This article was originally published in the December 2016 "Essentials" issue of SHIFT Magazine. See the magazine spread here.

Thanks to decades of fashion casualization, athletic shoes now occupy a proper spot in the pantheon of footwear. What started decades ago with canvas sports shoes like the original Converse Chuck Taylor has blossomed into an industry projected to be worth more than $84 billion by 2018. From humble roots, sneakers have evolved: designer collabs, fashion week shows, and even self-lacing trainers are all a part of today’s sneaker ecosystem. Here are our picks for the 5 pairs that defined one of the most exciting years in the history of sneakers.

 

1. Nike Mag “2016”

The granddaddy of them all. In 2011, the Portland-based athletic brand released 1500 pairs of Nike Mags (the iconic “future shoe” from the 1989 film Back to the Future II) through eBay auctions, with all proceeds benefitting the Michael J. Fox foundation. Other than a lack of space age “auto-lacing,” the 2011 Mag’s were a 1:1 copy. Even at open auction, bidders paid close to $3800 per pair just to score Mags.

Four years later, as the world celebrated “Back to the Future Day” on October 21, 2015, Nike tweeted one of the most cryptic lines in sneaker history. The Mag was back.

The very next day, actor Michael J. Fox (who played Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies) took to late-night shoes to show off his 1/1 auto-lacing mags. Meanwhile, sneakerheads worldwide prepared to take out mortgages (and kidneys) for the cash to cop. Then… they waited.

After a year of anticipation, the Swoosh broke the silence: the future was now. On October 4, 2016, the first genuine Nike Mags were released. While only 100 of the auto-lacing pairs exist, the paradigm-shifting tech (and eye-watering price tag) make this limited shoe the most influential sneaker of 2016.

 

2. Adidas NMD R1 “Glitch Camo”

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The Rookie of the Year. When adidas released the original NMD Runner in December 2015, the sneaker world took notice. Here was the answer to everyone’s prayers: boost tech and Primeknit on a lifestyle shoe that wasn’t just another Yeezy? Hallelujah.

Couple that with a price tag just under the Ultra Boost’s, and adidas Orginials had the recipe for a future classic. As long as they wrapped it in the right colors, of course.

As the first NMD release after the 2015 launch, the “Glitch Camo” colorway had big shoes to fill. If the shoe succeeded, it paved the way for future NMD success. However, if pairs sat – or worse, hit clearance – it could mean the end for what promised to be the year’s most exciting lifestyle silhouette. Long story short: sneakerheads camped, “Glitch Camo” sold out nationwide, and the rest is history. Thanks to the good looks of the “Glitch Camo” R1, the adidas NMD began its meteoric rise to fame.  

 

3. Yeezy 750 “Grey/Gum”

The wave. If 2015 was the Year of Yeezy, 2016 was the start of a dynasty. Within a few short months, the world got a studio album, two fashion shows, global pop-up stores – oh yeah, plus the Saint Pablo tour. Anything with a Kanye co-sign turned to gold, or at the very least, more headlines than one could count. By the time this third colorway of Kanye’s adidas-produced signature shoe dropped in June, both streetwear blogs and the press at large seemed poised for peak Yeezy.

In many ways, the 750 Grey/Gum is both hyped sneaker and cultural token. To those outside sneaker circles, the shoe’s distinctive colorway, celebrity association, and mythical stature (sold out in seconds, resold for 500% MSRP) identify this prototypical “Yeezy” as culturally transcendental. As Beckham is to soccer and Deadmau5 is to techno, so is the Yeezy 750 to everything sneakers. Love it or hate it, the Yeezy 750 Grey/Gum had an impact.

 

4. Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto “Neon”

The underdog. From streetwear blogs to Barron’s magazine, this year’s headlines seemed to spell doom for the Swoosh. As the press fixated on a revived adidas (NMD, Yeezy) and a resurgent Under Armour (UAS, Curry), Nike appeared to be treading water. Even a new Lebron shoe and a fresh round of Riccardo Tisci collabs couldn’t catapult America’s largest athletic apparel brand back into the limelight. Then along came ACRONYM.

In late spring, images leaked of a rumored Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto collab. The first shoe shown to blogs had all the classic ACRONYM trappings (zippers, snap closures, innovative materials), and generated excitement due to its avant-garde silhouette alone. Rumors swirled about possible other ACRONYM-typical colorways – black? Black on black? – and excitement surrounding the shoe slowly grew. Then, around mid-summer, another round of photos leaked, showing off all 3 colorways of the now-confirmed sneaker.

In the middle of two variations of olive-on-black Prestos sat the wildest shoe of 2016: a neon pink, highlighter yellow biomorphic ninja slipper. Suddenly, Nike was back in the headlines. The “Neon” Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto may just be the comeback story this year needed. Check out more about the shoe from this blog here.

 

5. Ronnie Fieg x A Bathing Ape Fiegsta “Sand” 

The connoisseur’s choice. While the rest of the world chased Yeezy Boosts and Nike MAG’s, two of the shoe game’s founding influences collaborated on the year’s most wearable luxury sneaker. To augment the launch of KITH NYC, his New York-based store-turned-brand’s first fashion collection, the legendary Ronnie Fieg partnered with Japanese streetwear hallmark A Bathing Ape on this handmade suede version of the latter’s celebrated “Bapesta” shoe.

Dubbed the “Fiegsta” (for obvious reasons), the shoe launched in early September to critical acclaim, and more importantly, ravenous demand. To those in the know, the reason was obvious: Fieg is one of the world’s foremost sneaker designers; BAPE, perhaps the most influential streetwear brand in history. The two collaborating was a Voltron of cultural gods not seen since Murakami x Vuitton. Fans recognized the significance of Fieg’s work with BAPE, causing the shoe to sell out instantly even at a staggering $300 MSRP.    

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Do you agree with the choices? Anything I missed? Comment below or on Facebook here.

 

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