10 of the Most Influential Sneaker Collaborations of All Time
From Supreme x Nike to Kanye West x adidas.
Collaborations in the sneaker world are not all created equal. Sometimes you love them, sometimes you hate them and sometimes you love to hate them. Regardless of where you fall, collaborations have inarguably dominated the landscape of sneaker culture for at least the last decade.
It all started years ago, when early streetwear brands approached footwear manufacturers, saying something to the effect of, “We can’t make shoes, but you can.” Supreme x Vans’ limited trio of Old-Skool colorways from 1996 did just that.
Noah’s Brendon Babenzien, then creative director of Supreme, worked with the California mainstay on a run of special-makeup (SMU) sneakers. Preceding collaborations as we know them today, these limited-run products were essentially bespoke Vans created for brand partners, such as Supreme, that could meet order minimums. The same idea applied to Nike’s CO.JP (Concept Japan) program in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Nike sales reps were able to fulfill custom orders for shops in Japan and the United States, unintentionally creating some of the most collectible sneakers from that era.
As Jeff Staple explained, “Say you’re a buyer and you’re like, ‘Hey, I want this shoe, but I want it in all red. If you do it in all red, I’ll order 10,000 pairs.’ Nike sales reps would be like, ‘Fuck, let me call up Beaverton and get these pairs made so I can get an order.’ That’s not a quote-unquote collaboration [the way we see it today], but it kind of is.”
Eventually these partnerships flourished as a concept, ushering in the era of sneaker collaborations as we now recognize them. And while it oversimplifies the matter to attribute the current zeitgeist to just one person, there’s little doubt Kanye West's partnerships with Louis Vuitton, followed by Nike and ultimately adidas helped expand the footwear subgenre upwards and outwards.
From one-off brand x brand SMUs to full-on sublines realized in partnership with creative visionaries, these are 10 of the most formative and important sneaker collaborations of all time.