The All-Time Greatest Patent Leather Sneakers
Patent leather has been shining for over 200 years, but it wasn’t until the 21st century that it really made its mainstream mark in the sneakersphere. 2000s fashion is unironically back in fashion, and with that brings more patent leather sneakers, which the big brands seem to be all too happy to bring back and make a quick buck from. With all due respect to the newcomers, it’s the classics of a bygone era that have earned their place on this list and influenced their successors. And while it would’ve been too easy to include dozens of entries for the Nike Air Force 1 and BAPE STA, there’s only one entry for each model.
Nike Air Force 1 ‘Taiwan’ (2001)Nike Air Force 1 ‘Taiwan’ (2001)
While 2006 was around the year that Nike pushed patent Air Force 1s en masse, they actually had tried out the shiny material over a decade before. A few years later in 2001, the Swoosh began trickling in some patent Player Exclusives (shout out Rasheed Wallace) and overseas releases. One of those was the ‘Taiwan’ edition, which had many features not seen on the model before. Beyond the crazy gradient Swooshes was an all-white patent upper, met with plush early-2000s spec lining and ice soles. It was retroed in 2018 as an exclusive, but it wasn’t quite the same as the OG.
KAWS x BAPE STA ‘Chomper’ (2006)KAWS x BAPE STA ‘Chomper’ (2006)
By the time the KAWS ‘Chomper’ collaboration hit the streets in 2006, BAPE had perfected their formula for patent leather sneakers. Throwing all sensibilities and inhibition out the window, these multicoloured candy kicks licked every colour of the rainbow and finished the crack-friendly clear coat with some goofy teeth on the toes and Brian Donnelly’s (KAWS’ government name) X motif on the STA logos. Even if Nike finally responded to the patent AF-1 bootlegs with some legitimate drops of their own, many believe that it was Nigo who forced the Swoosh’s hand.
Air Jordan 11 ‘Concord’ (1995)Air Jordan 11 ‘Concord’ (1995)
While only a portion of its upper is patent, it would be remiss to exclude the Air Jordan 11 from this list. After all, this seemingly un-sporty material was purposely chosen by Tinker Hatfield to feature on a flagship performance basketball shoe made for the greatest player of all time. This decision drew the ire of the NBA for violating their stringent uniform policies, again attracting big fines. Beyond the court, the OG ‘Concord’ colourway has made regular appearances at proms, local sneaker riots and even the Golden Globes. No matter where they show up, that patent leather mudguard and toe wrap is always shinin’.
adidas Concord (1980s)adidas Concord (1980s)
Another type of Concord, this OG adidas design is a deep cut for those real old heads. Originally made in France, as many Three Stripes shoes were back then, this baller launched in circa 1983 with somewhat innocuous white leather colourways (to be fair, they weren’t even calling them ‘colourways’ back then) before going for broke and releasing proper luxurious editions like snakeskin and patent leather. There’s something about these in the way the leather is finely crinkled all over, rather than the deep creasing of patent today. Sneakerheads of age will know exactly what this means, but here’s an example to make it clearer.
Katsuya Terada x Nike Dunk Low (2003)Katsuya Terada x Nike Dunk Low (2003)
In 2003-4, Nike invited 25 Japanese artists to interpret the Dunk in unique ways as part of a travelling ‘White Dunk’ exhibition. One of the talents, illustrator Katsuya Terada, completely ignored the ‘White’ part of the brief and created these crazy all-red Lows with patent trim and suede inserts. Only 12 pairs were manufactured – making them one of the rarest Dunks ever – and given to friends and family. Only a couple have emerged on the open market since, with a pair selling at Sotheby’s in late 2020 for a relatively low $5292. Also, ignore its common ‘SB’ moniker on the Internet – this is a ‘regular’ Dunk through and through.
Ato Matsumoto Cowhide Boots (2007)Ato Matsumoto Cowhide Boots (2007)
This very conspicuous sneaker by obscure Japanese label Ato Matsumoto was exposed to the West by none other than Kanye West in the music video to his hit track ‘Stronger’. The red patent flash of these strapped high tops lit up message boards (it was 2007) with fans looking to ID these shoes and also find a Tokyo plug willing to proxy pairs Stateside. Like his current Red Wing 3094 boot phase, Ye has always been a creature of habit, again rocking the Cowhides during his famous Summer Jam 2007 rap battle against Swizz Beatz. The influence of this design (in itself something of a bootleg Dunk) can clearly be seen in its Louis Vuitton and Air Yeezy successors, not to mention the fashion sneaker scene as a whole.
Prada America’s Cup (1997)Prada America’s Cup (1997)
Long before high fashion and sneakers collided in the 2010s as an aesthetic cross-pollination, Prada were in their own lane in the late 1990s with the America’s Cup. Originally created for the Luna Rossa sailing team, this high-end ‘performance’ sneaker – officially known as the Prada Sneaker – touched the shores and never looked back. Lauded for the street status and baller presence denoted by its red stripe, patent leather colourways soon were a mainstay on concrete corners and church aisles alike. The design’s longevity is proven 25 years later as it remains in the Prada offering, and is still referenced by other brands, such as the recent Packer x Reebok Question IV (though sans patent).
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