From hand-made treasure chests to stone-cold marble mausoleums and polystyrene crab shacks, there is no limit to the creativity that can elevate the humble sneaker box into work-of-art status. Produced purely to generate hype and envy, these uber expensive masterpieces are generally given away to insiders and influential types in the game.
From the adidas SS35 ‘White Box’ to the ‘Pitch Black’ NMD that arrived in a sexy aluminium Rimowa suitcase complete with electric toothbrush, this is our long overdue guide to some of the most extravagant sneaker packaging ever devised. We’d love to tell you what these amazing packages are worth, but production numbers are super tight and they rarely trade on the open market.
Your guess is as good as ours.
Nike Air Pressure
Back in the 1989, Reebok launched the power punch that was ‘Pump up and Air out!’ At the exact same time, Nike’s Air Pressure brought an almost identical inflatable concept to the market. Requiring an external hand pump to expand its obese ankle bladder, the Pressure was a clunky punker that retailed at $180 in the US, making it an insanely expensive gimmick.
While the Air Pressure never came close to the popularity of Pump, there’s one thing it had over its equivalent – the towering red-top sneaker box. Rocking up to the blacktop with this futuristic ‘Tupperware’ casually slung over your shoulder made you the shit! However, using the kooky hand-pump apparatus to squeeze the shoes onto your feet must have been a deflating experience – especially compared to the cool widget Reebok built into the Pump’s tongue.
Nearly three decades later, OG Air Pressures have all succumbed to the dreaded sneaker rot. Thankfully, the plastic box has survived the journey, and the original is still freely available for around $100 on eBay.
At the start of 2016, out of nowhere, the Air Pressure finally received a retro release – Tupperware included – and its adjusted-for- inflation price tag of $300 once again left it out of reach for all but the most diehard heads. Still, this is an interesting moment in Nike history, and the first example of crazy-ass packaging designed to help launch a shoe.
If we missed an earlier example of box fresh packaging, let us know!
Concepts (Special Achievement Award)
Linking with Nike SB in 2008 to release the ‘Lobster’ Dunk, Boston-bred Concepts set the sneaker world ablaze with one of the most over-the-top examples of packaging the industry had seen to that point. Continuing the crustacean theme, the first 50 pairs were supplied inside a genuine wooden lobster-trap and bundled with ‘butter’ laces, shell-cracking utensils and even a Wet-Nap to clean your chin after chowing down. Although this arguably set an early benchmark for sheer extravagance, the follow-up in 2009 was just as impressive. The ‘Blue Lobster’ Dunk came sealed in a hazmat bag that was encased in a polystyrene box to protect the ‘live specimen’ in transit.
Upping the ante, Concepts released the ‘Ugly Sweater’ pack in 2013, which ran with a Christmas theme to the extreme by including branded baubles and a tartan-clad ‘Happy Holidays’ tin that served up the shoes like a batch of freshly-baked shortbread cookies. Two years later, the ‘Holy Grail’ pack included a Dunk High, Dunk Low and Janoski Max – each with unique store-exclusive packaging playing up the religious theme. The Dunk Low was worshipped with three options. On top of the standard box – itself a thing of beauty with thick stock and decorative metallic overlays – 500 wooden boxes and 100 cement boxes were available in-store. As you’d imagine, the cement box was ridiculously heavy, but the intricately carved wooden box was arguably the Grail of the trio. The box lid concealed a unique puzzle combination system that would only open once all three dials were perfectly aligned.
In more recent times, Concepts’ colabs with ASICS have capitalised on an illicit inspiration with equally edgy packaging. The ‘8 Ball’ GEL-Lyte V, which needed to be collected from an I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-real trap house, came in packaging resembling a solid block of Columbia’s finest – complete with a protective coating of plastic cling wrap and duct tape. The ‘Coca’ GEL-Respectors that followed later in the same year arrived inside a brick of fresh Benjamins.
No doubt about it, Concepts always set the packaging bar consistently high!
adidas NMD (Pitch Black – Urban Utility Pack)
With 2016 officially crowned as the Year of the NMD’, adidas sent their loyal Three Stripes devotees into total freak-out mode with the announcement of the ‘Pitch Black’ project. Dipped in a glitched-out knitted upper and rocking all-black BOOST soles, just 500 pairs were produced – of which 100 were given away through Snapchat. The balance were gifted to Friends and Family, and prices immediately went through the roof, with eBay recording multiple auctions in excess of $5000. For a select group of ultra-connected individuals, the Pitch Black NMD arrived as part of an ‘Urban Utility’ ensemble, designed to house the essentials for life in the concrete jungle.
The case itself was seriously desirable in its own right, but the stealthed-out accessories it held put the hype around this release into orbit. A sleek aluminium Rimowa Topas Multiwheel 45L suitcase was kitted out with an Oral-B electric toothbrush, Porter Travel Pouch, SIGG Traveler water bottle and a (multee)project Type-2L carabiner. A set of earplugs were thrown in for good measure, presumably to drown out the social media outrage emanating from envious sneakerheads.
This is the new standard by which all packaging is now judged. Touché adidas!
adidas adicolor Lo
Debuting back in 1983, adicolor presented sneakerheads with the perfect platform to make like Monet on all-white sneaks. In 2005, the artistic concept was relaunched in a big way, commencing with a retro of the original silhouette that started it all. The adicolor Lo presented the perfect blank canvas for wannabe customisers, with seven tubes of Schmincke acrylic paint included within the laser-engraved pine packaging, along with paintbrushes and a branded wooden palette. A bottle of sealant was also included to help protect your masterpiece from the natural elements. Somewhat surprisingly, 1000 paint boxes were reportedly released, and they show up on the ‘Bay on the regular. But who knows how many were actually used as their maker intended?
Nike 'Champ Pack'
Sneaker brands love to debut their latest performance tech at the Olympic Games. In recent years, the lifestyle divisions have muscled in on the action, with exclusive packs ‘loosely’ inspired by the prestigious – and highly litigious – athletic carnival. For the Athens Games in 2004, Nike produced this ‘Champ Pack’, which contained gold, silver and bronze versions of the Dunk High, Air Force 1 Low, and Air Max 95 respectively.
The trio were available individually or collectively as a triple pack within this golden ‘clamshell’ case. Limited to 777 units worldwide, the pack also included a t-shirt and keyrings. The zip-up case is so freaking big, it required a set of wheels to help owners lug it around!
Michael Lau x Nike (China BMX)
To celebrate BMX’s inclusion in the Beijing Olympic Games, Nike SB tapped acclaimed Hong Kong artist and toy designer Michael Lau to represent the host nation. The end result was a striking Blazer SB and bike-ready Dunk Gyrizo, both resplendent in China’s signature yellow and red colour combo. Sold at retail in the traditional Nike SB gold box of the period, a limited run of 106 pairs of the Blazer SB were encased within this huge ‘mud-cake’ vinyl box. Looking more like a gigantic turd that has been compressed into a cube, the glossy brown box certainly provokes interesting reactions. ‘Beijing 08 BMX’ was embossed into the lid, together with Lau’s ‘crazysmiles’ production name. The particular package we were gifted also included the Dunk Gyrizo, a retrospective of the BMX bible Freestlyin’ and an exclusive Lau-designed vinyl figure of a Chinese BMX rider and his trusty steed, both of which are rocking the yellow Blazers.
adidas Superstar (35th Anniversary - #35)
When a shoe as significant to sneaker culture as the Superstar hits an anniversary, the high-stakes economic imperative often escalates packaging into the stratosphere. Back in 2005, adidas knocked up 35 unique versions of the classic Shelltoes. The first 34 focused on the people and places that made the shoe what it is over the last three and a half decades. However, #35 was a whole different ball game.
Depending on which Internet chat you believe, just a few hundred units of the ‘SS35 White Box’ were produced. Reportedly made in Switzerland, the briefcase featured a gold SS35 plaque engraved with the full anniversary line-up. Brushes, shoe polish, a shoe horn, and handmade wooden shoe trees completed the package.
Oh yeah, we almost forgot one thing: the magnificent pair of pristine Superstars! The attention to detail on these shoes was fanatical. Even the trademark shelltoes and outsoles were made from the most incredible leather.
Notably, this was one of the rare occasions where punters were given a decent crack at taking home the goods. Treasure hunts held in Berlin, London, New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong encouraged fans to make like Sherlock and track these remarkable shoes down. If adidas are willing to go to this much trouble for the 35th, then we can’t wait to see what they have planned for the Superstar’s big 5-0!
Reebok Alien Stomper High
Reebok satisfied the demands of sci-fi film aficionados when they finally released the film-correct version of the Alien Stompers in April, 2016. Made famous on the feet of Ripley in James Cameron’s Aliens, the Stompers had been released as a chopped-down mid-top several times over the years, but never in the OG ‘triple-Velcro’ formation. A measly 500 units were produced by Reebok, which was not even close to satisfying demand. The standard issue was packaged in a super cool, holographic ‘Weyland-Yutani’ cardboard box, but a handful of lucky collectors managed to snag the film-prop replicas packed inside this foam-lined, Xenomorph-proof hard case. The standard box edition currently trades on the ‘Bay for over $600, so just imagine the ludicrous price demanded for the tactical packaging version of the Stompers.
2011 Nike Mag
Back in 1989, Back to the Future Part II depicted a pair of self-lacing Nike ‘Mag’ sneakers from the future – 2015 to be precise. As it turned out, we only needed to wait until 2011 for Marty McFly’s footwear to become reality. Global media went into overdrive when Nike dropped news of the ultra-tech high-top and auctioned them through eBay in support of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. By Nike’s own admission, there were no freebies on this one. It didn’t matter who you were, if you wanted a pair you had to front the cash and support the charity. By the time the dust had settled, the highest price paid was $9959.
Each pair was packaged within a blinding yellow, magnet-sealed, flip-top, cardboard box. Labelled with ‘Magnetic Anti Gravity’ tags, the Mags were housed snugly within foam inlays along with a charger to power up the shoe’s internal batteries. Also included was a pamphlet featuring Tinker Hatfield’s illustrated instructions, a metal licence plate featuring a unique serial code for online registration, and a DVD with a product announcement video and Back to the Future trailer. A UPS sticker stating the package had been shipped from Hill Valley, California, was another sly BTTF reference.
A further 10 pairs were sold through live events held around the globe. The ultimate prize for BTTF nerds, these Mags were nestled inside a yellow road-case that was styled after the plutonium containment chamber in the original film. Auctioned off at the Montalban Theatre in Hollywood, the first pair was bought by Tinie Tempah, who walked away victorious after forking out a staggering $37,500!
Nike Air Force 1 Packaging
At the peak of the Air Force 1’s domination in the mid-2000s, Nike dropped a ‘Year of the Dog’ edition that flaunted a blazing red upper, blue laces and ornate detailing. An ultra-limited Hyperstrike version was also produced with lasered underlays, printed toe boxes and a pony hair heel wrap. A handful of additional pairs were gifted to family and friends inside this etched wooden chest, with decorative metal brackets and latch adding oriental flavour.,
Continuing the zodiac theme, 2011’s ‘Year of the Rabbit’ AF-1 was based around White Rabbit candy, with the protective paper resembling the wrapper of the popular Chinese treat. The shoes were packaged inside this almighty fibreglass unit, which is tougher than it looks, but still cracked easily in transit.
The 1World project took the Air Force 1 on a global tour, with the likes of Questlove, Kaws and Michael Lau constructing their own take on Bruce Kilgore’s legendary basketball design. When it came time for Hong Kong’s CLOT to take the reigns, inspired by Chinese tradition, they draped the shoes in ‘Red Royale’ fabric. Hiding underneath the shiny silk was dark brown leather, which was revealed when the top layer is worn away. The shoes were distributed inside this decadent candy box in Hong Kong through JUICE and in Shanghai at ACU. The impressive hexagonal unit – an absolute nightmare to ship – features a segmented tray that includes six extra sets of laces. Considered by many as the best of the 1World series, the CLOT x Air Force 1 Supreme is well worth tracking down. Just be prepared to fork out some serious cash before you even throw down a bid!
Titolo x ASICS Gel-Lyte III (Papercut)
For the 25th anniversary of the GEL-Lyte III, ASICS recruited a dozen top-tier collaborators to put their own squeeze on the mighty GEL. Swiss heavy-hitters Titolo were one of the first to take a swing. Inspired by the ceiling of their Zurich store, Titolo based their ornate concept on ‘scherenschnitte’ paper-cutting techniques that were popular in the 16th century. Taking this traditional art form into the literal realm, the extravagant ‘Friends and Family’ box unfolded to reveal a multi-layer diorama of modern day Zurich, complete with a special guest appearance by Godzilla.
Titolo revisited the concept in 2016 with the release of their ‘Albino Papercut’ GEL-Lyte III. However, only two pairs were made. One is in the Titolo archive and the other was sold on eBay, with proceeds donated to charity. Don’t expect to see these unicorns hit the ‘Bay anytime soon!
END. x New Balance 575END (Marble White)
When producing their ‘Marble White’ interpretation of the New Balance 575, UK retailer END. went straight to the source, using the shoe’s inspiration as the material to construct the deluxe packaging. Themed after the distinctive ‘Carrara’ marble from Tuscany, END crafted the shoe using a luxurious mix of leather and suede that channelled the stone’s famous white and grey appearance. They’re a crisp pair of New Balance no doubt, but their natural beauty was superseded only by the genuine marble box that a handful of lucky sneakerheads received. Weighing in at over 10kg (22lbs), the behemoth deserves recognition as the heaviest sneaker box of all time. Sadly, this is one premium piece of kit that doesn’t survive international travel in the hands of clumsy couriers – as we unfortunately found out!
Vans Pro Classics 50th Anniversary Collection Authentic Pro (Promotional Package)
With 50 years deep in the game, Vans will forever be known for their signature vulcanised silhouettes. In 2016 they gave their vintage roster a low-key makeover with the ‘Pro Classics’ line, updating the underlying tech while preserving the brand’s quintessential look. Distributed as a promo item, Vans produced this gift pack complete with a pair of newly re-engineered Authentics inside a laser-engraved wooden box. Once the unit was fully unfolded, the box’s true purpose is revealed. Faithful to Vans’ skateboarding roots, the interior was shaped into a quarter pipe. With a Tech Deck on hand, this is the perfect ramp to revive your late-90s fingerboarding career.
Ben & Jerry’s x Nike SB ‘Chunky Dunky’
The Ben & Jerry’s x Nike SB ‘Chunky Dunky’ was one of the biggest releases of 2020, maybe because a year of turmoil had most people wishing they could just curl up on the couch and eat ice cream straight from the tub. And it was that visceral feeling of holding the ice-cold cardboard container that was tapped for the Family and Friends packaging of the ‘Chunky Dunky’, with pairs arriving in oversized Ben & Jerry’s tubs, decorated in the iconic brand’s typically vibrant manner. Those packs also came with a co-branded shoe horn and tote bag, but the real MVP was that cardboard packaging. Simple but effective.
Nike SB Blazer (Fly Milk)
While most people prefer to gloss over the less salubrious aspects of their curriculum vitae, Jeff Han’s prior line of work has been forever memorialised in this quirky Nike SB colab from 2007. Having spent his days peddling milk in a suit and tie before founding FLY Skateshop, Shanghai’s first specialist spot, Han chose to dress his Blazer SB in a scheme inspired by his days as a professional ‘milkman’. The gum-soled kicks also featured a ‘missing’ message on the heel aimed at the AWOL Jeff, who abandoned his ‘career’ to open FLY in 1999. The limited release version took the lactic theme one step further, packaging the Blazers in this over-sized milk carton. This release might not feature in the upper echelon of all-time packaging based on dollars invested alone, but it does prove that a sense of humour and a rad concept can still make for an inspired release.
Burn Rubber x New Balance CM577BR (Joe Louis)
The birthplace of many a talented pugilist, Detroit is also home to the Burn Rubber sneaker store. Paying tribute to Motor City’s ‘Brown Bomber’ – aka Joe Louis – a premium combination of black, brown and white leather was applied to the New Balance 577. The heavyweight champion of the world for 12 years straight, Louis actually started his boxing career on the sly. Pressured into learning violin by his doting mother, a young Louis was more interested in fisticuffs than symphonies – so he skipped music lessons to train at the local gym. To keep his mom happy, Louis hid his gloves inside his violin case, which Burn Rubber acknowledged with this unique packaging concept.
Nike Kyrie 4 Cereal Pack
Sneakers and nostalgia go hand in hand, and that’s arguably what made the Nike Kyrie 4 Cereal Pack such a killer combo. As well as featuring colourways that celebrated, in no particular order, Lucky Charms, Kix, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, special editions of the collection came in cereal box–inspired packaging, complete with co-branded bowls and spoons so you could munch down on your favourite breakfast options in style. When these released back in 2018, some extra lucky locations enjoyed pop-ups in grocery stores, complete with cardboard shelving to drive home the cereal vibe. This tasty trio was sugar-sweet in more ways than one!
Spotify x Reebok Realflex Transition 2.0 (Fitlist Box Set)
Designed to allow athletes around the world to share playlists that motivate their workout, Reebok FitList was launched with the help of the Spotify music platform in 2012. To promote the app, Reebok produced this reflective version of their all-new RealFlex Transition 2.0. Launched through the FitHub store on Fifth Avenue in NYC, 100 pairs were sold with this high-tech FitList Box. The sound-reactive unit was fitted with LED lights that glowed and pulsed in response to music and ambient noise. The Box also allowed users to plug in an iPod which pumped sound through stereo speakers in the lid.
More like a ghetto blaster in a briefcase than a sneaker box, this was a pretty neat concept. The six-month premium Spotify membership was a nice added bonus!
This article was originally published in May 2019, then updated in March 2021.