Sneaker Freaker's Mid-Year Staff Picks 2020
Let’s not beat around the bush, it’s been a pretty rough year so far. While there’s plenty about it we’d like to forget, there’s also been an assortment of memorable sneaker releases that have lightened up our lives (and wallets!)
In between bingeing Tiger King and re-living the Chicago Bulls’ Last Dance, we’ve also analysed the Dunk renaissance and even predicted what Drake’s upcoming Nike collaboration could look like. Clearly, we’ve had plenty to say about the sneakersphere – but which drops have really caught our attention.
Scroll down to find out.
Nike By You Air Force 1 ‘Snakeskin’
To say it’s been a mofo of a year thus far is an understatement. The sneaker game was far from immune to the pandemic as supply-chain nightmares, cancelled anniversary moments, delayed projects and store closures – followed closely by riots, mass looting and even a Facebook revolt – have conspired to cause unmitigated chaos. At the same time, reseller greed has spiralled out of control. Between the industrial-scale flipping platforms taking over and cooked raffles, the average punter is taking far too many Ls. Where it ends is anyone’s guess, but it’s hard not to feel things are overdue for a massive shake-up.
On the product front, the ‘Air Dior’ Jordans cracked skulls everywhere, but as our recent cover of Sneaker Freaker Issue 43 hinted, these joints were made from UNOBTAINIUM! 3000 into 5 million does not compute. Aside from that, the Dunk revival was as predictable as it was entertaining, though the lack of progression made it seem like deja vu all over again. Funny that.
But there is a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. The fact is, some incredible new-generation designs are body slamming shelves at the moment. Between Nike’s Air Terra Antarktik, the ISPA Road Warrior and Flow 2020, Air Zoom Alphafly, Pegasus Trail 2, the entire Space Hippie concept, and even the Yeezy Foam Runners, batshit crazy footwear is all around us. The fact that youngins don’t seem fazed at all is a double-edged sword. These 2020 freakouts might be easy cops as a result, but the lack of feels is not convincing anyone that a renaissance in shoe design is just around the corner.
When times are tough it’s tempting to go back to basics and, in my case, that means the Air Force 1. Unfortunately for mature gents, Nike have decided to treat the AF-1 with clinical disdain and cartoonish derision. God-awful hybrids are bad enough, but the dearth of quality material options in classy colour palettes was enough to make a grown man cry. So, my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I was alerted to the Nike By You snakeskin option – now that’s what I’m talking about! Suede, leather, snake, gum soles and a quirky selection of Pantone swatches was a genius move that was simplicity personified.
Whoever greenlit that offering at Nike iD take a bow! Now, if only I could figure out how to actually design and order a pair (or three) in the 30-second window that Nike By You seems to be open for business I could retire to the couch and call it a W!
New Balance 1300JP (2020 Retro)
Given how unpredictable 2020 has been, the guaranteed return of the mythical New Balance 1300JP offered me some sneaker solace. The irony of a grey suede shoe breaking the ennui of increasingly fruity Nike Dunk and Air Jordan 1 releases is not lost on me. Maybe I’m just beginning to show my age.
Known as the M1300JP3, this retro marked the third return of the 1985 flagship runner outside of its spiritual home in Japan. Eking out the retro details is an exercise in insanity (which you can view here), but the Horween update and blue-tinged mesh help distinguish the latest version.
Undoing the backdoored heartbreak experienced during the 2015 retro, I made amends and funnelled all my luck into getting two pairs this time around. Mission accomplished. Now, there’s an uber-rare Made In Japan version coming later this month that will cost around 70,000 yen. Yeah, I’m already pre-emptively taking a mortgage on my mortgage. The quinquennial quest continues…
Mike Arnold x adidas Skateboarding Copa Nationale
Ever seen a long nose-manual to nollie that’s been tweaked out over a street gap? Yeah, me neither. Mike Arnold has one on his Instagram right now and, frankly, I can’t make any sense of it. It’s goofy and incredibly technical at the same time – which is one of the many reasons I was drawn to his co-signed adidas Skateboarding Copa Nationale! This easily rockable and skate-ready option has quenched my thirst for the athlete-sponsored product for the front half of the year. I just wanna be like Mike.
Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Golf
Reimagining legendary sneaker designs for the golf course has kind of become a thing in the last year or so. The Swoosh stable has led the way, with the Air Max 1, Air Max 97, Air Jordan 5 and Air Jordan 11 all booking tee times over the last little bit. But when Converse Japan prepared low- and high-top Chuck Taylor All Stars for the links, I was really listening.
These didn’t attract much attention at the time, and are actually still available right now, but they represented the perfect sports-to-street-then-back-to-sports crossover in my eyes. Sadly, I didn’t feel I had the panache to pull off the high-tops on course, so I went for the classic black and white low top.
Sure, they haven’t improved my game, but they are comfortably the coolest golf shoes I’ve ever worn, and barely necessitate a change of footwear between the 18th and 19th holes. So that’s a win-win.
Nike Dunk Low ‘Champs Colors’
Admittedly, I’ve had mixed emotions around the contemporary Dunk renaissance. As the sneaker that kick-started my addiction back in the early-2000s, the Dunk Low will always have a special place in my heart, and on my feet. That said, all the hype hullabaloo has been a little hard to stomach at times, while some of the concepts and colourways have left me feeling straight-up queasy.
Thankfully, the rather simple ‘Champs Colors’ Low has come through to restore my faith in the Dunk, giving me a nostalgic throwback to one of my favourite colourways of all time. The ‘Reverse Supa’ was my gateway colourway to the SB Dunk Low back in 2003 – the blue and orange Broncos-themed scheme had me hooked from the second I saw it. Weirdly, the navy and orange University of Virginia hues of the ‘Champs Colors’ almost feels like mature version of the SB Dunk Low I fell in love with all those years ago.
I guess we all got to grow up at some point.
Brain Dead x Reebok Classic Leather
After seeing that teaser post, and looking at the nappy suede, furry laces, and logo replacement, I just knew these needed to be on my feet. I’m a big fan of Brain Dead, but if someone described these shoes to me I’d probably pull a face and say ‘I’d rather pass’. However, there I was, getting overly excited about a sneaker for the first time in a while. The insane marionette video they created (see below) was pretty much a three-minute acid trip, and it was the icing on the cake.
Unfortunately, the excitement soon turned into rage. I was meant to wake up at 3AM, but ended up waking at 3:01 – that was enough to take a big ol’ L. Hopefully I’ll come up on a pair soon.
Don’t Be Mad x New Balance 992
It took me a while to think of my favourite mid-year 2020 release, and then I remembered the Don’t Be Mad x New Balance 992. My delay in making this obvious choice can only be explained by my quashing of the painful memory of this hard-felt L. Oof! This one hurt. It shouldn’t have, because the chance of getting these Chicago and All-Star Weekend exclusives was – let’s be real – zero. In my defence, pics emerged ahead of release details, giving me more than enough time to get my hopes up. I hadn’t wanted a shoe this bad for a hot minute, and the inevitable L stung.
The Joe Freshgoods design released on February 14 this year, and even though its blushing theme referred to the ‘Anatomy of a Heart’ moniker rather than its release date, I fell for these the second they appeared on my feed. I was well and truly in Cupid’s crosshairs. I mean, really, who wouldn’t have heart-eyes at that red-pink-crimson combo? Who wouldn’t swoon at that suede?
Like a bad breakup, the loss has lessened with time, but I’m still left wondering what could have been.
StrangeLove x Nike SB Dunk Low
It’s hard not to fall in love with the StrangeLove x Nike SB Dunk Low. Released in time for Valentine’s Day, I think I wanted these Dunks more than I wanted a date… *Insert cry emoji*
The dichotomy between the sappy holiday of love and the raw energy of skateboarding is captured perfectly by the Lovecraft-esque skull heart creature on the special edition box and on the heel. Constructed with lush velvet/suede, and accompanied with a resale value of over $1k, I doubt many collectors are actually putting any mileage on them. It’s a shame, ‘cause they looked so cool on-foot.
So, am I drunk on the SB Dunk? Or have I simply been pierced by Cupid’s swift arrow?
Stray Rats x New Balance 827
Originally released in 1998, the New Balance 827 is way underrated. The Aimé Leon Dore 827 triple colab from the northern Spring already got me – and many others – excited, but when I saw first teaser pics of the Stray Rats link-up, I needed to have them. The brown mesh underneath brown suede overlays, the reflective gillies, the violet ‘N’ branding, and red rope laces and camouflage ‘Stray Rats’ on the heel are just perfect! It will be tough to bump these out of my top-three sneakers for 2020, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the second half has to offer.
Nike Air Max 90 ‘Cuban Link’
Even though it’s a WMNS release, I managed to grab the largest size of the run – and thankfully they just about fit! While it was the colour (that changes on the medial) that drew me in, it’s the build and materials on this recrafted Air Max 90 that secured the spot on my list. Tumbled leather flows into premium nubuck and mesh, while micro-perforated panels are dotted over the shoe.
Snap that chain off, and we’re good to go!
Yeezy Foam Runner
The Yeezy Foam Runner is straight-up filthy. Like a strange space barnacle floating through the sneakersphere, the Foam Runner blows up the expected with the kind of maximalist bravado only Mr West can muster. Do we really need another Dunk colab or Air Jordan 1 colourway?
And yes, I’ll be wearing these inside, outside, and during my interstellar expeditions to planet ‘Ye.
Wash Us In The Blood of the barnacle, baby.