It's no secret that the Air Max 270 Bowfin is one of the stranger silhouettes that released this year, but it suddenly made sense when we caught the Atomic Violet colorway. The shoes are wild: The uppers are a mess of materials with an attached tongue, a ribbon-constructed lacing system that culminates in a lacelock, and even a ripstop top that acts as a shield for the rest of the shoe. The sole is a triumph on its own: texture and line come together with a bright mudguard, and then a 270-degree air bubble at the heel. There are subtler colorways of the kicks, but with a blend of lavender, pink, mustard, white, and black, the details of the shoe are elevated and we get to see what makes it truly unique.
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Always one to turn its sneaker releases into a massive event, Miami’s own SoleFly provides collaborations at minuscule scales. The numbers are always super small, forcing intense competition to grab pairs—and this year’s Air Jordan 1s for Art Basel fit that same mold. They made two pairs: one incredibly limited in patent leather, and another slightly less limited in smooth leather. Both pairs played with orange, green, and black in different ways, inspired by the store’s official colors and the color-blocking of OG Jordans, but the patent leather pair was next level. The “Art Basel Black” will join the SoleFly Jordan IIIs, and others, as some of the rarest sneakers in the game.
Off-White's collaborations with Nike will forever mark a turning point in what the major brands allowed collaborators to do with their beloved sneakers. As much as that represented a paradigm shift, there will always be projects like the MAGIC STICK Air Force 1, which creatively experiment within the limited confines of heritage silhouettes. The MAGIC STICK AF1s utilize unique materials (Tyvek and 3M in addition to leather and suede) for a look that is at once subtle and eye catching. With piping that reflects light and a neon ankle strap against the white upper, MAGIC STICK did a lot within a series of limitations that the industry is leaving behind.
Not to outdo the original Ash Green 4D from Adidas, Taiwanese brand Invincible brought the shoe to the next level. The "Prism" pair is here because the upper sets it apart. Where the OG 4D is remarkable for its sole, these Prisms stand on their own even if they didn’t have a 4D sole. Adidas and Invincible basically hacked the Primeknit process to hide a rainbow of yarns into the knit under a gray outer shell. The result is dynamic and textural. Knit sneakers have been around for a minute, and while they've made advances in textures, this is the best use of color we've seen industry-wide.
Another entry in the reappearing retro runners, the latest collaboration between Supreme and Nike took the surprising form of the Zoom Streak Spectrum Plus. They feature the classic combination of mesh and leather in sharp waves across the upper. Not satisfied enough with the old-school material design, each colorway is covered in flames. The effect is at once respectful of the past, while also giving it a cheeky update. These were by no means Supreme’s most popular collaboration, but they’re fresh and fit squarely into what the industry has been up to this year.
Every year, the greatest basketball sneaker brand in the world brings together the greatest technology in the industry to create a new shoe in the name of the greatest player of the game. It's a heavy task and it doesn't always mean that the shoe will end up being the most aesthetically pleasing pair, but this year it all came together. The last few years Jordan Brand has drawn inspiration from the past, but this year it looked to the future. The upper is mostly a single piece of knit, the lacing system is simplified to wires, and the internal pieces of the shoe are top-of-the-line. Rather than trying to hide all the technology under an aesthetic perfected in the '80s, the shoe looks like it's as futuristic as it is, and one of the launch colorways—Desert Ore—leans into the smattering of colors we've come to expect from cutting-edge design. The shoes represent practically the entire color wheel, but they blend together into a chorus, making for a sneaker that sings.
Once the 2 Chainz sneaker with Versace was announced, all eyes turned to the brand in anticipation of what it would be. Not because of 2 Chainz, but because of Salehe Bembury, the newly minted lead footwear designer at Versace. Bembury designed with Greats and Cole Haan in the past before heading over to Kanye's Yeezy brand. The Chain Reaction was his first big sneaker with Versace, and it is literally big. The sole is a massive reconstruction of Cuban chain links, while the upper is a veritable canvas for whatever designs the Versace team or collaborators can dream up. And you know a shoe this big comes with an equally big price tag.
Each year, the major sneaker brands trip over themselves to capture the LGBT market during Pride Month, but Nike was one of the first. With a team of LGBT designers, the brand consistently creates some of the most authentic designs, year after year. This time, it focused on a handful of newer silhouettes, like the Air Max 270, Epic React, Air Vapormax Plus, and Zoom Fly. Each year, Nike's BeTrue designs become subtler. While two of the four designs used the tried-and-true rainbow motif, the runners leaned more into neutral tones with hits of color in the form of the Pink Triangle. As the LGBT community is recognized as an accepted group inside of mainstream American culture, the Pride designs must follow suit. That's exactly what Nike did this year.
Victor Cruz has made his transition off the field seamlessly, using his position to do good works for his community and his influence to inject more style into the lives of his fans. His first shoe in this new stage of life is the Air Force 1 Mid "V. Cruz" that elevates the shoe in every respect. Rolled edges, premium materials, and gold-toned hardware take the iconic AF1 to the next level. But what makes this a great shoe isn't just the aesthetics: Cruz has reshaped his public identity after his injury forced him off the field, and he's now a philanthropist and style magnate. These shoes represent the ability of a public figure to change and incorporate new contexts. When it comes to identity agility, Victor Cruz is a model we can all learn from, employing a skill set we all need to develop.
The Skylon 2 is anything but new, yet we added it to this list because Nike brought it back at just the right time. The shoe is pure retro; Nike hasn't changed it a bit. That intensity of retro styling (everything from the synthetic suede to the color gradation on the quarter) might be too much for those who aren't hip to the trend. Or those who just don't want to remember the late '80s and early '90s when sneakers like the Skylon were the wave. But on the tail end of the retro runner craze, this was the right moment to dive deep into that nostalgia and bring the Skylon 2 right back to the forefront. Plus, the color combos are amazing.
LeBron James put his money where his mouth is for the latest incarnation of his namesake sneaker. Every year he gets the opportunity to start a massive conversation when he releases his latest shoe, and this year he released the very first LeBron 16 with a design by Harlem Fashion Row: a collective of female designers of color lead by Brandice Daniels. Undra Celeste, Kimberly Goldson and Fe Noel. They blended their styles and processes to create a sneaker that works no matter who is wearing it, but delivers a message that breaks barriers not only in opportunities for designers but also in expectations from consumers.
It’s been more than a decade since The Devil Wears Prada, and we’ve traveled more than time since that window opened into the fashion industry. With Jordan’s new women’s brand up and running, Vogue left its mark on this duo of Jordan IIIs. Each has a unique texture that offers real depth, but the achievement is a women’s line that’s strong and expressive, while providing sneakers that are covetable without being desperately "girly." These represent a cultural win on multiple fronts.