When two or more people come together, they can often come up with better ideas than they would on their own. That’s the heart of collaboration and why it’s a pivotal part of the footwear industry. As Nike CEO Mark Parker said earlier this year, “Mutual learning is absolutely critical to any successful partnership.” That way of thinking throughout the industry is one reason why there's a seemingly never-ending supply of collaborations between retailers, clothing labels, recording artists, and sneaker brands.
The results born from these connections are, hopefully, better than what either could have created by themselves, with archival inspiration, back stories or elements from each side incorporated into the design. Whether it’s a sneaker boutique including a detail that embodies their business or a rapper's influence that reflects their lyrics, the best shoes are a combination of both parties’ personalities.
This doesn’t mean that all sneaker collaborations are good. A lot are awful, and 2015 saw more collabs than most would hope for. But, all of that makes the good sneaker projects stand out more and the best collaborations get lauded, easily selling out at their respective retailers. A good year for collaborations makes choosing the best shoes even more difficult. The shoes we discussed had better materials, tighter colorways, and were more exclusive than their general-release counterparts. The hardest part was ranking them. Here are The 20 Best Sneaker Collaborations of 2015.
20. Stussy x Nike Air Max 95
Everyone is always trying to get on the new wave and latest brands, but 2015 was another year of Stussy murdering everything moving and heritage Air Max getting new looks. Nike and Stussy have a long-standing relationship and when the two cook something up, it usually leads to some type of trophies. The AM ’95 collab had a little bit of a Huarache vibe thanks to detailing on the tongue, colorways, and materials used, without deriving too far from its classic feel. If you are still hunting something for your favorite sneakerhead this holiday, those Army Green joints are too tough. —Brandon Edler
19. Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Ventilator
If there was a sneaker collaboration where the message was stronger than the actual design, it was Kendrick Lamar's first project with Reebok on the Ventilator. Nearly every sneaker shop got its chance to work on this silhouette this year, and the sheer multitude of collabs left the shoe dead in the water. But Kendrick was able to revive the model and make a statement with his sneakers that had "red" and "blue" on the left and the opposing heels, made to signify unity between the Bloods and Crips gangs. The subtext of the sneakers was felt around the Internet, and it was followed by a video between two gang members discussing the footwear project. The collaboration made sense because it wasn't Reebok just shilling Kendrick's name, but spreading the core of what his artistry is all about. —Matt Welty
18. Takashi Murakami x Vans Slip-On
Murakami has been killing it long before Graduation, but the Jesus piece and cover album art didn’t hurt the fame. His streetwear and sneaker collabs have become an event in their own for those in the know, and his latest offering with Vans might be his best yet. If you appreciate the art and wanted to switch the style up, these were a must-have. Or, if you just wanted something from Takashi that was a little more in your price range, you got hooked up. —Brandon Edler
17. Pigalle x Nike LeBron XII Elite
What started as a label from streetwear insiders has morphed into a full-fledged fashion brand. But for all of the evolving Pigalle’s been doing in the past couple of years, their devotion to the game of basketball is the most notable. When it’s not sponsoring a Parisian youth basketball team, Pigalle is designing basketball-inspired apparel and sneakers for NikeLab. But Pigalle’s latest foray into basketball, its collaboration with Nike’s LeBron 12 Elite silhouette, was the brand’s most forward-thinking Nike collaboration to date. Combining both Pigalle and LeBron’s respective interests in fashion, the sneaker was designed with—according to Pigalle founder Stéphane Ashpool—Paris Fashion Week in mind. Silver was used as the main color in order to give the shoe a futuristic feel to match the technology embedded into the shoe.The only notable downside of the shoe was its sizable $300 price tag, but that’s hardly something worth getting upset over; all you need is a copy of NBA 2K16 in order to get score some Pigalle-designed NBA-ready gear. The minute dot detailing is meant to symbolize the shot clock and the “passage of time,” but with their forward-thinking design, we knew these kicks were going to be a buzzed-about banger long after its 24 seconds were up. —Gregory Babcock
16. Rihanna x PUMA Suede Creeper
Naming Rihanna the Creative Director of Puma was a smart move, building buzz around the brand from the jump. But could Ri-Ri actually deliver with product? In her first collab with the lifestyle brand, the Creeper was received with some love when it initially rolled out in women’s only sizing, leaving the fellas feeling a little left out. Don’t fret boss: last month Puma dropped more colors and sizes so you could get a pair in rotation. And yeah, the Travis Scott co-sign never hurts. —Brandon Edler
15. Eminem x Carhartt x Air Jordan IV
Marshall Mathers x Jordan might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about greatest sneaker collaboration prospects, but Eminem’s history with JB has been fire. Unfortunately, unless you are setting iTunes records (Drake) or have a sneaker budget bigger than most people’s crib budget (everyone else), you probably won’t ever lace up in these. The new Jordan and Carhartt collab is more subtle than his previous efforts, but in 2015 less is definitely more when it comes to colorway and branding. Also, daps for making the proceeds to the auction go to Eminem’s charity. Gotta understand, Slim love the kids. —Brandon Edler
14. Pusha T x adidas Running Guidance '93 "Black Market"
Most people were surprised that adidas actually let Pusha T include all the drug references on his collaboration on the EQT Running Guidance '93 sneaker. But Pusha said that he wanted to make the shoe synonymous with his personal brand, so the cracked Italian leather, fishscale-embossed leather, and Pyrex measuring units were all added to the sneaker. Last year saw the design come out in all-white, and 2015 brought the sneaker in all-black for the theme of the "Black Market." Pusha is a real guy, and these sneakers are as authentic as it gets. The combination of the two, coupled with the fact that Pusha admits to buying his own shoes off the resale market, makes this collaboration one that's worth hunting down. —Matt Welty
13. Pharrell Williams x adidas Originals Superstar "Supercolor"
What’s better than collaborating with a brand on one sneaker? How about doing 50 of them? Pharrell’s Supercolors saw the spectrum of light turned into a collection of Superstars made for color purists to find the exact shade to match what they were looking for. If one blue didn’t float your boat, rest assured there were about 10 other possibilities that might fit the bill. Or maybe you were going for more of a pale yellow than goldenrod. Skateboard P had all the bases covered. Perhaps it was a commentary on the paradox of choice, or maybe Pharrell simply heard the calls of the people looking for more colors on their sneakers than the standard white, black or red. It supported adidas’ efforts to make the Superstar the shoe of 2015 after the Stan Smith resurgence dominated the conversation in 2014. What will adidas do to continue its streak into 2016? And what does Pharrell have up his sleeve next? He may have to go even bigger on the next one. Either way, he's definitely helping adidas sell more sneakers. —Skylar Bergl
12. Diamond Supply x Ronnie Fieg x ASICS GEL LYTE V
What would a year end “Best of” sneaker list be without Ronnie? Having two of the biggest names in streetwear collaborate on a sneaker was bound to have the people hype. When Fieg took his ASICS connect and worked with Nicky Diamonds to drape up the classic lifestyle silhouette with premium materials, they cooked up one of the illest sneakers of the summer. Most people may have been looking for the staple Tiffany Blue look from Diamond Supply, but it was the Diamond Blue colorway on the GLV that was lit. —Brandon Edler
11. Concepts x ASICS Gel Lyte III "Boston Tea Party"
Retailers looking to make noise in the industry should look no further than Concepts. Last fall, it opened a revolving storefront that would get a complete face-lift to coincide with every release. In 2015, we saw a trap house, a pharmacy, and a luxury boutique. But perhaps its most revolutionary setup came when it released its ASICS Gel Lyte III “Boston Tea Party.” Concepts transformed the boutique to a scene straight from the political protest: a bow of a tea ship emerged from the wall and into the shores of a makeshift Boston Harbor, with crates of tea thrown overboard into the water.
The sneaker was thankfully just as inspiring as the buildout, with a red, white, and blue color scheme and silver Tiger stripes on the medial and gold lateral—details founds on the uniforms from the Revolutionary war.
As evidenced by its ASICS Gel Lyte II and its other collaborations, Concepts has proven again and again that it’s a brand that understands the importance of a complete retail experience, from sneaker to storefront. And with its new permanent home in New York City, we hope to see Concepts continue to push the envelope with each release. —John Marcelo
10. Drake x Air Jordan 10 "OVO"
Drake owned 2015. From two albums, er, mixtapes to his undisputed win against Meek Mill and a music video that has been immortalized by countless Internet memes, Drake put in work. He solidified his October’s Very Own line from mere record label merch to a full-fledged clothing line that garnered the attention of Jordan Brand. The result: a partnership that has included “OVO” colorways of the Air Jordan VIII, X, and XII. Out of the three, only one saw a release to the public—the X, which featured “OVO” branding and stingray leather. It made an unannounced debut on April 16 (a nod to Toronto’s 416 area code) at the “OVO” pop-up store in Los Angeles, and then saw a wider release through Nike and select retailers.
With All-Star Weekend and a new Jordan Brand store coming to Toronto next year, we expect even bigger things come 2016—maybe even a release of the VIIIs and XIIs. —John Marcelo
9. Ronnie Fieg x ASICS Gel Lyte III “Homage”
Wearable “What The” shoes are a tall task. The idea of collecting design details from a variety of other designs and dropping them onto a single pair of shoes and still making them feel both cohesive and actually wearable borders on the impossible. It’s a foregone conclusion that the shoe will be low, vibrant and, occasionally, ugly. But, Ronnie Fieg’s “What The Fieg” Asics Gel Lyte III managed to toe the line surprisingly well. Ronnie’s pedigree with the Gel Lyte III speaks for itself. A long history of collaborations has led to a world where a toe panel of any shade close to salmon instantly brings to mind a pair that Ronnie has done in the past. So, it’s only right that he would celebrate those projects on this silhouette. Taking colors from the Super Greens, Salmon Toes, New York and other colorways, the “What The Fieg” is more than just a colorful pair of sneakers. It’s a testament to an enduring shoe and a long and successful partnership, which have both become less and less common lately. —Skylar Bergl
8. BAPE x ASICS Gel-Kayano Trainer
The days of A Bathing Ape only doing a limited batch of collaborations every year are long gone, and it's brought good and mediocre opportunities for the brand. One of the better things BAPE has done as of late is the two-shoe collection with ASICS, and the best out of the bunch is the Gel-Kayano Trainer, done up in the label's traditional print with a hint of pink on the outsole. Anytime BAPE is involved with a strong sneaker, people are going to be interested and will start reminiscing of the days of streetweat past. That's exactly what happened with this Kayano. It also didn't hurt that ASICS is riding the crest of the collaboration wave right now. With the footwear brand celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Gel-Lyte III this year, it was nice to see a change of pace with a different silhouette. But what it really came down to was that some of us can't get enough of that camo print. —Matt Welty
7. Just Don x Air Jordan II
The Air Jordan II has always been underappreciated. Despite its history as an Italian-made basketball sneaker, it never did reach the level of mass hysteria as its predecessor and successor. That is, until Don C came into the picture. As Kanye West’s right-hand man and the founder of luxury accessories label Just Don, not only did he bring the sneaker back to its luxury roots in 2015, he revived it completely. Inspired by a Chanel handbag, the Air Jordan II was updated with an all-blue color scheme made up of quilted details and suede side panels. Doing a sneaker wasn’t enough—Jordan Brand gave Don C complete reign over what he does best: luxury sportswear. Accompanying the release was an entire kit of hats and a retro-inspired leather bomber jacket. Don C gave the Air Jordan II a makeover that took the concept of luxury footwear to another level. —John Marcelo
6. Acronym x Nike Lunar Air Force 1
Perhaps this is what happens when there's an absolute glut of collaborations released every weekend, but it feels like most function as a sort of sneaker paint-by-numbers. The collaborator chooses the silhouette from the sneaker brand and drops colors onto different panels and areas around the shoe, and they're done. That was not the case when the Acronym x Nike Lunar Force 1s were released this year. From the very first leaked photo to surface, it was clear that this collab wouldn’t be like the others. Acronym’s Errolson Hugh, known for designing next-level, apocalyptic techwear, and Nike’s All Conditions Gear collection, chopped and screwed the Air Force 1 into a totally different shoe that drew a sharp line in the sand between the lovers and the haters. It’s a Frankensneaker. But Nike’s willingness to stick its neck out there on such a daring partnership speaks volumes. While the crudely attached zipper running parallel to the laces is tough to get used to, the reconfiguration of the shoe’s inner workings is remarkable and the lightweight Lunar midsole contrasts how heavy the shoe looks. This shoe is more a feat of engineering than a sneaker and shows you what can be done when the partnership is right. —Skylar Bergl
5. Public School x Air Jordan XII
How do you make a one-toned sneaker stand out in 2015? You choose an absolutely flawless colorway, which is exactly what the Public School guys did on this Jordan 12. It's not quite a cool grey and it's not quite a heather grey, but it's somewhere in the middle, and that's what makes it perfect. Although it wasn't Public School's first hit when it came to making sneakers, it's clearly their biggest. Not much more needs to be said—just look at 'em. —JLP
4. Palace x adidas Pro Primeknit
Considering the brand was founded just five years ago, London-based Palace Skateboards has already done much to firmly entrench itself as a global presence. They collaborated with Reebok on a selection of Workouts in 2013—following in the footsteps of DGK and even Axion—before releasing several silhouettes through adidas Skateboarding this year, none iller than the Pro Primeknit. A completely new silhouette built on a classic trainer-style cupsole with a ZX-like heelclip, the Pro Primeknit utilized, yes, an entirely Primeknit upper in either classic black and white or a summer-ready white and silver. Is Primeknit, however reinforced, appropriate for skateboarding? Who cares? The Pro Primeknit looked great, felt better, and had US consumers willingly paying for them to be shipped from overseas. The Pro Boost is cool and all, but it's essentially a skate upper placed on a runner bottom. The Pro Primeknit's seamless blend of futuristic engineering and classic skate style earns it a top spot. —RB
3. Supreme x Air Jordan V "Camo"
It's really a shame that Supreme is so hype- and reseller-driven now that the thing that made them dope in the first place so rarely gets talked about—their designs. Forget for a moment that their Air Jordan Vs sold out immediately, or that they were promoted in part by a photo of Michael Jordan himself wearing a Supreme x Jordan T-shirt photographed by Terry Richardson, or that there were actual blog posts written by actual people talking about which colorway of the three was the rarest. Take a look at the desert camo pair, which is the only one we're really talking about here. Supreme flipped a 1990 design with a nod to Desert Storm, infusing an already iconic model with even more meaning. It's not subtle, but that's not what Supreme is about anyway. Even the huge "Sup" lettering behind the clear mesh panel works in this instance, where it seems a bit much on the more subdued (and a little too Bulls) white and black colorways. The camo joints are timeless, yet point to a specific time. They're also a year-round shoe, in a less clichéd way than a Timberland-inspired "wheat" version would be. Most of all, they make you want to wear the hell out of them, and isn't that supposed to be the whole point? —RB
2. fragment design x Nike Sock Dart
The Nike Sock Dart was supposed to be a sneaker that faded into the brand's archives without being remembered. Maybe it was too weird for 2004, or it was just too far ahead of its time. Whatever the case was, Nike saw the tail end of 2014 as the perfect time to reintroduce the sneaker with help from Hiroshi Fujiwara's fragment design, which supposedly had a hand in creating the sneaker in the first place. What started in 2014 only got driven home stronger this year, with multiple fragment versions of the Sock Dart, a laceless sneaker with a sock-like upper, releasing. It's crazy to think that Nike was so far ahead of the design curve when it come to this shoe, but that's the magic of it. Every one of the fragment versions of the Sock Dart were extremely hard to get, and that only built the mystique of the shoe. In a world that's obsessed with retro for all the wrong reasons, it was refreshing to see another idea get celebrated for being futuristic and trend-setting, rather than because an NBA player wore it 20 years ago. —Matt Welty
1. Concepts x New Balance 997 "Luxury Goods"
The best sneaker collaboration doesn't have to be the one with 15 different colors, four different materials, and an elaborate back story—although that can be cool sometimes, too. The ace choice is often a great sneaker made by a shop or clothing label that goes above and beyond what the brand typically produces on its own. This year that title belongs to Concepts, who did a New Balance 997, which was made in the USA and came in orange suede with a white midsole. It was loosely inspired by Hermes, a point of controversy that surrounded the sneaker release. Concepts itself usually tackles more in-depth, well, concepts when it comes to its collaborative sneakers, but things were a little different this time around. What stunned consumers was how great the sneakers looked. It took quality to a new echelon and actually made a sneaker, which was titled "Luxury Goods," that was better made than most high-end shoes on the market. This was also the second 997 that Concepts and New Balance have made together, but it didn't stop anyone's appetite for a plain, all-orange shoe, making this collaboration even more impressive. —Matt Welty