Up Close With the Yeezy Boost 350, the Kanye West Sneaker We’ve Been Waiting For

The controversial creative’s latest collaborative adidas sneaker finally lives up to his promises of democratic design.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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When the adidas Yeezy Boost 350 debuted at Yeezy Season 1 back in February, eyes were still directed at the 750 Boost. They were, in many ways, a footnote to the larger story and anticipation of the 750 Boost. The Turtle Grey colorway that releases this Saturday was seen alongside a black colorway, and the Duck Boot (whose details have yet to be known). Kanye West started wearing them even before the 750 was released, and folks in the Kanye camp have been flexing in them ever since. But it’s been a long road to get to this point, that can only be fully appreciated by looking at how Kanye West has approached footwear and his own status in the world of fashion.

It’s no stretch to call adidas’ Yeezy 750 Boost the most highly anticipated shoe of all time. No relationship in sneakers has inspired as much speculation and as high stakes as West's relationship with adidas. His work with Nike resulted in only two shoes, but during the few years that those releases spanned they became a favorite of many and unattainable to many more. Kanye West's touch on sneakers became golden by the time he dissolved his relationship with the Swoosh, having proven appeal vertically throughout the market.

West said that Nike wasn't giving him the freedom to do what he really wanted, they weren't fostering his genius, they weren't respecting his artistry. By the time adidas stepped in, we had been told that we hadn’t gotten the opportunity to see what he was capable of. Considering his own words, West’s first adidas shoe would have to be the greatest of all time. The problem was, he set the bar so high it would be impossible to succeed. He couldn't create the greatest shoe ever. Millennia of footwear preceded him. As a sneaker designer, Kanye West is anything but a god. Which is why we got the Yeezy 750 Boost.

The 750 Boost was never meant to be a shoe. West set himself up so that he had to create something conceptual that eclipsed his own hype, but that couldn't be done with just a shoe. Shoes have too many limitations. They have to be beautiful, culturally relevant, but also fit onto a foot, be relatively comfortable, and hold up against being dragged across the floor for hours every day the wearer wears them. West could circumvent a huge portion of that and bring his largest vision to life if he didn’t treat it as a shoe. So he created a sculpture in the shape of a shoe: The fit is awkward. The construction is clumsy. The shoe is heavy, the components are thick, and the interior isn't shaped like a human foot. The suede buckles after just a wear or two. The zippers break. The Velcro rarely fits squarely on its conjoining pad. That is not to say no one should wear this shoe, but they shouldn't wear it expecting to have an effortless or universally comfortable experience, like almost any other Boost sneaker. The wearer is meant to buy the shoe, put it on their shelf, and congratulate themselves daily for owning it (and congratulate Kanye West for making it).

The 750 Boost is not a shoe you live in. That was never the goal. It succeeded exactly in what Kanye West wanted to do: reintroduce himself into this world and prove he was “right.” He did just that. The inspirations for the shoe are obvious. One need only look as far as Kanye's daily footwear choices to see where he got the components that make up the 750 Boost. The material choices are Visvim. The lacing and toe wrap are Margiela. The strap began with his work at Louis Vuitton, filtered through Nike, and serves as a reference point at adidas. It’s a physical representation of how West has seen sneakers’ relationship with fashion develop over the last half decade. It's everything he wanted on a shoe, but couldn't get.

West promised that everyone who wanted a Yeezy was going to get one, but the 750 Boost was not for everyone. The stiff nature and unreliable construction meant it wouldn't last long into the mass market. He had to release only a small number so that they would always remain valuable, so if anyone one had problems they would suffer for their rare shoe (remember when the zippers started breaking? adidas offered to take Boosts back almost as a sort of dare, but it’s doubtful if anyone took them up on it). Not everyone was supposed to get these shoes.

Instead, everyone is supposed to get the Boost 350. The inspiration is as easy to track. The lacing geography is Balenciaga and the upper is a Roshe. There are elements borrowed from military apparel (echoed in the heavily Helmut Lang-inspired Yeezy Season 1), and the upper's material has been called Primeknit by adidas, despite its very different feel. But it's not a buffet of references like the 750. The 350 is more confident— it's doing less, but because of that, the shoe is far more wearable. It’s lighter, and the upper conforms to the wearer’s foot, rather than forcing the opposite. The opening is wide enough for easy on and off. This is a shoe that's meant to be worn. In many ways, the Yeezy Boost 350 is Kanye West's first shoe with adidas.

But the Yeezy Boost 350 is far from perfect. It does still carry over some of the head scratching design decisions that the 750 Boost featured. The shoe is lighter than the 750, but still remarkably heavy for what it is. That’s probably due to the white ribbed rubber that wraps around the Boost sole. The two-piece Primeknit upper features a thicker yarn than adidas’ previous Primeknit offerings, and has a noticeable elastic give. There’s one visible stitch on the shoe, a combination Cross Stitch and Whip Stitch, that runs up the front. A tonal stitch holds the medial suede in place that’s positioned at the arch, ostensibly to prevent the upper from giving where the wearer’s foot needs arch support. But everything else is glued into place. The faux suede liners, the backing of the real suede arch support, backing for the top stitch, backing for the lacing system—it’s all glued. The upper has been stretched into shape, including extending the collar into the piping taking out most of its elasticity. If the shoe doesn’t fit, if it’s too big, it will take some duck walking to keep it on.

Consistent elements that West has clung to as his aesthetic identity are missing. The strap across the forefoot, the height of the shoe, ultra premium materials. Every way West has boxed himself into a corner since his Louis Vuitton collaboration are finally gone. He’s released himself from the narrow identity he had created, and let it fly for this shoe. It feels like a form of creative emancipation.

The impact of the Boost 350 isn't as high, but it doesn't matter. Kanye West has already struck his new tone, and put it into context with Yeezy Season 1, where we got to see three shoes. Although critics are rightfully mixed in their responses, this is now the experience that West has been promising all these years. He still isn't taking responsibility for the shortcomings of his designs (that is the benefit of a collaboration after all, take the praise, pass the blame), but he never has. Creative and colloquial responsibility aren't his thing. But, the Yeezy Boost 350 is the first time he's not trying to prove a point and just letting his customer dictate what they should get. They should be comfortable, wearable, effortless. This is the first Kanye West shoe that is all those things. And even if it enters the pantheon of his design work nowhere near the most sought after, it will certainly be remembered as the first time the customer, and their experience, mattered more than anything else.

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