At the opening of the 21st century, sneakers were becoming invaluable components of men’s dress, signifying age, sport affiliation, fashion sensibility, and status. Brands began enlisting trendsetters, artists, and celebrities to create highly sought-after collaborations. In 2002, avant-garde Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto was one of the first designers to work with a mainstream brand; he collaborated with Adidas to create the Pro Model YY 2G, taking the classic high-top and altering the colorway and materials. The same year, radical American fashion designer Jeremy Scott also collaborated with Adidas and similarly redesigned an Adidas classic, the Forum, using a fabric patterned with dollar bills featuring Scott’s portrait in place of George Washington’s. Both Yamamoto’s and Scott’s sneakers marked the beginnings of a long and fruitful series of ongoing collaborations.
At the same time that Adidas was starting to collaborate with fashion designers, Nike was beginning to reach out to streetwear trendsetters. In 2002, Nike partnered with the cult brand Supreme to create the Dunk Supreme and, in 2005, worked with artist Jeff Staple to create the hotly anticipated Nike Pigeon. Released in extremely limited quantities, collaborations such as these helped to usher in an era in which exclusive sneakers began to fetch astronomical resale prices and sneaker releases drew hundreds of eager consumers willing to wait in lines for days for the chance to purchase shoes.
Other brands partnered with visual artists: New Balance with Boston-based Josh “Wisdumb” Spivack in 2005; Converse with controversial British art star Damien Hirst in 2010; and Puma with New York’s Kehinde Wiley in 2010. In 2012, artist Tom Sachs worked with Nike to create a line of aerospace-themed shoes and apparel meant for “great minds.” The products, ranging from sneakers to duffle bags to coats with “essential scientific information” printed in the lining, were made from Vectran fiber from the Mars Excursion Rover airbags and were part of a larger exhibition titled Space Program: Mars, blurring the boundaries of retail and conceptual art.
However, more recently, it is celebrity collaborations that are the most coveted, specifically, sneakers designed by rapper and fashion designer Kanye West. Kanye worked with both Louis Vuitton and Nike in 2009 to release the Don and the Air Yeezy 1, respectively. Both luxury and streetwear styles fetched hefty resale prices, but it was the Air Yeezy 2 Red October that would transform Kanye into one of the most visible figures in sneaker culture. In 2014, Kanye severed ties with Nike for a deal with Adidas, and in 2015, he released perhaps the most hyped series of shoes in sneaker history: Kanye West and Adidas Originals YEEZY Season 1. Kanye further solidified the relationship between sneaker culture and high fashion with the premiere of his Fall ready-to-wear collection at New York Fashion Week in February 2015; the centerpiece of the controversial inaugural show was the YEEZY 750 Boost.