Clear Kicks: A Brief History of See-Through Sneakers
The recent release of the Supreme x Nike Air Max 96 featuring translucent panelling has spurred fond memories of the multiple times the sneaker industry tried – to varying degrees of success – to make see-through uppers a thing. Perhaps it was voyeuristic curiosity, or maybe it was experimenting for the sake of experimenting, but it’s pretty clear that this translucent trend has repeatedly tried to take off. Here’s a look back down memory lane at some of the times sneakers went see-through.
Nike LDV Prototype (Late 1970s-Early 1980s)
Contrary to popular belief, and sneaker media reportage, the practice of see-through sneakers actually dates as far back as the late 1970s. One of Nike’s early successes, the LDV (Long Distance Vector) was prototyped in clear plastic, and used to study the foot in motion. It’d be pretty amazing to see the video footage that Nike recorded, but these crazy kicks are enough proof that clear sneakers weren’t born just yesterday.
ESPO x Nike Air Force 2 (2004)
Steve Powers aka ESPO (Exterior Surface Painting Outreach) is responsible for inarguably the most hyped Nike Air Force 2 ever. The graffiti-turned-‘serious’ painter was part of 2004’s Nike Artist Series alongside the Pharrell/N.E.R.D. Dunk and Halle Berry Air Rift. ESPO marked his colab with transparent toe boxes and vamps, overlaid with blue reflective panels, and finished by graphic underlays in the ice sole. This shoe is more or less responsible for the clear sneakers that followed it.
CLOT x Nike Air Max 1 ‘Kiss of Death’ (2006 and 2021)
Edison Chen’s CLOT first linked up with Nike in 2006 on the Air Max 1 ‘Kiss of Death’. The story has been fairly well documented over the years, especially in recent months (the KOD was reissued in March 2021), but the divisive opinions still persist. The fact the retro – and a reissue (of sorts) of the ‘Cha’ prototype – hasn’t matched the same fervour as 2006 is proof that the clear toe box is not every sneakerhead’s cup of cha.
Nike Air Force 1 Premium ‘Invisible Woman’ (2006)
There was quite some notoriety when the ‘Invisible Woman’ Air Force 1 released back in 2006 as part of the unofficial ‘Fantastic Four’ pack. ESPO’s AF-2 was super rare and only ended up in art and/or sneaker collectors’ hands, but the ‘Invisible Woman’ went much wider into the sneakersphere. They weren’t ready to show off this much sock! The leather was pretty nice; so was the Dri-Sphere lining. There was also a purple-tinged women’s edition. This release was largely a catalyst for…
Countless Fake See-Through Nikes and Jordans (The 2000s)
The 2000s were truly a glorious time for fake see-through sneakers. Pretty much every Air Jordan between 1 and 14 (remember, they only retroed the 14 in 2005) had a knockoff clear version that could be picked up for under $100 on an unsecured corner of Web 1.0 e-commerce. Air Force 1s were also a common culprit for the translucent treatment. In fact, AF-1 collector pgknows pranked StockX authenticators in 2019 with a pair of ‘employee issued’ UPS AF-1s with clear toe boxes. Good times.
ACU x VA x adidas Consortium 3-Way Samba ‘Shuttlecock’ (2009)
It’s not a Sneaker Freaker list without an obscure deep cut from the late 2000s, so here it is. ACU, the Shanghai-based boutique with ties to CLOT, linked up with Tokyo select store VA and adidas Consortium for this ‘3-Way’ pack and concocted a shuttlecock-inspired Samba. The zany colourway reserved some real estate for completely clear panels, potentially intending to leave the practice behind in the decade that followed. Until…
Air Jordan 2010 (2010)
As recently explored in ‘The Forgotten Sneaker Anniversaries of 2020’, the Air Jordan 2010 has been outcast into obscurity, but it certainly drew strong opinions a decade ago. The aforementioned fugazi clear Jordan thing somehow literally went full circle with the AJ2010 introducing a see-through TPU mid-foot ‘window’. Which requires bringing up again the curious PR quote from designers Tinker Hatfield, and Mark Parker: ‘[The AJ2010] allow[ed] the players to only see what he [Michael Jordan] wanted them to see on the court’.
Comme des Garçons x Nike Dunk High (2017)
Fast forward a few years, and Nike again tried with clear sneakers (notwithstanding unmentionable experiments like the Nike iD AF-1 option in 2013) in 2017 by calling on the sizeable cachet of Japanese fashion house Comme des Garçons. And they boldly chose the Dunk (especially during its lull period) for their see-through execution. Perhaps it was the balanced black overlays that made these more wearable than previous clear kicks, but they proved a hit. According to CdG’s Rei Kawakubo, the Dunks were inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fable The Emperor’s New Clothes. Figure that one out.
Blondey x adidas Skateboarding Superstar (2019–20)
Shouts to Blondey McCoy, who successfully proved clear sneakers were skateable. His handful of Superstars were more tasteful IRL/on the feed than they sounded on paper, possibly thanks to the supplied socks being tonal and complementary. The smoky black and icy blue pair also made it much less obvious the Shelltoes were see-through.
Supreme x Nike Air Max 96 (2021)
And this brings things full circle to 2021 when Supreme dropped their most controversial Nike colab yet (well, the Goadomes were pretty contentious too) with the Air Max 96. Silver, black and camo colourways are par the course for the ‘preme, but Internet commentary went into overdrive as soon as it was revealed the uppers had copious clear sections. Check out how sneakerheads are styling them here. Thus, the Supreme AM96 is certainly not the first sneaker to go see-through, and it probably won’t be the last.