Sneaker Freaker’s 2022 Staff Picks
It’s that time again! Despite front-row seats to some hefty industry shake-ups throughout 2022, the sneakersphere still got its fair share of spicy collaborations and coveted retros.
An illustrious colourway found itself back in rotation. The Air Max 97 celebrated its 25th year with the rerelease of a cult favourite. GORPcore trekked on with a few slick, innovative releases. Some sneakers grew hair. Customisers had a blast. Hello Kitty got a lotta love. And whaddayaknow, so did that black-and-white Dunk.
Of course, Sneaker Freaker staffers were there for it all. So, as is tradition, here are the in-house favourites of 2022!
Whattayear 2022 was! There was plenty of creative upside across the board, but no game-changing innovations or new technology emerged to shake up the footwear status quo. As a result, my end-of-year list is an evenly spread field of worthy candidates, but you have to hand the brand award to New Balance – their highlights reel ran deep into overtime. From Joe Freshgoods to Up There via Bembury and Bodega (loved the low-key 574 Legacy), the NB colab output rocked steady and impressively deep. Shout-out also to the Protection Pack in purp ‘n pink – that pair featured heavily in my personal rotation. I’m not sure I can think of a single fail from NB this year. Kudos to the product team.
If there was an award for an under-appreciated GR retro, my pick would be the ASICS EX89 – a worthy contender to the throne currently occupied by the NB 550 and AF-1. Time will tell if Ronnie Fieg’s astute co-brand can kickstart this finely proportioned low-top baller, but given the marketing push it deserves, the EX89 is one shoe that could easily go overground in 2023.
Repurposing bootleg culture is an intellectually naff idea in many ways, but there was no denying the power of the Louis Vuitton x Nike campaign. Sold via auction at Sotheby’s, the prices rocketed quickly to six figures and set a new benchmark for investment-grade opportunism. We’ve seen the pop culture/sneaker crossover explode before – notably with the Air Mags and ‘Satan’ Air Max 97s – but the LV x AF-1 release was one moment that will take some time to top. Virgil’s passing has clearly left a deep creative crater and represents the end of an era for the Louis Vuitton x Swoosh partnership. ‘Where to from here?’ is the big question for Nike.
Other outstanding moments from 2022 that deserve acknowledgment include the 24 Kilates V7000 ‘Friends for Life’, the hilarious MSCHF AC1, Foot Locker’s retro of the Air Max Plus ‘Tides’ and the Sneaker Freaker x atmos ‘Alley Cats’ GEL-LYTE III (of course!).
Still, one shoe must be crowned above all others, and so it came to pass that I circled my wagons around a release that hasn’t even hit the streets yet. The traditional-ish moonboot, which recalls some of ACG’s finest moments, was laced with ‘Tread’ and ‘Lightly’ sole callouts, three layers of batshit-crazy marbled foam and a jacked-up stance that defies outdoor performance logic. Indeed, the Off-White Terra Forma is far from less-is-more – and it’s all the better for it. Bravo!
Audrey – A Ma Maniére Air Jordan 4
The Air Jordan 4 has remained one of the most iconic silhouettes since the ‘Black Cement’ and ‘White Cement’ colourways were teased in Sports Illustrated back in November 1988. And then there was that iconic 1989 All-Star Game where His Airness debuted the ‘Black Cement’ on the hardwood, scoring 28 points.
Fast forward to 2022, and we saw an A Ma Maniére and Air Jordan 4 collaboration drop. This release, for me, was the sweet cherry on top of the year that was 2022. The premium materials – the luxurious full-nubuck construction and that quilted lining – hero a colourway mainly consisting of ‘Violet Ore’, utilising a purple-toned upper and a creamy midsole. It’s a beautiful piece.
But there’s so much more to it than that.
This release from A Ma Maniére, according to the revolutionary James Whitner and his team, was inspired by the Black and Brown leaders changing the world from the heart of their community with purpose, passion and vision. It’s a release led by values and inspired by creating generational change. Spurred on by the importance of standing up in the face of adversity and divisiveness. Driven by the idea that we can use our voices for a better future – because the future depends on us all.
Minh – Up There x New Balance 2002R ‘Backyard Legends’
After personally witnessing Up There grow for over a decade, their first collaboration with New Balance was very well deserved, if not severely overdue. The 2002R ‘Backyard Legends’ is an NB nerd’s dream, filled with micro and macro details to pore over. UT didn’t just spin the Pantone wheel of fortune, either. Just about every panel, material and colour was changed to create a truly unique colab – just peep the ‘AUS’ tongues! I don’t often double up on shoes these days, but I had to for these. Their follow-up SMU, the ‘Backyard Legends II’, is also a late contender for SOTY.
Chris – Gucci x adidas Gazelle
There weren’t many drops I really lusted for this year, but this Guccified Gazelle has been living rent-free in my head for months. A handful of colourways came with this drop, including a Gucci monogram version and a popping pink one, but I’m a big fan of this green version with a gum sole. Unfortunately, the price tag of $850 made these Gazelles prohibitively expensive.
Seb – Nike Air Kukini ‘Summit White/Aviator Grey’
When creating my end-of-year content, I contemplated my shoe of 2022. It wasn’t easy to make a choice because there were so many iterations that had me excited this year! The Stray Rats x New Balance 580 was near-perfect, Supreme bringing back the Air Max TL was epic, and the Yu-Gi-Oh x adidas collection was nostalgic AF! But one shoe that really stole my heart was the Nike Air Kukini. As an Alpha Project stan, I was ecstatic the minute I caught wind of a retro, and I instantly copped the ‘Topography’ pair when it dropped. I’m currently thinking about the ‘Leopard’ colourway – my size is sitting and on sale right now.
Will – Nike ACG Air Mada ‘Light Stone/Mineral Slate’
Year of the Tiger? Year of the collaborative cash-in! Just kidding – I’d fucking love a pair of those quixotic Andersson Bell x ASICS GEL-Sonoma 15-50s. Still, I thought I’d pick a shoe that managed to force its way into my rotation through sheer determination. And thanks to a ream of super-smooth colourways, this year’s Air Mada camped out in my subconscious till I copped a pair. Maybe its materials aren’t as outdoor-ready as the OG, but when a silhouette mixes sleek, heritage tones with pops of vibrance as seamlessly as this, I kinda don’t care.
Lucas – KAR x Salomon ACS Pro Advanced ‘Dazzling Blue/Pink Glo’
Sneakers bring me a lot of joy, but it’s even better when they catch someone else’s eye and spark a smile. This happens on the regular when I sport the neon KAR x Salomon ACS Pro colab from 2022. Like a bright, sleek sports car, people can’t keep their eyes off them! Now to hunt down the traffic light colourway from the pack and cause some real congestion.
Amber – Hysteric Glamour x Kiko Kostadinov x ASICS GEL-Quantum Lylia
For a while now, collaborations in the industry have remained at a point of saturation, but there’s always room for something totally unexpected and outside the box. Leave it up to this trio of brands to pull together something like the GEL-Quantum Lylia, a ‘bricolage’ of ASICS models that brought together the best of Hysteric Glamour and, of course, the Kiko Kostadinov x ASICS partnership. Also, as it’s a women’s iteration, co-directors of womenswear at Kiko Kostadinov, Laura and Deanna Fanning, were integral to its inception – and they nailed it! (Here’s to more female-led projects in 2023!) Getting my hands on a pair certainly wasn’t easy, and the price point hurt the old bank account a little bit, but what was I gonna do? Say no?
Gabe – New Balance 990v3 ‘Grey/Blue’
The first time I ever laced the New Balance 990v3, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was stoked to see New Balance throw support behind the model this year. My all-time favourite New Balance silhouette, the 990v3, appeared in a starburst of superlative colourways this year thanks to New York’s inimitable Teddy Santis. Yes, they’re a little spenny, but wearing the v3 is like cruising in a limousine all summer long.
Anthony – Wales Bonner x adidas WB Samba Cream
For the past few years, I’ve been stranded in a sea of Dunks and tech shoes. Nike. Salomon. ASICS. There was no escape. But this year, shimmering in the distance, I saw a beacon of light. A heavenly call from Gaea, mother of all life, and a glimmer of hope that 2023 will be different, that I will soon be freed from this cruel ocean. That beacon, materialising with a pop of colour and simplicity, was the adidas x Wales Bonner Samba Cream (and those Gucci x adidas Gazelles). I could kiss those beautiful gum soles! There are already some pretty GRs available, and I hope adidas keep them coming in 2023.
Cesca – New Balance 990v3 ‘Olive Leaf’
Something’s come over me this year. Contrary to my past habits, I’ve bought way fewer sneakers than usual. Counting the ones arriving momentarily, I’ve only bought three pairs over the last twelve months, so this year, I have a much smaller pool to choose my EOY top pick. That said, my choice was easy, and the Teddy Santis-curated 990v3 ‘Olive Leaf’ was a clear winner. The perfect contrast between green and purple. The multi-tone midsole. The comfort (my god, the comfort!). These had my vote as soon as they came out of the box.
Simon – Bodega x Clarks Originals Wallabee ‘Heritage Patchwork’
Maybe it’s that I’m growing up and growing old, but the simplicity of the Wallabee silhouette wrapped in rich, complex textures evokes the feeling of maturing in the same old body while gaining a new sophisticated view of the world that only comes with time and experience. Now get off my lawn.