If outsiders think the concept of ‘sneaker culture’ is hard to grasp, they should try get their heads around the antics that go on within it. Any industry hinged on hype sees micro-movements bubble and fizz-out every month, but add a rabbit warren of social media channels to that and things get a little wild.
Glued to our screens the whole year, we’ve seen more of these than we’d like to admit. Some trends had us leaping for the bandwagon; but for every DIY renaissance we love, there’s a pseudo-erotic sneaker ‘gram we’re just not ready for.
Some weird things happened in 2017. Here are some of our favourites, and some we think should stay this side of the New Year.
WORST: SUPREME x LOUIS V 'CUSTOMS'
We’re kicking things off with 2017’s number one face-palm inducing trend: the lazy Louis V custom. Riding on the couture coattails of the Supreme x Louis Vuitton drop, this mini movement saw small-time customisers printing off sheets of LV logos and stencilling wackness into hype sneakers.
The crux of our issue with this trend is how far it strayed from its roots in luxury product. Exclusivity, opulence and showboating were all integral to the colab — not the case for its so-called homages. Bottom line: if you’ve got the goods, share away. If you don’t, refrain from fakery — the like-baiting that follows is taxing for everyone involved.
BEST: DIY VIBES
Bastardised bootlegs aside, seeing sneakerheads embrace the DIY attitude was one of this year’s highlights. After the ‘uncaging’ of UltraBOOSTs gained momentum in 2016, Virgil Abloh’s ‘The Ten’ shifted the hands-on approach into hyperdrive. Rather than view their sneakers as the finished product, more people are now making alterations.
Cosmetic enhancements like simple lace-swaps proved effective on knitted uppers. Kanye scribbling on his Gazelles no doubt spurned copycats, but brands got involved too. BOOST the Nation led by example with freaky UltraBOOST updates, while Nike’s Vote Forward campaign prompted wild designs — the public were even able to vote one of them into production. With more Abloh colabs on the way, and adidas fans getting more creative, there’s every chance this trend could go the distance.
WORST: RINGWRAITH PORTRAITS
Donning a hood and MS-Painting out your face so you look like a Hobbit-hunting ghoul is a strange thing to do. Sometimes your mug is best left off screen, we get that — there’s a reason Sneaker Freaker writers aren’t hosting talk shows. However, the beauty of sneakers is that they’re a long way from your head.
If you don’t want to burden anyone with your goofy smile, take an on-foot shot. If you really need to showcase your new bogo; wear a hat, look down, make a ‘fit square or something. Just don’t pose in front of them with your LARP’ing costume.
BEST: RELEASES STEPPING UP
After struggling to beat bots for years, the industry shuffled toward an effective solution by making releases more interesting. Rather than try to beat the tech-elite at their own game, many brands went off the grid to make drops more memorable.
Nike gave out the new VaporFly Elite to select people who ran 5k with Nike+. Tom Sachs’ colab, one of the best of 2017, released only to those who attended his Space Camp. One of Virgil Abloh’s many approaches saw people only able to win raffles in their area — a tact many retailers are copying with the ‘Country Camo’ Air Max 97s.
Online, Nike is using VR to turn releases into treasure hunts, while adidas tried to shift the culture through saturation. Speaking to StockX, adidas VP Jon Wexler said they restock Yeezys so often as an attempt to make ‘accessibility the new hype.’ Kanye, however, ignored the sentiment and made his Desert Rats available only to those who bought his expensive garments. It wasn’t a deal breaker for resellers, but it was a novel deterrent. This isn’t to say that anyone has found a way around stoking the resale market, rather they’ve accepted that flipping footwear is a pastime too ingrained to root out.
By putting thought into releases, building them around those interested in the shoe, drip-feeing distribution or turning drops into spectacles, the industry is improving for all involved.
WORST: STANDING ON SNEAKERS
While the Ringwraith portrait is at least rooted in the relatable, standing on sneakers on IG is a trend too bizarre to get our heads around. We understand that you’re trying to say, ‘my sneakers/tastes/brand allegiance > yours’, but what you end up saying is, ‘dominating others in public excites me’.
It also raised a good question: whose sneakers are you stomping on anyway? Did you go out of your way to buy ‘Bred’ Jordan 1s just to stand on them with your ‘Semi Frozen Yellow’ V2s? If you think doing so is a stunt, don't think that.
BEST: HIGH-FASHION TROLLING
Fashion houses were having a laugh this year. Hitting sneakerheads with the same ploys that saw DHL tee shirts on runways in 2016, fashion houses played hype culture by repackaging dad-shoe chic at premium price points.
So why is this in the ‘best’ category? Well, because the sneakers they made go hard. The Triple S — widely speculated to be reboot of Skechers’ D Lite — was a slow-burner that repulsed at first and captivated thereafter. Vetements’ dirty Pumps got closer to a mark Golden Goose have been missing for years, and even Zara’s rip-offs held their own.
Better still, sneakerheads reclaimed the look. Concepts collaborating on the Air Monarch put the dad shoe on the other foot, showing that sneaker OGs were joining in on the laughter. Sincere releases like Kanye’s Wave Runners also swelled in popularity, rounding-out a lifecycle that saw the style go from joke to jawn.