Sneaker Freaker's 2018 Staff Picks
Blogging about sneakers is a rough life. Regardless of whether your passion lies in retro Air Max, bygone adidas Originals, or hallowed SBs, the news cycle will shackle your hands to a keyboard to cover some excruciating events. You can laugh, but it’s true. But filtered through all the filthy Margielas and Post Malone Crocs beam rays of sunshine to brighten our days.
These are the sneakers that make it all worthwhile, and keep us frothing on materials and detailing invisible to normies. These are the sneakers that we gagged for most this year: Sneaker Freaker’s Staff Picks of 2018.
WOODY: 24 KILATES x ASICS GEL-LYTE III '24 KILATES EXPRESS'
There was no shortage of random heat-seeking missiles this year, but like Teflon, nothing seemed to stick and deciphering the long-term health implications was hard to predict. But here’s what we have ascertained. The #coolshit™ officially ruled 2018 and anything outside that self-inflicted paradigm struggled to cut through the noise. At brand level, the switcheroo was brutal. Nike's colossal cojones were back in town and Jordan totally turned the tables after adidas took the number two crown from them the previous year. Yeezy’s golden sheen was tarnished while the Three Stripes called for a defibrillator. The decline in boutique-driven colabs was also noticeable – and totally expected – after the ginormous glut that clogged arteries in 2017. As a result, plenty of worthy projects seemed to fly under the radar with barely a ripple of interest. Retro running – finally! – ran outta puff, while Dad Shoes, idiot-fashion-savants and unlikely retro reissues all had their micro moments in the sun. Unfortunately, Nike's overkillification of Virgil decapitated what should have been a significant legacy. When will people learn... less is ALWAYS more!
In all honesty, there was only one release that made my sweat buds pulsate, but anointing the Undercover React Element 87 as numero uno just seems utterly predictable and, therefore, completely pointless. Every colourway was radical, and the model’s hard-to-pinpoint newfangledness was THE breath of fresh air that everybody needed in 2018.
But there is always a joker in the pack, and that was the Barcelona- and Bangkok-based 24 Kilates. If you follow their impeccable track record of colabs, you’ll appreciate the maverick 24KTS sense of style. Never predictable or falling for the corny/lazy/easy option, Pol Fanlo and his team always go for broke. Case in point was their GEL-Lyte III ‘24 Kilates Express’. Admittedly the railroad theme was a stretch, but the magnificent jungle drone video brought it all home – there was no escaping the batshit bonkers mix of emerald green, chestnut suede, ivory nubuck, and that unique shade of toddler vomit. It takes balls to knock out such a crazy combo, and incredible finesse to make it all gel harmoniously. Considering the GEL-Lyte III is hardly a household name at the moment, this is an even more worthy winner. Kudos to Kilates, this was an ambitious project that made my day, and my year.
Special mentions to the Air Max Deluxe, Mike Packer’s EQT Cushion ‘91, Afew’s ‘Koi Club’ ASICS, Carhartt’s Air Max 95, and the OG orange Air Terra Humara.
BOON MARK SOUPHANH: DRAGON BALL Z x ADIDAS ZX500 RM 'GOKU'
The Dragon Ball Z x adidas collection was pretty much adidas’ version of the Spirit Bomb. It felt like it took forever to charge up but, when it did, it went off with a bang big enough to destroy Namek 10 times over. The ZX 500 RM ‘Son Goku’ was part of the collection’s first wave, kicking off the seven-sneaker release rollout in Super Saiyan style. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there…
The subsequent releases garnered a lukewarm response from sneakerheads and DBZ-diehards alike, but the ZX 500 RM ‘Son Goku’ remains the collection’s MVP — and for good reason. The complementary orange and blue colour scheme is an unmistakable ode to the anime’s main protagonist, while the character-inspired detailing just appeals to my inner (and occasionally outer) nerd. Aesthetics aside, it’s hands-down the most comfortable sneaker I’ve copped this year — the chunky BOOST sole feels like I’m ridin’ a nimbus.
What’s my scouter say? Over 9000 plus some.
AUDREY BUGEJA: NIKE AIR FEAR OF GOD 1 (LIGHT BONE)
Looking beyond the ‘celeb x mega brand = one very hyped collection’ focus, there’s more than meets the eye to my 2018 pick. The Nike Air Fear of God 1 dropped after much anticipation, and the big wide world knew the masterminds behind it.
Jerry Lorenzo needs no introduction. He has built a brand on conviction, and from following his own mission, which he’s taken across to his colab with the Swoosh.
The most appealing part of this release is the design aesthetic, and some of the finer details that I was taken through when chatting to Jerry and Nike’s Leo Chang last month. This colab is a match made in heaven. Jerry has created a performance shoe that can be worn on and off the court, while always giving the user the beautiful feeling of wearing a piece of fashion that they can feel really good to be in.
The sleek design features a heavy sole unit that houses a dual-stacked Zoom Air unit for plush cushioning, as well as the carefully considered touch of the luxurious leather on the upper. And, it’s true, I really do love a high-top boot-style shoe — especially when it’s done so right. Not over branded — I wouldn’t be writing about it if it was — the shoe features some key design elements, including the Air Huarache Light—inspired cage, thick laces, and a little dynamic Flywire.
We’ll be sharing the full interview with Jerry and Leo in Issue 41 of Sneaker Freaker magazine. Stay tuned! #magplug
ROB MARFELL: NIKE AIR MAX PLUS ‘ORANGE TIGER’ RETRO
As a New Zealand expat trying to assimilate in Australia, no 2018 release got me going quite like the ‘Orange Tiger’ Air Max Plus.
Sneakers are ‘if you know, you know’ signifiers that communicate our tastes, interests and backgrounds. Down Under, few sneakers speak louder than the TN — especially the OG. They paint them on cars, make bongs out of them, and bite each other’s cheeks for them. Even though TNs were inspired by Floridian vistas, Aussies love to claim other countries’ things and sneakerheads here have adopted them as a point of national pride.
For me, lacing up in Orange Tiger TNs is like holding an Australian passport. Since I started wearing them, not one person has mocked the way I say ‘deck’. I wore them to the Australian embassy to sort out a Visa issue and security actually said ‘welcome home’. Last weekend, I wore them to Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo and a kangaroo legit shook my hand. No lie.
Sneaker of the year? Easy. Struth, these might be my favourite sneaker ever.
DAN PURNELL: KENDRICK LAMAR x NIKE CORTEZ KENNY IV 'HOUSE SHOE'
The raffle gods finally blessed me after multiple Ls throughout the year. Kendrick released yet another Nike that triggers my emotions, this time it's the desire of a comfortable chilled day.
Quilting, no laces and a slip on?! You can’t kill my vibe.
CESCA BENSON: ATMOS x NIKE AIR MAX 1 'ANIMAL 2.0'
Sometimes you feel the pang of sneaker regret as soon as a shoe releases and sells out. Other times you don’t feel it until months later when you realise, ‘Hey, these are actually dope. What the hell was I thinking by sleeping on them.’ And that’s exactly what happened to me about halfway through the year with the atmos x Nike Air Max 1 ‘Animal 2.0’.
But then, just as I resigned myself to the L, atmos announced a restock. What a turn of events!
I mean, really, what is there not to love? The over-the-top mix of animal prints, the contrasting Swoosh and Nike Air branding, and the four (!) pairs of laces. They’re one of the only shoes I’ve bought this year that I still get really excited about, so you know they’ve got staying power. Now I’ve just got to keep them looking fresh.
SEB BUGEJA-DRINKELL: KIKO KOSTADINOV x ASICS GEL-BURZ 1
Whatever your feelings are towards the fashion industry, you can’t deny that over the past few years the sneaker and fashion universes have merged. If you’re like me and you share a love for both worlds, you would be having a field day witnessing your favourite designers work on amazing sneaker silhouettes.
A designer I have been keeping my eye on over the past year has been Kiko Kostadinov. Making quite a splash on the menswear scene lately, he is also guilty of reigniting my love for ASICS. The GEL-Burz 1 which made its debut in the fashion world earlier this year brought back memories of when mum would take me to the outlets to buy a $50 pair of ASICS for me to absolutely trash.
Although collaborating with a high-end designer as experimental as Kostadinov, it seemed ASICS still wanted to keep this a functional athletic shoe. This justifies the hefty retail price, but it also pushes boundaries by providing a sneaker that is functional yet fashionable. The perfect kick for everyday use, you will be able to power through days where you have a hectic gym sesh at 3:00pm but still have to make a fashion week appearance at 4:30pm.
GED MCMAHON: AIR JORDAN 1 'NOT FOR RESALE'
As a relative newbie to the sneaker scene, my favourite shoe of 2018 was the one that gave me the whackiest insight into the kind of odd things that can happen in the sneakersphere. Solebox’s insistence on making buyers wear their new Parra x Nike kicks out the door on release day happened in my first week at Sneaker Freaker, giving me an immediate crash course on the whole reselling phenomenon. A couple of months later, the Jumpman picked this theme up and ran with it, going coast-to-coast with all the ferocity and panache of MJ himself.
The ‘Not for Resale’ Air Jordan 1 was covered in references to the contentious resale market, with ‘PLEASE CREASE’ emblazoned across the toe box, and ‘NO PHOTOS’ embroidered across the heels. But the real kicker was ‘NOT FOR RESALE’ screaming out across the midsole, practically taunting the avid resellers with the kind of reverse psychology that my older brother used to leverage to get me to do things for him when we were kids.
Having whipped everyone into a frenzy, the pandemonium on drop day was predictable, as was the move by some retailers to force their customers to wear their new AJ1s out the door — minus the shoebox no less. But the absolute clincher for me was the anonymous retailer that forced all buyers to drop and give them 20... push-ups. It was a deliberate ploy to make everyone live the ‘PLEASE CREASE’ appeal on the toe box, and it delivered just the right amount of absurdity to warm my cold old heart. Buyer beware!
GABE FILIPPA: UNDERCOVER x NIKE REACT ELEMENT 87
The Nike React Element 87 was the closest sneaker to a living, breathing organism in 2018, the idiosyncratic silhouette storming onto the global sneaker scene to place emphasis on a new kind of drip born from translucent uppers: sock game.
In a world of Falcons, M2Ks, the Triple S, and Disruptors, the React Element 87 broke up the constant parade of hefty sneakers. Nike’s sleeker, more inventive build generated some real heat that reached its boiling point when Undercover’s Jun Takahashi took hold of the silhouette back in September.
Let’s hope this is the start of some more bold designs in 2019.
JACOB BOYD-SKINNER: STRAY RATS x NEW BALANCE 990v3
Weird and insane footwear generally grab my attention. However, there is something else that should feature in any respected enthusiast’s collection: a few recovery shoes. I stand by the notion that no rotation is complete without them — call me a sucker for form and function if you dare!
2018 saw a lot of intriguing and, at times, insane size 9s slide from my screen, and subsequently into my shopping cart. However, the Stray Rats rendition of the New Balance 990 took the cake. It offers all of the things I love packaged together. It’s both incredible and incredibly ugly. The wildly offensive combination of purple and green pigskin suede topped off with a speckled grey sole unit is actually very subtle. If you’ve never graced the balls of your feet with the ENCAP sole unit, you should set your sights on some. You won’t regret it.
As the year comes to a close, Stray Rats have announced that they’ll again be partnering with New Balance for a second rendition which flips the black panelling and uppers for a lighter grey. So I’m looking at you Julian, hook me up! If you copped an L on Stray Rats’ first release, and don’t think you’ll be quick enough to get it into your cart, think about customising your own. It won’t come with the Stray Rats branded box, but that’s about as close as you’ll get to securing a pair if you initially missed out.