Not too long ago, sneaker brands released fresh new colorways of shoes and that was sufficient enough. That line of thinking is clearly outdated if the Ben & Jerry’s “Chunky Dunkys” and Dior x Air Jordan 1s of the world are the new barometer of design.
Ever since Off-White and Nike created the gravity-bending “The 10” collection back in 2017, everyone and their best friend has been vying for the right to create the most attention-grabbing shoe on the planet. To gain recognition in the cosmos of today’s streetwear universe, you have to come correct with something no one has ever seen before. And then add that bell and those whistles on top of it. What that essentially means is everyone is playing a game of sneaker collaboration one-upmanship.
And we’re all the beneficiaries.
There was no shortage of wild sneaker collaborations the past 12 months. Which was awesome, but made constructing our year-end Stadium Goods Best Sneaker Collaborations of 2020 list no walk in the park. Regardless, these 10 sneaker collaborations best captured the essence of 2020 footwear to a T.
We learned two things after chopping it up with Joe Freshgoods for our Stadium Goods Block by Block series earlier this fall: 1) Joe really did put the New Balance 992 on the map, and 2) he doesn’t want to take any credit for having done so. In spite of Joe’s modesty, we have no problem telling the world that the Joe Freshgoods x New Balance 992 “No Emotions Are Emotions” likely put a whole bunch of people onto one of the comfiest shoes money can buy right now.
Every year now a different Air Jordan model celebrates a special milestone: 30 years in existence. The Jordan 5 was the model that turned 30 this year, and as part of the celebration Jordan Brand introduced Virgil Abloh’s abstract edition into its lineage. Off-White’s “Black” and “Sail” Jordan 5s imagine what the “Black/Metallic” and “Fire Red” colorways may have looked like had Jordan Brand produced them in 2020, not 1990.
Few sneakers have had as interesting of an existence as the Women’s Off-White x Air Jordan 4 “Sail.” In 2019, the “Sail” debuted as a display piece during the Contemporary Museum of Art’s “Figures of Speech” exhibit honoring Virgil Abloh’s career. That it wasn’t released to coincide with the event raised some eyebrows, but sneaker collectors were sure Jordan Brand and Off-White would give it a proper retail release in due time. Months passed, and still, nothing. After making everyone wait nearly an entire year, Jordan Brand finally released the “Sail” in July, a fitting season as any to drop something as clean as this minimal design.
While it’s true that sneaker brands have been collaborating with entities outside of streetwear over the past few years, no one in their right mind ever thought that Nike would tap the Grateful Dead for an official collaboration. But if we’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s to expect the unexpected. Designed in the ethos of Nike SB’s legendary “Three Bears Pack” of yesteryear, the three Grateful Dead SB Dunks feature fuzzy faux fur panels, jagged Swooshes, and other nods to the classic rock band’s “Dancing Bear” motif that originated on the back of its “The History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. 1” LP from 1973.
The Ben & Jerry’s “Chunky Dunky” was the most hallucinatory look of the venerable sneaker released by Nike in 2020. And that’s saying something. The design borrows cues from the Vermont based ice cream purveyor’s “Chunky Monkey” flavor, and then goes all the way left from there. Cloud-shaped designs are on the mid-panel and a yellow drippy Swoosh that looks like a melting ice cream cone on a mid-summer’s afternoon appears on either side of the shoe. What’s more, pairs of the Ben & Jerry’s x Nike SB Dunk Low “Chunky Dunky” given to friends and family came packaged inside of a giant pint. The “ice cream on the cake,” so to say.
In today’s not-shocking news, Beyonce’s debut fashion line, Ivy Park x adidas, was an instant success upon its launch in January. The first collection, effectively titled “Drip 1,” featured a roundup of sportswear apparel, accessories, and shoes that favored function and form in a mostly-maroon color scheme. The followup capsule, “Drip 2,” was every bit as inclusive as the first delivery and boasted an even more adventurous range of colors. Both collections featured the adidas Nite Jogger, Supersleek 72, and Ultra Boost, all which sold out with the quickness.
Union x Air Jordan 4 “Guava Ice” and “Off Noir”
Union’s collaborative Air Jordan 4 may be Chris Gibb’s most personal project with Union to date. The New York native, who’s been running the Los Angeles based menswear boutique along with his wife Beth since the 2000s, set out to resolve a nagging issue with the Jordan 4 that dates back to his teenage years—the height of its tongue. It’s always rubbed against his ankle the wrong way. So he set out to fix it on the “Guava Ice” and “Off Noir” by folding it over and stitching it down (it can be unstitched to obtain the original Jordan 4 look.) The result? Less chafing, and a whole new vibe for the 31 year-old shoe. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
High fashion and sneaker culture have tapped into a shared pool of ideas for years. But the day the lines between the two became blurry forever on April 6, 2020, when the Dior x Air Jordan 1 was officially released. With a retail price of $2,000 denoting its made-in-Italy origins, the Dior-assisted design is less of an actual shoe than it is a work of art. Dior’s monogram print is on the Swoosh and the overlays make use of “Dior Grey” leather. Unfortunately, something this bonkers was never intended to be mass produced, and very few people will ever get a chance to wear, let alone hold the Dior x Air Jordan 1 in their hands. It’s a shame, but, you know, #highfashion.
Mostly, Cactus Plant Flea Market’s Cynthia Lui doesn’t appear much in the public eye. So we may never know what inspires the thought process behind concepts like gluing Swarovski crystals to her collaborative Cactus Plant Flea Market x Nike Dunk Low. But we can try and ascertain the idea that Lui may have been guided by old school “do-it-yourself” culture from the late ‘90s and early 2000s. It feels like a very ~Cactus Plant Flea Market~ thing for Lui to do, so that’s what we’re rolling with.
Stussy is navigating 2020 culture with the kind of sage-like status that only comes with being literally the first streetwear brand ever. This year, Stussy turned 40 years-old, but you wouldn’t know it. The Los Angeles based crew never publicized its birthday on social media, on blogs, at its “Chapters,” or anywhere else. Instead, Stussy linked with the likes of Birkenstock, Nike, and others to create some of the best footwear collaborations this side of the original Stussy x Nike SB Dunk Low. The Spiridon Caged and Spiridon Kukini dropped back in the spring when we all needed a pick-me-up from being confined to our homes due to the lockdown. Stussy delivered. Just as it always has every year since 1980. Pandemic be damned.