Initially, we thought 2011 was a pretty weak year for shoes.
Inaugural discussions to put together a shortlist just dredged up a lot of shoes making their umpteenth return in classic colours. So we had to waiver a lot of our emphasis on brand new silhouettes. We've seen what's in place until after summer 2012 and the Olympic offerings led us to believe that punches were pulled a little over the last twelve months. But on closer examination, we still managed to find just over a hundred shoes that we liked.
There's a lot of familiarity in the shapes, but there were some killer releases on the shelves. This year there were some good attempts to appease old heads (PUMA's Shadow Society releases and adidas's Gazelle Indoor and ZX 380 re-releases) and the year was bookended by a feverish hunt for Jordans — IIIs in January and the XIs in December. Those are classic shoes, but we see a whole new generation who were barely born when the Concord first dipped a shiny toe onto the courts taking an interest — as gateway drugs into the world of shoe obsession MJ's silhouettes superseded the Dunk as a totem of queues, rumours and internet beef. But no matter how wonky the retro, they sure are pretty. Nike's Free Run+ 2 seemed to unite new jacks and veterans in appreciation. So here's our pick of the year's best — we'll be taking some closer looks at our absolute favourites over the Holiday season, but there's always time for an overview. We find distilling the office's multiple personalities into just ten shoes nigh-on impossible, so we opt out of any form of editing. Fuck a top ten.
As per usual, we start with Nike. In the basketball stakes, our favourite shoes were the LeBron 9 (especially in the madcap China colourway), despite a height and imposing shape that's got a few folk hyped, the LeBron 8's V2 design was a great reworking of the original. The Miami Night take on the V2 Low which, generated some initial revulsion round here, but revealed itself to be obnoxious and brilliant with a late '90s Alpha Project era lunacy to it. Clark Kent's friends and family denim and gum sole LeBron 8 worked well too. The Kobe VII in System Supreme form was a variation on a theme, but a strong theme nonetheless, with an ankle strap application that reminded us of the Carnivore, adidas EQT or Mowabb. The Stoudemire signature shoe, in the shape of the Air Max Sweep Thru and the fourth installment of Kevin Durant's KD releases was a welcome addition to the Nike Basketball stable. Then there was the retro stuff — we can't get enough of Scottie's old Uptempo Max 97 design (one of those releases that was out of our pricepoint back in the day) in Fresh Water colours, the teal Foamposite (still splitting opinions round these parts) and Tim Duncan's old Total Air Foamposite Max.
And no, we don't know why the Air GO LWP reissue was so snoozed on, but we're not mad at the crazed glow-in-the-dark hybrid of early Jason Kidd/Penny style that the Zoom Rookie brought to the table. It looks a lot better than his Peak shoes anyway. On the Force front, a denim Quickstrike edition, the "Finish Your Breakfast" Strickland edition (paying homage to a streetball legend) and Year of the Rabbit — taking it back to the glory days of Chinese New Year editions — versions of the Uptown were excellent, offering the calm before 2012's celebratory storm. If you were hunting a Hi, then it was all about the Wheat Vac Tech version, or the AF1 Duck Boot — easily one of the best brand tributes to Sorel and LL Bean weatherproofing to date — we liked how they tweaked the tooling.
It's probably worth getting Jordan out of the way too — the Quai 54 edition of the Jordan V, exclusive to Euro Foot Lockers and House of Hoop stores was one of the best new colourways of the shoe in a while. It trumped a fine Bin 23 edition of the shoe and the Wolf Grey Vs, but couldn't quite reach the mindblowing heights of the T23 Tokyo-exclusive. From the embroidery to that shade of yellow, it had people hunting and shelling out some ridiculous sums. The Concord XI retro was decent too, giving the shoe its bluey tinge again and causing the late December pandemonium that's become a tradition round these parts.
There were Cement IIIs in White/Cement and Black/Cement that even weird build can't beat, but we were deeply excited by the return of the Bordeaux VIII after all these years away — it had an odd shape, but that colourway stays classic, and that's word to Diamond D. But the best Jordan release of the year was the 'Banned' Jordan I, tactically "banned" and sold in outlets only with a yellowed tribute to the original box, some smart stamping on the inside and — wait for it — amazing leather. That release was a love letter to the Jordan line and we're hoping we see more releases of that calibre without the Easter Egg hunt. Still, it was amusing to watch the excitement erupt around that drop after initial apathy. Ray Allen's Celtics coloured XI was a perfect palette for a classic too. Even if you'd been bored or annoyed by recent Jordan installments, you still couldn't front on the Jordan 2011 - the emboss, the premium leather and the scope for midsole trading made them one of the best Jordans since the XIII all those years ago.
Everyone became a runner in 2011 and despite that market share of "serious" folk seemingly slipping in favour of other brands over the years, Nike is back on the rise with some fine footwear for anybody looking to improve themselves. The Free Run+ 2 is the best running shoe design of the year — those cutaways, the asymmetric lacing, the slightly tweaked Free patterning? Perfect. The Cities editions (Brazil was crazy), reflective Shield versions and the blue and orange take were outstanding. We saw a lot of folk wearing this shoe who were in tattered Vans last time we looked. Is that a sign of even bigger things to come? The Lunarglide III was good too, with more of that progressive underlay business going on and the Lunarhaze and Air Max 2011 were decent — the heel swoosh of the former is good and while the latter can't match the 2010 (the Fuse on it, alongside that RRP made us pause at the checkout though).
While the Free Huaraches are close but no cigar, 2010's Zoom Huarache TR Low is one of the best Huarache spinoffs of recent years, and the Manny Pacquiao colourway with the fade is a definitive colourway. A wheat-coloured canvas Air Max 1 piqued our interest in that model for the first time in a while by evoking a past triumph, and the Wheat gum-soled Vac Tech Air Max 90 was amazing too, but the Hyperfuse version of the AM87, exclusive to Berlin heads was good and we have to mention the Air Max 90 Hyperfuse in Infrared colours that you could only get if you attended our BBQ or entered our TIA competition and became one of the lucky few.
Then there was the Air Flow retro and the Lunar Flow — one of the better remixes. The 1989 cult favourite's return at Tier Zero was the right way to reissue that old favourite,. Who knows? Maybe we'll see another shoe along those lines return in the middle of next year. That would be awesome, right? Even the monotone variations for Selfridges were on point - kept a secret in the age of the leak until the very last minute. Maize and Concord Air Pegasus 92 retros are things of beauty too, as was the V-Series collection reissue. We don't care if the Vector became the Venue and ultimately the Venture — they were some of the best additions to the vintage line to date in the original colours and in a green and metallic blue palette. The GYAKUSOU Zoom Structure+ 15 is the future of collaborations — top tier performance product and top tier partners bringing some phenomenal colourways. The Quickstrike rerelease of the Air Tailwind in select sports to commemorate its Honolulu Marathon preview drop in 1978 was a very, very smart piece of marketing for an important shoe.
Nike SB was consistent in 2011, but three releases really shone — the mid-cut white leather Janoski Mid that was a perfect shorts shoe and the Statue of Liberty Dunk Hi that captured the feel of a golden age of SB Dunk releases were tremendous but the Koston 1 was a masterpiece. Versatile, comfortable and cleverly designed to merge cutting edge anti-retro tech with that minimal stitch build and drop in Lunarlon, Eric's first Nike signature shoe set a hefty precedent, riffing on Huarache, Jordan and Presto without dwelling on the past. In ACG — another of our favourite divisions — the Zoom Meriwether was a masterpiece in fragment and (RED) palettes, evoking the line's pioneering spirit of odd merged with real-deal hiker DNA. The Lunar Orbit+ picked up where the Macleay left off the previous year, with a Footscape style fit and technical feel that was brave in its execution and the ACG Air Max Prime is one of the year's major sleepers — GORE-TEX protection and a premium feel, plus an air of late '90s basketball Max to it too. Then there was the Lava Domes - the Steven Alan grey/green and Quickstrike Georgetown colourway fitting in perfectly with the original versions and still stays timeless despite benefitting from extra Zoom comfort. We still can't quite believe that they first dropped around 1981.
Some of the year's best Nike drops didn't fit into the above categories at all - the green suede Zoom Supreme Court Low was a perfect summer shoe, there were more SFB Boots, including a phenomenal white leather pair. We became obsessed with both the Griffey Max 2 reissue (even if they ditched the old carbon texture on it and they weren't particularly comfortable), the massively underrated (but big in NYC) Air Max Nomo, with the same baseball theme, plus the white and Varsity Royal Diamond Turf retro. Bo still knows and the Quickstrike of the Air Trainer II SC in the Teal and Citron, plus the Infrared colourway were made from a soft leather with the feel of the OGs about them — it was good to have one of our favourite shoes ever back on our feet in relatively faithful form.
The Lunar Gato is better than any 5-a-side design has any right to be and the Footscape Woven boot on the Freemotion sole should have been terrible, because we've never quite grown to love the Freemotion Footscape design, but the Asia-only animal print designs and the hard-to-obtain Bodega makeups were excellent. The key to the majority of what's mentioned in this paragraph was that not only were they good shoes, but most of them were impossible to get on UK shores without a US or Far East hookup which evokes the old spirit of searching down shoes for bragging rights. That said, it was also pretty inconvenient and expensive too. But nothing was more expensive than Nike's decision to release the Air Mag — a shoe settled atop many a wishlist — for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. The Mag's success in terms of money raised as well as the resulting coverage contradicted any doomy talk of sneaker disinterest — it was a bonafide event and we're keen to see how that can be topped. We like a spot of event footwear and we're anticipating that the Yeezy 2 plus twitter could be a deadly combination if they're turning up at Tier Zero spots globally in just a few months.
On the adidas Originals front, heritage basketball pieces came through in a major way, with a perennial Crooked office classic like the Decade Hi brought back in some excellent leathers and simple colourways. The Forum has long been an object of our affections; for a lion's share of the 1980s, it was the most expensive basketball shoe on the market, so the Crest variation from Frank at Boylston Trading Company (Boylston is based in the adidas-loving city of Boston and inevitably, it's a US-exclusive) brought back the shoe in its increasingly rare Hi form with tonal suede applications that took it back to 1990. We wish all collaborations were as clean as that trio. A blue snakeskin Forum Mid also impressed us when it came to the monthly offerings inline. At performance level, the adidas D Rose 2 is an amazing shoe - the level of design, Crazy Light thinking and some cues from some of adidas's more high-end offerings made for one of our favourite adidas basketball shoes since the days of Feet You Wear and early, early Kobe. As with Nike, it's a shame we had to wait until now to see them on the court.
Unlike the reactions from the rest of the internet, the B-Sides BAPE Superstars left us a little cold - the original version in its special box carried the details that made us love Nigo's empire in the first place. This version was meh. But the B-Side version of the Footpatrol Campus? Yes. That was our kind of shoe - the switch to a horsehair texture for the contrast stripes on the medial side paid off, resulting in a shoe that didn't sully the collaborative legacy it carries. Sure, Wes on the box in a Jabbar style and wristbands would have been nice, but we were happy with them all the same. On the subject of those models, the eggplant coloured ballistic nylon Campus 80s was our kind of shoe and the Run-DMC Campus 80s was another of the year's best US-only drops. We were preoccupied with the Scotchlite stripes.
The rerelease of the ZX 380 was adidas doing what they do best. The pricepoint on that retro of a Dellinger soled cult favourite was reasonable and despite seeing a number of colourways, nobody's screwed it up. The usual trickle of good ZX makeups continued, but the Consortium relaunch brought a slightly tweaked ZX 500, honed to bring it closer in line with the pair in the archives as part of the Tabula Rasa pack. That's the kind of detail directed at those who know and we're grateful that they made the modification. Consortium's new approach will give the fans what they want over 2012 — German-made Munchens are the kind of shoe we daydream about. While it might not have been to all tastes, a reflective version of the Questar was an interesting take on one of adidas's greatest model.
The latest retro of the EQT Support in original colours might lack the obsessive quality of the more expensive, numbered 2006 release, but we stocked up on them in a major way, bemoaning the cancellation of a black-on-black version that never left salesman sample status. There's been some terrible updates of our beloved EQT silhouette, but the EQT Zero isn't one of them — the sideways stripes, stretch lacing, fit and shape make it a killer release. Please, please shout about shoes like that adidas. The gloomy grey greatness of the 10th anniversary Berlin store ZX 9000s were only available to locals, but they could easily have slipped into the best of the aZX collection. That NPN Torsion Mid in black was another superior look at Torsion too.
The adidas Skateboarding Ronan was a strong evolution for the four-wheeled division of the brand — taking old training designs and reworking them from the ground up paid off. The Benny Fairfax makeup was especially good. We were excited to see the Rod Laver Super back on these shores again in white and green for the first time in a while, despite being constantly available in the States for a number of years. The Archive Pack's rerelease of the Handball 5-Plug and Gazelle Indoor sated the fandom for pieces like that, and they're set to drop in some Olympic-themed makeups early next year. Gum soles make everything good, but when the source material is some significant innovations from the dusty Herzo shelves, the byproduct has a certain magic.
The Originals by Originals collection has been one of our favourite approaches to the collaboration ever. As with everything good, it had to come to a close with the end of the KZK releases as we know them, but from trade shows, we noticed that every other brand seems keen to imitate the ObyO "curated collab" model. From the Kazuki side, we loved the Darwen model and the Jam Home Made Stan Smiths. While you might have been repulsed by the ZX Mocc, we admire the way it preempted a wave of brothel creeper styles and represented the level of creative control given to Mr. Kuraishi. The world of sneakers can be a sullen, miserable one too, so we're down for anything that can bring a smile to our faces — Jeremy Scott's Teddy Bear take on the Metro Attitude are brilliant. We have no idea whether you could wear them without being sectioned, but Mr. Scott's love of adidas basketball shoes is deadly serious, from those cash-themed Forums back in 2002 (we weren't feeling the B-Side decision to make them a Mid this time around) to the way he brought our beloved Artillery back from limbo and gave it an acid-fried makeover. We like his work. He's a fan, and it shows.
2011 was a big, big New Balance year. 2010 was significant, with grey and navy British-made releases breaking through to match that receding economy, but this year they upped the ante. On the UK-made front, we have to plug our own CT 1500 duo of colourways, but the purple UK-made versions were amazing too. The army green and red 577s were pretty special as well. From the US factory, 574s made to order gave the frequently overlooked classic the attention it deserves, while the 1300LG is a shoe that warrants everyday wear. J. Crew's 1400s in orange suede are another perfect made in Massachusetts drop, but we were besotted with the 998 when it hit UK shelves. Comfortable, well crafted and flawless in appearance, that early '90s style stays gold. On the Asian-made side, Concepts reworking the 999 — a strong shoe that's been confined to Japanese spots in the past — with a 'Kennedy' makeover was another of the year's highlights, even if it never reached these shores. Beyond retros, the 890 Rev Lite is one of the year's best new designs, clocking in at 9.7 ounces with an appealing aesthetic. We're looking forward to some 996s and 997.5s in 2012.
Vans's Vault line put out some amazing makeups with Ludwig's deadstock canvas project and the enzyme washed Hawaiian shirt material on the Aloha pack's Eras and perennial overlords of the collaboration, Supreme, dropped some Mike Carrolls with Jordan V style reflective tongues on them. On the Syndicate side, Berlin's Civilist turned the Chukka Low into a lesson in sub-cultures and military history, while W(Taps turned their distinctive makeup burgundy. Converse brought the ruckus with First String's Missoni Chucks and Auckland Racers being a textbook example of a dual label release (actually, did those Aucklands even make production?) unleashing the best of both worlds. This was the year where every release seemed to go camo, but KICKS/HI's 10th anniversary tiger pattern edition was the standout use of that application this year. The Hideout Chuck Taylors were pretty flawless too, exercising the limits of what you can change on that shoe without killing its core appeal as the simple shoe that works with any outfit, while the project with Mackintosh gave the Jack Purcell a welcome dose of weatherproofing. Converse's KA-ONE Kenny Anderson pro model was a good take down of some old favourites, reworked and remade for optimum board feel.
Reebok's Vintage Classics pack was a perfect celebration of the powers of garment leather and early '80s Reebok aerobic footwear. The booklet in the box was a nice touch, as was the way the exposed thread and glue marks were restrained enough retrospective details to still keep the shoe looking fresh. Reebok's Gucci coloured Pump Fury with Shinzo was powerful. It was better looking than Kreayshawn too. Packer's splattered US Open themed Court Victory was something different and an effective use of speckles. ASICS came with some hard body running retros too. The Gel Saga II reissue was good but the Patta variation is a superior offering from the past masters of Gel runner remixes. There were good GTII colourways around Easter inline and Ronnie Fieg's Salmon Toe Gel Lyte IIIs to celebrate the opening of his Kith store were hyped to hell, instigating queues almost a week in advance, but we can't deny the power of that forefoot contrast. Hanon Shop's 'Wildcat' Gel Lyte III got a mix of fiery shades just right to make them our favourite ASICS drop of the year.
While we're talking running shoes, Bodega and Saucony's Elite project putting out the Grid 9000 was unexpected but effective, raiding the '90s archive for tech perfection. In contrast to Bodega's fanciness, Commonwealth took a brick soled, buck concept and applied it to a luxurious take on the Jazz O. Some releases that ape semi formal shoes flop, but that homage was smartly deployed across a seminal shoe. While we tend to think Patta when it comes to all things Amsterdam, Acht's 'Invictus' Shadow 6000, with some black denim paneling was a partner project that many slept on. By the time you realised how fresh they are, they were long gone.
The Diadora Heritage kangaroo leather Elites that were made in Italy were another example of a retro perfected, and on a provenance of manufacture and animal print tip, the made in Japan Atmos Clydes were crazy too. But the real gem in the PUMA archives was the Shadow Society States. PUMA's secret shoemanati created some great makeups, but the duo of GORE-TEX States with gum soles were two of the best PUMA shoes we've ever seen. And trust us, we've seen a lot of PUMA shoes. Weatherproofing the States was a smart move. Then there's the shoes that just stood out for ideas, quality and wearability — visvim's denim-aided Serra Distressed is the hiker hybrid style by which all future ones should be judged, Gourmet's Dignan is a zip up, bagged cross trainer that's inspired by Wahlberg's ER booties from the end of 'The Departed' and all the better for that crazed high concept, Pointer's lightweight but protective Pluckrose design is one of the best of a slew of duck boot styles this year, Supra's Skytop III mix of Huarache, Jordan and Presto, with the removable heel cap is the kind of shoe we needed after a wave of vulc monotony on the shelves and the Le Coq Sportif Joakim Noah 2.0 design harks back to the days when basketball shoes were built on more inter brand rivalry than we see now. The tennis court meets hardcourt looks are something very different indeed.
Okay, so maybe it was a bigger year for shoes than we thought. Feel free to duke out what was best, or what we omitted on the comments or in the forum. Happy holidays to everyone who supported Crooked Tongues this year. And RIP James Van Doren.