All Kanye West wanted to do was hitch a ride. He needed to get from Art Basel in Miami back to New York, and then-Nike CEO Mark Parker had room on the company private jet, a conspicuous vessel made to look like one of the brand's sneakers. West got what he wanted. Then, 30,000 feet up, flanked by clothing designer Dr. Romanelli and Wieden+Kennedy creative director John Jay, he pulled out a sketchbook to show Parker and made sneaker history.
On that flight in 2006, West first showed Parker sketches of what would become the original Air Yeezy, his Nike signature shoe debut that released in 2009. The model reshaped the artist-athletic brand relationship and helped establish West as a true multihyphenate. The 2012 sequel was even bigger. Years after his messy split with Nike—West left the brand for Adidas in 2013, citing Nike's unwillingness to give him a full collection and royalties—the Air Yeezys remain among the most coveted and limited styles in his deep sneaker catalog. You can't buy an unworn pair on the resell market for anything under $2,500. They haven't been produced since their original run, although, a retro Air Yeezy would certainly be a money machine for Nike. How would West feel about it?
"Man, anything that the kids want and the people want," he said in a GQ cover story published last week when asked whether he'd be OK a Nike Air Yeezy retro. "People should be able to have what they want."
The approval is surprising coming from the man who once lampooned fans yearning for the old Kanye. And the Air Yeezys are decidedly "old Kanye," their design language something like his early production. They are chipmunk soul chop sneakers, art pieces that built their foundation on sampling old work and modernizing it. West has moved past this approach in his output—where his Nike Air Yeezys drew inspiration from retros, his Adidas Yeezys are focused on the future.
To bring back the Air Yeezy now would be a mistake, a wrinkle in the timeline of an artist focused on looking forward. Yes, there may be an overwhelming—and enduring—demand for more Air Yeezys, but a reissue would not be appropriate outside of the context of the original's arrival. As much as some of us may want the sneaker to return, it shouldn't.
The very notion of looking back with a retro sneaker feels unsuitable for a person as protean as West. Retro Air Jordans work in part because they capture Michael Jordan moments frozen in time and recreate them decades later. Moments from West's career aren't so static. His achievements and tastes as an artist aren't crystallized in the same way the stats and moves of an athlete, the usual source of sneaker models, are. Plus, unlike Jordan, his non-sneaker body of work is still evolving.
That this evolution is happening at Adidas underscores why a retro Nike Air Yeezy wouldn't make any sense. Not only did West split with Nike, he did it in the most fiery way possible, publicly decrying former collaborator Parker. (West has since apologized for his comments aimed at the sportswear exec.) He even made a full-on Nike diss track. Nike has put out products without their original endorsers before, stripping Andre Agassi and Chris Webber's names from shoes of explicit association with them after they left the brand, but West's is a different case. When he decided to stop working with the Swoosh, he burned all bridges, in the process destroying the idea that Kanye West and Nike belonged together at all. Repackaging the old product and putting it back on shelves cannot undo that.
There are enough old sneakers being repackaged and trotted back out, anyway. At this point, brands have provided a glut of retros and special editions that ensure no given weekend passes without an archival sneaker returning. The question when it comes to retros should by "Why?" rather than "Why not?" This is especially true for collaborations and the limited shoes that we were told were special. A Supreme version of the Nike SB Dunk from 2002 should not return in 2020—the original circumstances that made it unique do not exist anymore. A Kanye West-designed Nike should not be available in 2020—the movement it was a part of looks too different now.
Sure, the extremely unlikely Nike Air Yeezy retro would fit with West's current mission of democratizing good design, but it would also ignore the context of the original release. West said in a 2015 interview with Ryan Seacrest that everyone who wanted to get a Yeezy would eventually be able to, and he's delivered on that promise as his Adidas line has continually become more widely available. This work of diluting hype is admirable and exciting, but totally in opposition to the Nike Air Yeezys, sneakers that you simply could not attain without camping out, knowing someone, getting lucky on a website, or paying way over retail. This type of context matters—the Air Yeezys, as they stand now, are an indicator that the person wearing them spent some serious effort or money to do so. A retro, however limited, would spoil that.
The good news is that there is almost certainly no chance that a Nike Air Yeezy retro will happen any time soon. West is no longer actively feuding with the brand, but there's no indication that Nike has forgiven him for the shots he's taken over the years. The hilarious troll of a model that was the Nike Air Entertrainer, essentially an inline knockoff of the Yeezy sans West, did not look like an olive branch when it arrived in 2016. Nike doesn't necessarily need West right now, either. It's already enlisted his long list of disciples—Virgil Abloh, Jerry Lorenzo, Matthew Williams—to generate fresh brand energy. And while West told GQ he was fine with Nike Air Yeezys coming back out, they'd likely have to return under some different moniker, anyway, given his ownership over the Yeezy brand name.
Those still yearning for a pair of Nike Air Yeezys would be wise to start saving up for an old one or be satisfied with how extremely prolific he's been at Adidas. There will be plenty more Kanye West sneakers. He will give you what you need, although it may not be what you want.