With 2021 winding down, the Sneaker Freaker staff is finally getting a chance to take a breather... just kidding! We're hard at work bringing you the sneaker stories you crave like always, but we are taking a moment to pause, reflect on the state of the sneaker game in 2021 and identify what our favourite shoes of the year were.
Despite a swath of shipping delays and a ream of release postponements, there was still a smorgasbord of striking sneaker releases to choose from. No matter if you wanted to double down on your Nike Dunk collection, craved some retro runners from the likes of New Balance and ASICS or hankered after a good pair of Air Jordans, there was definitely something for you in 2021 – and there was something for us too.
Without further ado, the Sneaker Freaker staff is proud to present our favourite releases of 2021 to you, our beloved readers. Keep your laces loose!
Audrey – Patta x Nike Air Max 1 'Monarch'
The Patta x Nike Air Max 1 ‘Monarch’ started a wave like no other and has been a staple in my collection ever since. Having created some of the top AM1 colabs of all-time, Patta continue to reign with this release by bringing a unique aesthetic to the shoe's base layer, tongue, sole and insole, and by creating a strong visual across packaging and overall comms rollout. Patta’s focus on the sneaker community is also something to be celebrated, and as friends of SF for well over a decade, selecting them as a cover star of Sneaker Freaker Issue 46 was a given.
Keep riding that wave!
Ross – New Balance 990v3 'Version Series'
I'm the type of guy who spends far too much time agonizing over his pick for an end-of-year list like this one, even when the answer is right in front of my eyes. Should I pick what I feel is the 'best' shoe of the year, or should I pick the shoe that I enjoyed and wore the most over the past 12 months? After twisting myself in knots, I finally came to a clear-eyed decision and selected my most-worn New Balance of the year, the 990v3 'Version Series'. This 990v3 just made everything so simple for me this last summer and fall. How could I not love 'em? They're understated and elegant in classic NB style. They've got a little extra flair, thanks to the red tag under the lateral half of the collar. They look good with any kind of pants you can imagine, and they're so damn comfy. I haven't gotten so much simple joy from throwing the same sneakers on time and time again in many years, and I can only hope I'll find a shoe as good as this one next year too.
Amber – LUISAVIAROMA x ASICS GEL-KYRIOS
For me, the LUISAVIAROMA x ASICS GEL-KYRIOS has set the bar on how to perfectly straddle the line between pure aesthetics and chaos. When I first came across this sneaker I was immediately drawn to the contrast brought about by the midsoles (which are unique per pair!) and the upper. Another big soft spot I have is largely due to its colour palette, which takes me back to my childhood days of getting double scoops of bubblegum and rainbow ice cream! But of course, the real inspiration has come from heat and seismic maps!
Minh – Nike Air Force 1 Mid 'Cool Grey'
The Nike Air Force 1 Mid in ‘Cool Grey’ is another promising sign of a return to form for the brand’s retro department. For this particular release, all of the pertinent details were lovingly restored for a result greater than the sum of its parts. ’Super Jewel’ Swooshes, NYC embroidery on key areas, plus some surprisingly decent leather for a mass-produced sneaker in 2021 can only guarantee satisfaction for all but the pickiest collectors. As next year is the 40th anniversary of one of the all-time greatest sneakers, there will only be an uptick in great Uptowns. Bring on 2022!
Lucas – Salomon XT-4 ADV Tie Dye
I flock to colour like a hippie to blotting paper printed with a psychedelic illustration of Hunter S Thompson riding a bat, and coincidentally, my favourite sneaker from 2021 is the Salomon XT-4 'Tie-Dye’. A slightly unexpected choice for me seeing as when I first eyed them I was put off by the abundance of navy blue, a colour I despise (perhaps this has something to do with the fact my school uniform was navy and gold, or the fact that dark blue might think it’s black, but it just ain't – stick in your lane navy!). But then on the flip side, there’s a lilac stripe wrapping around the shoe and an orgy of colour splattered on the mesh upper, two things I completely jive with. After trying to balance on the fence for a week after launch, I lost my footing and tumbled to one side while my Visa card disembarked from my wallet and made contact with the check out on salomon.com, securing a pair of these tie-dye dynamo's right on my feet. Smooth landing, and one without a single graze of regret. The XT-4 is my favourite Salomon silo with its rigid support, saw-tooth grip, rubber toecap, air-conditioning mesh and easy-peasy quick laces, so when it was doused in colour and set alight with a lilac flame, I was smitten.
Cesca – Nike Air Max 96 'Mystic Teal'
Look, this release may have garnered its fair share of controversy, but bubble size schmubble size, I say. Some people may not agree, but I prefer the 2021 Air set up to the 2016 version. Sue me.
All that to say, despite the sub-optimal materials, five years of anticipation meant that I was going to get these no matter what.
Seb – Angelo Baque x ASICS GEL-Kayano 14
2021 was very unpredictable, but not nearly as much as my sneaker rotation. I jumped in and out of phases, only wearing New Balance, getting really into mules, buying into the Gorp hype and swearing off Nike, but in all this change one thing remained constant, my love for ASICS.
I’ve always been a fan of the brand, but in 2021 I doubled down in my consumption. I copped plenty, but the standout of the year for me was the GEL-Kayano 14, specifically the Angelo Baque collaboration. Ever since copping these have seen around three to four wears per week! I have no idea whether it’s the shape or the colours, but I can’t get over how good these look on-foot. I also must add that I have never bricked a fit while rocking these. Shoutout to Angelo for making the sneaker of the year!
Anthony – Brain Dead x ASICS TRABUCO MAX 'BD Chaos Slime'
To understand my pick for this year, you have to understand my respect for Kyle Ng of Brain Dead. Over the past few years, he's been on a mission to bridge table-top nerd culture with streetwear via organic and authentic collaborations. The numerous Brain Dead x Magic the Gathering collections are a perfect example of how Kyle shines a light on something that's been seen as ‘lame’ for the longest time.
As a nerd who loves Magic the Gathering and Warhammer 40k miniatures, Brain Dead gives guys like me the cultural space to express ourselves, which is why I love the Brain Dead x ASICS
‘BD Chaos Slime’ so much: it's a sneaker that is quite literally dripping in 90s table-top gaming nostalgia. If you placed these Trabuco Max on my Warhammer table surrounded by warring space marines you would probably mistake them for an alien warship. And those slime green soles? Ooft. If I haven’t convinced you that these are the best shoes of this year, then please check out their epic trailer – that'll definitely sway you.
Gabe – A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3
A Ma Maniére dialled it up to 100 with their Air Jordan 3 collaboration in April, the luxury link-up undoubtedly my favourite sneaker of 2021. An aesthetic tour de force, the storytelling behind the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3 was also on point, the ‘Raised by Women’ concept focussing on female sneakerheads, and even giving them first dibs at securing a pair! 'It has been our priority all along to ensure women, especially Black women, have access to this very special project as it launches', said owner James Whitner. 'Our team has worked hard to ensure we are able to change the narrative on special launches and we are here to redefine what it means to serve Her first'. More of this in 2022, please!