It might surprise you to know that Sneaker Freaker’s staff aren’t in love with every single shoe we write about.
Throughout the year, we cover everything from obscure N9000s to the market-crushing Tanjun because we know there’s someone out there loving each sneaker like only a mother could. But, come December, we take a moment to selfishly champion our own interests. Some found it too hard to cherry pick favourites, others have signed out for the year (happy holidays, boss), but the rest have delivered honest takes on the sneakers that excited them the most.
The following is a rundown of footwear’s finest as written by their biggest fans: Sneaker Freaker’s staff picks of 2017.
ROB MARFELL: BALENCIAGA TRIPLE S
In a year of punching out articles about the sneaker industry, no release brought me as much joy as Balenciaga’s Triple S. The sneaker is pure ignorance. It’s a Chief Keef song in a shoe. It’s what happens when a brand trolls the clouty fashion cognoscenti following its every move just to see if they’ll bite.
Blind faith in a higher power had blue-tick wielding accounts defending its ugliness across every social platform — reciting their ‘that’s the point’ mantra in a manner that was laughable, but accurate. Where they strayed was in trying to rationalise its RRP.
The Triple S is a stupid shoe with a stupid price point, and doesn’t have to be anything more. No, I don’t own it; nor will I buy it. I’ve picked it as my sneaker of the year because, when every other release is clamouring to distil meaning from vague historic references, the Triple S mocked them with footwear’s version of mumble rap. It’s not as high-brow as we expect from high fashion, but sometimes choosing to go dumb is a stroke of genius.
VINNY TANG: ADIDAS FUTURECRAFT 4D
It’s been a pivotal year for the footwear industry. It felt like there were more releases than ever before, and the growing pains were evident as brands, retailers and consumers alike struggled to keep up with the pace.
While the brute-force approach to pushing crap over the line with sheer willpower and marketing dollars hasn’t been successful for everyone (all the brands have taken L’s on this front; some more than others), the refinement of the collaboration model that choked up our newsfeeds in years prior produced some really great product. Although the paint-by-numbers colabs will always be present, many were cut and the value of a true partnership proved more powerful than ever. Fashion houses reclaimed their halo positioning by outplaying streetwear at its own game, and the resulting ‘premium’ footwear offerings made victims out of tragic fashionistas with too much pocket money. The ever-present normcore aesthetic made ‘dad shoes’ a thing — and it’ll continue to play out in 2018 – although core readers of SF have always championed the 993s and Spiridons of the sneaker world anyway.
But this year, the biggest development has to be innovation in performance and manufacturing – it feels like an industry entrenched in the past is looking to the future again. The celebrations of heritage and iconic design cues still play a large part in the overall narrative, but the most ambitious innovation plays in 2017 have led to the coolest sneaker releases in my opinion. The Zoom Vaporfly Elite put Nike’s money where its marketing mouth is and has become a marathon champion – and the striking design that showcases the new ZoomX technology evokes the sense of enthusiasm I haven’t felt for new product in a long time. But that same level of excitement is the reason why I decided to choose another shoe for my pick of the year: the Futurecraft 4D trumps everything that came before or after it in 2017.
I know adidas isn’t the first one to utilise 3D-printed sole designs, but the overall execution and the mystique surrounding the Futurecraft banner is what sets it apart. The initial 2016 Futurecraft was pretty amazing, but unfortunately it seemed like the technology hadn’t been refined yet and the result was a sole unit that looked and felt brittle. Under Armor’s 3D-printed shoe was impressive, too, although it lacked the oomph of adidas’ creation, not to mention the upper absolutely sucked. The bottom line is that the 4D is a potential preview into the future of footwear design, and a genuine evolution of the UltraBOOST design aesthetic that originally put adidas within a puncher’s chance of toppling the Swoosh. I ain’t gonne lie though, making it an ultra-exclusive ‘friends and family’ release definitely helped drive the hype levels through the roof and weighed into my decision for sure. Who knows, 3D printing shoes might turn out to be a gimmick after all. But for right now, it is a promising sign that confirms the Three Stripes aren’t ready to rest on their laurels just yet.
BOON MARK SOUPHANH: TOM SACHS x NIKECRAFT MARS YARD 2.0
Tom Sachs and NIKECraft have successfully brought the boys to the Mars Yard this year, including me. Admittedly, I did feel a little ‘basic’ choosing arguably the year’s most sought-after release as my favourite sneaker of 2017. That being said, I simply couldn’t go past this shoe for its, well, basicness — it’s designed for lab-dwelling rocket scientists, after all.
Renowned for developing products for athletes, NIKECraft flipped the script with the Mars Yard 2.0, designing the shoe for leading mechanical engineer Tommaso Rivellini of Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. In fact, the Vectran fabric from the Mars Excursion Rover airbags he invented is used in shoe’s upper, as well as detailing from Apollo Lunar Overshoes. Too cool.,
In a year filled with big bubbles, streamlined sock styles and dad-chic disasters, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards the Tom Sachs x NIKECraft Mars Yard 2.0 in 2017. While combining modern tech with heritage-inspired designs is nothing new, Sachs has managed to create an avant-garde retro runner that will be breaking sneakerhead hearts and bank accounts for years to come.
ADAM JANE: ADIDAS WINTERHILL SPZL
When confronted with the question of which 2017 release I would enlist the prestigious legion of SF staff favourite, I was faced with some difficult decisions. Should I go for the most hyped thing I managed to get my hands on so I could flex the sheer glory of my purchasing power? Perhaps I could recount some remarkable sporting achievement and tell the tale of the shoe I was wearing. I could dip into the dark corners of avant-garde style to shine a light on my far-reaching brand awareness. No, in the end the answer was obvious: I chose the adidas Winterhill SPZL Boost.
The past 12 months have been kind to wilderness wannabes like me. Nike’s ACG redux was studded with gems while New Balance’s Trailbuster turnout keeps me on my toes. But the Winterhill caught my eye for its undeniable outdoorsman clout courtesy of its design muse, the signature boot of Reinhold Messner, a mountaineering legend. To put it into perspective, Messner is the Michael Jordan of mountain climbing, except he’s got better hair. Given that they were released as part of adidas’ carefully curated SPEZIAL line, I knew that they’d be built to the exacting standards of Gary Aspden. That knowledge prompted me to do something I try to avoid – I paid full price!
Since taking ownership of the cool-grey killers I’ve given them some serious wear – that was, of course, only after I was done caressing the smooth suede and luscious leather panelling. They’re crazy comfortable, they’re not played out and that rubber mudguard keeps your toes safe on even the stickiest pub carpets — I can’t think of any boxes the Winterhill SPZL doesn’t tick.
DAN PURNELL: NIKE ZOOM VAPORFLY ELITE
As photographer at Sneaker Freaker, picking a shoe that stands out from the hundreds (maybe even thousands) I see every year is usually a difficult task. But not this year. It’s the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite — no contest.
The shoe is specifically designed to break a near-impossible time barrier (the sub two-hour marathon) and jammed to the nines with tech. Style-wise it’s an aggressive silhouette, even for a running shoe, yet it’s sleek and clean at the same time. We’ve seen the Zoom Vaporfly Elite flexed by new-gen runners like Knox Robinson from Black Roses NYC running crew, and legendary Eliud Kipchoge in the Berlin Marathon, and pairs have been seeded to homies in running crews around the globe. Anything that can give me an advantage on my shocking half marathon time is a welcome addition. Size 10.5 US — please and thank you.
CESCA BENSON: SKEPTA x NIKE AIR MAX 97
This year saw us celebrate 20 years of the Air Max 97, which meant we were treated to a plethora of releases that spanned low-key to wild.
Skepta’s collaboration with Nike definitely fell into the latter category. Anyone familiar with the grime artist will know of his penchant for donning all black, so it was definitely a surprise to see his 97 sporting a copper-green duochrome upper. I wasn’t completely sold on the colourway until it was in my hands, then, eyeballing its detailing up close — the braided tongue loops, patterned insoles and gold mini Swooshes on the aglets — I fell hard.
And while this is the kind of shoe you want to keep pristine, temptation got the better of me pretty quickly, and they’ve since become a regular feature in my rotation.
MATT WILLIAMS: ATMOS x NIKE AIR MAX 1 'ELEPHANT'
The atmos x Nike Air max 1 ‘Elephant’ isn’t the best shoe of 2017. In a year of such impressive performance innovation and fashion progression, I could never argue that a rehash of a 10-year-old colab based on a now 30-year-old design trumps the rest. So why is it my favourite shoe this year? Well, because of all that it represents.
The Elephant first released when I was still new to the scene. They were at my local spot (First In Flight RIP) and I had the chance to swoop them for retail. I foolishly turned it down. I’d bought some Air Jordan 3s a week prior and didn’t want to ‘overdo it’ on the elephant print. What a mistake that was.
For a decade the decision haunted me as one of my biggest sneaker regrets; the colab was fetching four figures on the resale market. This year, I was finally given a chance to right that wrong. Little was changed from the OG on the 2017 retro, which is exactly I’d longed for. They were perfect.
Collectors can get funny when it comes to retros — especially colabs — but the Elephants had every right to come back though. Those who wore them wore them to death, and those still on ice after all these years are destined to crumble at first step. When a shoe looks this good, it deserves an encore!