For artists and designers, having their artwork incorporated into a sneaker can expand their market to a wider audience. These collaborations have the ability to place artists on the map and help to establish their careers in art/design. Household names like Vivienne Westood and KAWS and newcomers like Ruohan Wang have collaborated to reinvent classic sneakers. Continue to read to discover other artists who have collaborated with some of the biggest sneaker brands.
1. Jeff Staple X Nike
In 2005 the Nike X Jeff Staple NYC Pigeon sneaker made history in more ways than one. Designer Jeff Staple created a sneaker as a dedication to NYC, and the now infamous pigeon was born. The Nike sb dunk low featured a dark/light grey colorway and a stitched pigeon on the heel. Lines were formed outside of Staple’s store in the lower east side, and soon it was swarmed with people trying to get their hands on the coveted sneaker. The police were even called to the scene because of overcrowding and to maintain order.
What makes this particular collaboration so special is the amount of attention attached to it. News media, including The New York Post, covered the story immediately and it traveled through mainstream media. It became one of the first times non-sneaker lovers had ever heard of a “sneaker riot.” From there people started to question why people were obsessed with sneakers. It has been credited as one of the first major hyped up sneakers that started the trend of “hype.”
2. COMME des GARÇONS X Nike and Converse
French designer brand COMME des GARÇONS has collaborated with Nike on multiple different occasions. A popular release was The Supreme X Nike X COMME des GARÇONS in a collaboration which took the classic Nike swoosh and sliced it in half. The collaboration is a tie-back to COMME des GARÇON’s simplistic deconstructed look that they are known for. Founded in Paris in the 1970s, its original aesthetic was the usage of distressed fabrics and unfinished edges. Their 2020 Air Force 1 Mid collaboration also featured heavily distressed raw edges and “tattered” appearance. This look is what the brand was heavily criticized for in the early days of its debut, but is what has made it a desirable form of collaboration to this day.
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One of the most popular is their collaboration Converse X CDG Play collection. The CDG Play pieces feature the heart-shaped logo and are a more casual version of their traditional luxury line. Their red heart-eyed logo was designed by Filip Pagowski and has become a signature of the brand. The simplicity of the sneaker with its black/white colorway and the pop of red makes it wearable for a wide range of people.
3. Kanye West X Adidas
Kanye West and Adidas have set the tone for innovative and unique shoe design. The collaborative brand Yeezy started in 2015 between both musician and designer Kanye West and sports giant Adidas. Since then, they have released some of the most coveted sneakers on the market. What makes a Yeezy sneaker stand out from the rest of the sneaker crowd are the daring designs. One of its most hyped up releases was the Adidas YEEZY FOAM RNNR. Made with algae based foam, its caged-like appearance had people guessing as to what it would be like to wear one of these types of shoes. Some of their more tried and true styles is the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 or the Adidas Yeezy 500.
Mostly the line stays in a neutral colorway, although occasionally brighter pops of color appear. The brand has also extended into fashion with Yeezy debuting at New York Fashion Week in 2015. Their futuristic aesthetic is paired with earth-toned colorways making it both wearable, yet a stand-out from the rest of the sneaker crowd. The unique shoe designs always gain hype online as the brand’s collaboration continues to deliver on exclusive sneakers.
4. Keith Haring X Reebok
The art of Keith Haring gets a three-dimensional reinterpretation with Reebok sneakers. The Keith Haring Foundation started collaborating with Reebok in 2013. With multiple different collections featuring the late artist’s work, each sneaker makes a statement that embodies the messages of his original artwork. There has been a “Crack is Wack” pack that was inspired by Haring’s work with the anti-drug campaign of the 1980s. The 2013 collection featured cut-outs of Haring’s imagery of Everyman, Barking Dog and Radiant Baby. Their Spring/Summer 2014 collaborative collection featured Haring’s 1983 Matrix mural and gave the shoes a hand-drawn quality. The bold colors paired with Haring’s graphic cartoon-esque figures pops out from Reebok’s signature sneaker designs. It separated itself from not just slapping his graphics onto a flat surface, but intwinging them within the actual shoe design. Each pair looks and feels individualized for the consumer.
5. HTM X Nike
Hiroshi Fujiwara (left), Mark Parker (middle), Tinker Hatfield (right) are three titans of the sneaker industry and Nike. The former CEO of Nike, Mark Parker collaborated with sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield and “godfather of streetwear” stylist-designer, Hiroshi Fujiwara. Since 2002 the collaborative trio HTM has released sneakers with innovative technologies including Nike Flyknit and KOBE 9 Elite Low HTM , and they continue to push boundaries. Each designer brings along their own set of skills and inspiration to the table to create sneakers. This design trio is mostly focused on new technologies and have helped advance sneaker design.
Advancements in knitwear design and application have contributed to increasing their sneakers performance-level as well as the overall aesthetic. Some of their popular designs include the Nike Air Woven rainbow or the Nike Air Force 1 HTM sneakers. These designs are a blend of couture and effortless streetstyle. The intricacies of the fibers used in the knitwear blended with classic Nike sneaker silhouettes have made this collaboration one of the most respected in the sneaker world.
6. Andy Warhol X Converse
The classic canvas of a Converse Chuck Taylor All Star gets revamped with Andy Warhol’s iconic imagery. The Andy Warhol foundation first collaborated with Converse in 2015. The collection ranged from his famous Campbell soup cans to his newspaper clippings. The collection also expanded in 2016 with his graphic poppy flower prints and banana prints. The sneakers came in both high and low top sneakers. During Warhol’s own lifetime he collaborated with fashion designers such as Halston in the 1970s. Now, instead of silkscreen heels, his screen prints are being used on wearable everyday items such as sneakers. The collections encompass Warhol’s message of commericalibity and mass production. It also celebrates classic American style. Since his screen prints were first produced they are still being used today to inspire a whole new generation of fashion and art lovers.
7. KAWS X Vans and Nike
One of the most notable collaborators in the sneaker world is KAWS. KAWS is an artist/designer that has worked with brands including Vans and Nike. His signature double X’s and figurative cartoon characters have been lent to brands over a period of years. His first collaboration started with DC Shoes in 2002. The shoes showcased his staple ‘COMPANION’ character in an all-white graphic set against a neutral background. One of his most well-known collaborations is with the KAWS X Vans Chukka boot LX design. The white sneaker displayed hand-drawn illustrations of Simpsons (or “Kimpsons”) characters that featured his signature X’s on the eyes. It has been sold at auction houses and still fetches a high price on reselling sites like Stockx.
He has also released The Jordan x KAWS capsule collection. Inspired by KAW’s Brooklyn heritage, the grey suede exterior was a new change for the Jordan sneaker. It had an industrial-like feel seen in the sleek skyscrapers of New York. What the KAWS collaborations showcase is how brands can incorporate an artist’s signature designs to an already existing sneaker. His collaborations have helped to build hype and interest in collaborations between sneaker brands and artists ranging from graphic, fine art, graffiti, or performance art.
8. Ruohan Wang X Nike
One of the newer sneaker collaborations on this list is between artist Ruohan Wang and Nike. Based in Berlin, Germany she creates artwork that focuses on the relationship between humans and the earth. This collaboration included three sneakers: the Nike Air Force 1 Low, Air Max 90 (seen above), and Blazer Mid. Each shoe contains a mosaic of graphic shapes and psychedelic colors. The box that comes with the shoes is also decked out in Wang’s signature designs. Each pair uses Nike’s Flyleather which is made of 50% recycled leather on the upper part of the sneaker. This pairs well with Wang’s focus on sustainability and the earth-centric theme of the collection. There are also Chinese characters placed within the design with some translating to “natural circulation” and “power and love.” This collection not only incorporates a message on sustainability, but also unity. Blending both her Chinese and Berlin backgrounds she combines these influences into her debut sneaker collaboration with Nike.
9. Vivienne Westwood X Asics
The collaboration between Punk pioneer Vivienne Westwood and Asics resulted in a dynamic sneaker collaboration. Together they have created a unique line of shoes that blends runway extravaganza with the contemporary sneaker market. Their partnership takes inspiration from Westwood’s own fashion brand history. Their first collaboration in 2019 featured Westwood’s signature “squiggle” print. Their second contained artwork from Boucher’s Daphnis and Chloe which Westwood has also used in her Fall/Winter 1990 collection. Their third collection featured a mesh-like fabric on the exterior of the sneaker inspired by Westwood’s 1982’s “Nostalgia of Mud” collection. Their most recent collection debuting this year is inspired by Westwood’s “SEX” shop and her provocative and rebellious designs in the 1970s. The shoes feature a translucent material inspired by her latex stockings (featured above).
Westwoods rebellious, yet socially conscious brand has broken the rules of fashion since its inception. Coupled with Asics, it has resulted in a line of sneakers for the consumer looking to distance themselves from the norm and celebrate both artistic fashion and classic streetwear.
10. Shantell Martin X Puma
British artist Shantell Martin collaborated with Puma in 2018 creating a line of sneakers and clothing that embodied her signature line work. Martin works with loose expressive imagery either in art installations or drawings. They contain messages of unity, inspiration, and aspiration. The range of products in her collaborations shows designs that are accessible to a wide group of people. The shoes feature motivational phrases such as “Be More” or “ Do Less Be More” either on the sole or exterior of the sneaker. The collections included classic Puma sneakers such as the Puma Suede and Cylde. They featured graphic black/white lettering with a navy blue introduced in the second drop.
Her third and most recent campaign had specific ties to the artist’s background growing up in Thamesmead, London. The newest campaign was shot in the neighborhood where she grew up, and she expressed in interviews that her message was to empower and inspire those who come from similar backgrounds. This collection features bright primary colors reminiscent of 80/90’s colorways. Currently she is working with the Denver Art Museum on an art installation.