cage-free design had even been ushered into the prestigious and ongoing collaboration with Parley for the Oceans – an initiative that utilises materials made from recycled bottles scooped from the ocean. The result was a clean design, a cleaner ocean and an even cleaner conscience.
Stella McCartney was also recruited to put her own unique spin on some wild women’s iterations. In early 2017, McCartney introduced the world to a revised version of UltraBOOST made specifically to suit the anatomy of the female foot. The floating arch of the UltraBOOST X gives the shoe an all-round dynamic fit, more like a track spike than a road runner.
After the success of the mid-cut Ronnie Fieg colab, adidas revealed a beefed-up off-road revision known as the UltraBOOST Mid All Terrain. In addition to enhanced support provided by an extended collar, the rough and ready runner was given a tougher lacing system, extra ankle padding and a chunky outsole. The release was perfectly timed with the increasing popularity of outdoors-chic, ensuring both wilderness wanderers and cold-weather commuters adopted the water-repellent Primeknit design for their daily adventures.
In the latter half of 2016, the Ace 16+ Purecontrol was bestowed with an UltraBOOST sole. Though the shoe had been relieved of its laces, the hybrid design carried elements that weren’t entirely UltraBOOST. Perhaps this was the inspiration for the new Laceless UltraBOOST, a minimal make-up that celebrates refinement of the highest order. A series of elastic ridges across the shoe’s forefoot provide the perfect fit, enabling the upper to expand and contract with each step. Pure minimalism in motion.
After a constant flow of styles, multiple patterns and countless colourways, it's hard to imagine what adidas have left in store for UltraBOOST. On the performance front, the line has branched off to include precision-engineered designs like UltraBOOST ST, while Laceless versions flex at the leading edge of street style. Thanks to over two intense years of solid evolution, what we do know is that the Three Stripes won’t rest on their laurels. UltraBOOST changed the game, and it is definitely not done yet!
The latest UltraBOOST collection is available now in-store and online from adidas.