2017 Collaborator Power Rankings
Here you will find the definitive, impeccably articulated ranking of 2017’s most powerful sneaker collaborators. Ha. Wouldn’t that be nice? In actual fact, it’s all but impossible to crown an out and out collaborative champ when there are so many factors to consider. At the end of the day, sneakerheads have too much invested to be able to block out biases and score with impartiality – we are a touchy bunch, to say the least. So, in some semblance of fairness, we scattered the selection among our editorial team and let each decide individually how to grade their given subjects. It may not be a perfect system, but who can claim to be perfect anyway – certainly none of this year’s collaborators.
You know who Alexander Wang is, right? The guy behind the eponymous fashion label, the same dude who was named creative director of Balenciaga at the age of 27. Well, this year the visionary designer has been doing his thing with adidas and the results have been nothing short of excellent. From deconstructed sock-and-BOOST runners to chunky, creeper-esque ‘skate’ shoes, Wang has been all over Three Stripes’ product offering.
The releases have been split into seasons, each containing multiple drops to keep a constant flow of new product on the shelves. Each drop has offered new silhouettes that have often surprised us with their far-reaching inspirations and generous selections of colourways. Although the aesthetic channelled into the sport-styled sneakers may be a little too far toward the pointy end of fashion for a lot of sneaker enthusiasts, if we had to choose our favourite as an objective piece of design… well, we’re not sure we could, so don’t ask us to.
Jumpman, jumpman, jumpman, uh... Drake hasn’t been up to much this year in the sneaker world, but of course everyone still worships at the feet of the hitmaker. After a stellar 2016 lineup of Drake x Air Jordan 10 and 12 OVOS, this year’s offerings were comparatively dry. A limited Toronto-exclusive Jordan Trunner and the OVO Timberland 6 inchs constituted the extent of the Drake’s footwear offerings this year. We’ll be kind enough to hand out 3.5 influence points to the guy simply because every sneaker company and customiser seems to have a Drake-centric foot fetish: The Shoe Surgeon and Bespoke IND vied hard for the attention of their Champagne Papi, pouring hours into crafting custom kicks in the hopes Drake would sport them. But in terms of his personal contribution to the culture? Well, it was more life, less sneakers for Drake in 2017.
Tyler, The Creator
Hitting the refresh button on his colab canon when moving to Converse, Young T has but a couple of releases to his name. Still, those One Stars and Golf le Fleurs stand as Converse’s most important colabs of 2017.
Drumming up the promotional flair that made him a ‘quarter million off of socks’ and had legions of teens parading the number of the beast, Tyler made the release one to remember. He performed a private show for punters, erected an effigy of the shoe at Camp Flog Gnaw and fuelled controversy by namechecking other brands. After slandering Vans on ‘Ain’t Got Time’, he remixed JAY-Z’s ‘4:44’ to take shots at Hov’s tour sponsor. ‘Them Golf le Fleur unos, because we don’t do PUMA,’ starts Tyler, before going onto boast about selling 20,000 pairs in three seconds.
With actual footwear, Tyler scores points for taking ownership. By refurbishing the One Star as the Golf le Fleur, he planted seeds of a fruitful relationship. The blossoms that follow won’t reach Dutch ‘Tulip Mania’ levels, but they won’t fail to generate buzz.
The Barbadian’s boss entrance into September’s PUMA x Fenty fashion show on the back of a motorbike (surrounded by pink dunes over which motocross riders flew and flipped) sums up her year pretty perfectly. She killed it. In addition to an outrageously cool runway show, Rihanna’s 2017 output under the Fenty label was strong and consistent. Fur Slide fanatics started fiending even harder for all things Fenty, and the Cleated Creeper introduced a new eminently simple yet amply sassy silhouette to the female shoescape (the design also lent itself seamlessly to a pointed-toe iteration and a punk-attitude ankle-strapped style, demonstrating versatility for days).
The Bad Gal Effect for PUMA has been huge. The brand’s growth in women’s gear is outperforming other areas, and saw an impressive boost in the wake of Fenty’s new-season drop in September. As creative director, Rihanna has injected PUMA with much-needed ‘tude and flair over the past few years – but there’s no doubting 2017 will go down as the year that Fenty really found its footing.
With two hotly coveted Air Jordan 4s (and a personal one-of-one Air Jordan 1 Low), KAWS returned to sneaker collaboration with a bang in 2017. The artist announced his Jordan Brand partnership in January and set sneaker circles ablaze right up until the March 31 release of their debut colab. The shoe was surprisingly sedate; it embraced an all-grey suede upper with restrained, low-key details. The premium product was paired with a premium price tag – but well worth it, in our opinion.
Going all out for the release, JB also dropped a comprehensive apparel collection at an impressive launch at the Brooklyn Museum. There were a number of opportunities to score the colab, but the same can’t be said about the black version released on Cyber Monday, available exclusively via raffle through KAWS’ website and only to residents of the US and its territories. Those who don’t pledge allegiance to the Star-Spangled Banner couldn’t help but feel left out of the action on this one – including yours truly!
Still, in this current Jordan lull, KAWS proved that Jays with the right execution can still command four figures on the resale market.
Who in the sneaker industry is worth more to a brand than Kanye West? Well, in terms of units moved, plenty of people. Analysts are quick to point out that his Yeezys haven’t pooled enough net revenue to move the needle, but ask any three-striped hypebeast why they ride for adidas and you’ll likely hear one name.
Kanye West and his collaborative Yeezy BOOST 350s have done wonders for the brand. The ‘Kanye Effect’ — immeasurable to pencil pushers — has become shorthand for the type of co-sign that can make people hate product when it’s first announced and need it more than air three months later.
Even with hit-and-miss models like the Desert Rat, his batting average remains high. Say what you will about its clunky design, few sneakers could make people cough up $760 USD (mostly for clothes they didn’t want) and still sell out.
And his merits don’t merely come from hype for hype’s sake. Kanye’s dogged support of adidas is infectious. Yeezus goes from city to city preaching the gospel of The Brand with the Three Stripes, converting non-believers and amassing devotees. You could say he’s like sneaker Christ but that wouldn’t be right — when Jesus was popping he only had 12 followers and Kanye has way more clout than that.
Muva often tells us that if a girl from one of South Philly’s toughest neighbourhoods can do it, so can you. And, if one of the world’s most controversial and hated-on female celebs can net a lucrative shoe deal, women from all walks of life can be inspired to blaze their own path in the sneaker world. Amber Rose kicked down the door. Admittedly, there was some debate at Sneaker Freaker HQ as to whether Rose should be included on a list of 2017’s most powerful collaborators. Her debut shoe release – the Reebok ‘Muva Fuka’ Freestyle Hi – didn’t tick the boxes that typically define a ‘sneaker influencer’. No one camped out to score the shoes and you can still buy pairs months after release. But, as Amber revealed on her Loveline podcast, her shoe deal with the ‘Bok was about something more than sneakers; it involved the brand injecting a whole lot of money into Rose’s feminist initiative, Slutwalk. The funds allowed everyone to attend the event for free and pumped up the power behind the protest. With this release, Reebok and Rose did something real.
Riccardo Tisci is a silent assassin when it comes to collaboration. Being an insanely well-accomplished designer in both couture and ready to wear, Tisci is able to channel his signature space-age gothic minimalism into classic Nike silhouettes with deft precision. His ongoing partnership with the Swoosh has birthed some straight-up killers over the past few years and 2017 has been no exception.
First up the Dunk High Lux offered some big-bellied brevity with three pristinely clean colourways, each accented by deep a sweeping contrast Swoosh. His NBA-inspired Air Force 1s were almost comical thanks to the accuracy of their references. But the most memorable design of the year is easily the NikeLAB Air Max 97 he designed for Air Max Day. You remember the black and gold one with the high cut collar, surely? The extension was a divisive move, even prompting some who copped to do a little DIY removal job, but they definitely made an impression – and that’s what we like to see.
Collaborator of the year? That’s not a title that should be thrown around lightly, but Off-White mastermind Virgil Abloh is certainly worthy of the top spot. From no collaborations to ten Nike shoes in a single year – and an Umbro out of left field – Abloh made his presence felt in the sneaker scene like no one else in 2017.
‘The Ten’ deconstructed some of the most iconic sneakers in history. The result was a series of icons cast in new light. The Air Jordan 1 and Presto were the standouts, but each is worthy of praise.
Beyond just a colab, Virgil travelled the globe to encourage sneakerheads to think outside the box with his Off-Campus workshops, which championed customisation and personal flair. For encouraging thousands to wilfully vandalise their sneakers with a Sharpie, Abloh’s influence deserves top marks in our books.
The fact that ‘The Ten’ consisted of only nine shoes – due to the mysterious absence of the Chuck Taylor – was Abloh’s only misstep this year, though he made up for it with a contribution to the AF-100 project. We look forward to what this partnership brings in the new year.
Unlike many individual collaborators who find themselves tethered to one particular brand, Ronnie Fieg is a free agent. By having his name inexorably linked to his own multi-brand retail space, Kith, Mr Fieg is beholden to no one and able to team up with multiple manufacturers. This year, Fieg has partnered with Nike, adidas, ASICS, New Balance and Converse – in some instances more than once.
There’s no doubt that Fieg’s designs are some of the more sought after releases among diehard sneakerheads, but is it possible that there are just too many on offer? Unlike other collaborators who have a defined aesthetic or a consistent style, Kith colabs tend to run the gamut of aesthetic influence – from multiple pony hair animal prints on a single sneaker to stark monochromatic simplicity.
The line between strengthening a brand and attention-seeking is blurred one, and one that Ronnie Fieg is always flirting with. But he does it magnificently. Teaming ASICS up with Moncler, the Consortium Exchange with Nonnative, Pippen and Nike, as well as the all-time ultimate Americana colab with Converse and Coca-Cola – you can’t say he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Whatever credit number-crunchers take from Kanye’s Yeezy line, they give straight to Pharrell. As the leading collaborator on adidas’ Stan Smith and Superstars (two of the brand’s highest selling sneakers ever), P is in the accountant’s good books. More impressive still is how Pharrell’s influence translates seamlessly to his signature line. He’s one of the few who can fill up a Foot Locker with Stan Smiths and have his own model topping resale charts at the same time.
That universal appeal has made him the high-low master, enabling him to work with brands like Chanel on a colab that turned over €500,000 in a day. With all the world standing in line for the man’s shoes, could Pharrell be the one to oust Kanye as adidas’ top collaborator?