It's the most wonderful time of the year - that time when everybody does their "best of" list of shoes and every list is pretty much the same. Will we buck the trend here? Probably not. As years for shoes go, 2012 was pretty good. We're guessing that you probably feel the same. Flyknit vs Primeknit, technology on basketball shoes, faithful reissues of classic runners, the basics coming out strong, a generous dose of hype that was easy to sidestep to unveil some serious sleepers in the new silhouette stakes. It was positive to see shoes cause a buzz, even if the footwear excitement could a little overwhelming sometimes. Queues for shoes that had been out three times already, queues for new silhouettes - people camping near Oxford Circus? The shoe thing got intense...in tents...whatever you want to call it. There were some phenomenal releases. Here's some of our favourites and we'll be taking a closer look at some of them with accompanying Q&As over the festive period.
THE BEST OF THE RUNNING STUFF
On the running side of things, U.S-made New Balance owned 2012. If we had a favourite shoe of the year, the 998 in green suede and the perfect replica of the M990 in grey with the Vibram sole are vying with the HTM Lunar Flyknit for the greatest. Past and present perfection. But the 'N' had a good twelve months - some beautiful M1300 makeups, J Crew's sand-coloured 1400s with the gum sole and orange branding, the burgundy 996 retro, the more contemporary 990 v3 edition, that super slept-on American factory 587 that's better than any Asian-made MT580 and the all blue 1290 all left us besotted with the brand. On the non-U.S. front, the M890 Revlite in the insane orange pattern and the Nonnative version of the M997.5 were great too.
We can't dispute the power of the Nike Flyknit series, but the HTM Lunar editions were mind-blowing. Those and the HTM Flyknit Racer with the 'U.S.A.' on the tongue were as good as it gets. Seeing that distinctive shade of Volt on the podium during the London Olympics united trend and performance in a way we haven't seen before, while pushing things forward on the design, comfort and sustainability front perfectly. Who would have thought progression would come in the form of a knitted shoe? Good to see that these didn't leak before the announcement either. Crazy to think that we had a shoe of the year contender in February.
Do you know what else was fantastic? adidas's Phantom retro, the Consortium remake of the ZX 500 in its original form, plus the Solebox and 1992-era homaging editions of the Torsion Allegra. Three great silhouettes done justice. Shaniqwa Jarvis and Quote's interpretations of the ZX 500 were great. The David Beckham and James Bond edition of the elaborately named adidas Mega Torsion Flex ClimaCool was good enough to have us yearning for a ClimaCool retro rollout.The Nike Pre Montreal Racer was a perfect road-ready remix of the classic track spike that looked like it was straight out of the archives. The Lunar Montreal+ is an underrated banger too, dropping in several colourways and delivering some mid-priced future classic looks. Saucony's decision to bring back the Grid 9000 was a smart one and when BAIT remixed it with the 'Viridian Burner' makeup we were seriously impressed and the PYS/BAIT 'Blue Apple' Shadow 6000s are tremendous as well. While you, like us, probably never gave Converse running silhouettes much thought back in the day, continuing the knitted theme of the year, the Missoni editions of the Auckland Racer were another of the year's best.
The Lunarglide 4+ is better than any previous Lunarglide and a thing of beauty. Bar the rear branding, we're not mad at the Nike Air Max 2013 either (it's already on sale, so it qualifies). The Roshe Run became a sleeper hit in an appropriately stealthy style, even if we don't feel the remixes of that simple mesh and foam formula. We loved the slew of old and new Nike Air Epic reissues. While it's flawed, the Air Tailwind 96-12 gave us one of our favourite uppers to give us happy flashbacks of a great era for shoe design as we patiently wait for an Air Max 96 reissue. Foot Locker's unexpected wave of Huarache's without that unwanted Free sole unit caught us by surprise, as did the black and yellow Prestos and Free Run+ 2s. You can be glum about the toeboxes on those Huaraches all you like, but the fact they dropped without any announcement or blog hype reminded us of a happier time for sports footwear.
THE BEST OF THE HARD TO CATEGORIZE STUFF
Then there was the bits that defied category - on the right sized feet, the Air Yeezy 2 looks great. On bigger feet it looked like a mid-life crisis. Where does it sit? Is it casual with the Air Royal tooling? Tennis with that Tech Challenge 2 sole unit? Whatever your opinion, it was impossible to ignore. it never leapt over the Jumpman though. The Okwahn II might be one of the best sequels to a shoe in a long, long time and a nice little love letter to late 1990s ACG. The Inneva Woven was a smart update of the legendary Air Woven that brought the handcrafted element back to the design and that rainbow Footscape Chukka Woven managed to summarise almost a decade of odd shoes from 1995-2004 in a solitary shoe and do it very well. Tom Sachs' Mars Yard shoe's Free soled Escape looks and and unbelievable packaging deserves a shout here too. Despite a wild pricetag, it showed how far you can push a project.
Are we allowed to talk about the Cole Haan Lunargrand here? A wingtip with Lunarlon shouldn't have worked at all and the black and white Fragment versions were crazy, while the more colourful takes were swiftly copied by a wave of imitators. Supra's super-limited Owen with Solebox that inexplicably manages to balance old-world furry suede with a glow-in-the-dark sole is the best version of this casual release from the skate brand to date - incredibly comfortable, with a great use of green and grey, it's a very legit shoe indeed. StÃ¼ssy's S&S Off Mountain System collection channeled some All Conditions Gear with the Mogan II's hiking style and colourway assistance from Union's Chris Gibbs. Vans Vault's work with Taka Hayashi is constantly good and the ripple-soled Sierra Dune model he created was classier, smarter executed and better than the glut of dull D-ring and hiker styled shoes we've seen in recent years. Animal prints were everywhere this year, but the cheetah print of Gourmet's the 35 model executed the wildlife look exceptionally.
THE BEST OF THE BASKETBALL STUFF
This year, the basketball shoe was the instigator of many a camp out and the Foamposite and Jordan were the key culprits - the Galaxy Foamposite caused some local hype with lots of people who didn't seem very interested when Copper Foams were sat in Bond Street's House of Hoops a couple of years back. What a difference 24 months makes, eh? Our personal preference over the fun but difficult to wear Galaxy edition (which we held a competition for on Crooked Tongues that exposed us to some of the stupidest people we've ever engaged with in over 11 years) was the Paranorman tie-in edition with some truly remarkable detailing and packaging. On the Jordan front, do you really need to hear about the usual stuff? That has been done to death. We think three of the year's best Air Jordans were the Chicago Jordan X, retroed for the first time since 1994, the super underrated Stealth Jordan X that sits perfectly with a new aesthetic and the White/Varsity Red Jordan XI Low.
It was all about the 10s this year. LeBron's signature shoes evolved to Elite levels with the LeBron 9 and the Miami Beach makeup does one of the most technical shoes we've ever seen justice. The pricing controversy (a common theme in much of this season's output) preceded the LeBron X, but the commemorative installment that resurrects and redefines visible Zoom Air is a good shoe - especially in the U.S.A. colourway. The adidas D Rose 3 is a great shoe too, and adidas' support for the imminently returning (apparently) Bulls man was admirable. We lost interest in the Nike Hyperdunk series after part two, but the 2012 edition dragged us back in with the Dynamic Flywire and a Nike+ system that felt truly interactive and made daily workouts feel like a Wii game. Allen Iverson's 1996 Question is one of the greatest signature basketball shoes ever in terms of embodying the athlete's attitude and mode of play and Reebok's retro of the original red and blue toed colourways and the Packer "Practise" edition brought out the best in the shoe.
We know the foamy side of things seemed to steal the show, but the Penny-endorsed Air Flight One making a comeback was welcome - especially the All-Star game tie in Galaxy glow-in-the-dark-edition that made the shoe look phenomenal in daylight too. The Zoom Rookie wasn't too bad either. And it takes a brave designer to take on the brief to create an Air Penny sequel 14 years after the last installment but Nike's Air Penny V was a triumph - in the classic Orlando colours and that Miami Dolphins makeover of this shoe rocked. Heaven cent indeed. The Air Max Hyperposite 'Statue of Liberty' edition was a great remix too. We lost our minds for Flight 89s despite varying quality between colourways. The Olympic colours of the Air Force 180 were more than welcome too - the perfect vessel for the U.S.A. palette of old. Supersonics colourway Pippens and Zoom Flight 95s in a full array of career colours delivered some 1990s favourites in some smartly chosen team palettes.
Looking further back, who would have thought winter 2012 would be the time for the Patrick Ewing footwear hype to explode again? adidas put out the legendary Rivalry in a fantastic Knicks colourway for Consortium and a collection of snakeskin striped NYC-only editions, while Ewing Athletics rose again to bring us the 33 Hi in a quartet of classic shades that were packaged perfectly to fill a gap in our shoe stacks from the early 1990s. If you're going to do a retro any time soon, take a look at the Ewing approach and take some notes - it was refreshing to see an independent project causing a commotion this year.
On the classic basketball front, three icons got some love from a trio of collaborators. Our beloved Air Force 1 was 30 this year and Supreme gave the Uptown some NYCO uppers and gum soles for a trio of shoes that did the shoe justice. If you felt aggrieved at the simplicity, you missed the point a little. Converse's Chuck Taylor got a remix from Canada's kings of cotton fleece, Reigning Champ that took the concept of grey marl on an All Star Low and executed it perfectly, down to the black metal eyelets. Our dude Clark Kent gave the PRO-Keds Royal Master a Brooklyn Dodgers makeover that was another friends and family (God's favorite disc jockey loves a F&F release) affair that was directed at those who appreciate the silhouettes that built NYC's famed footwear obsession. The Japanese-made PUMA Suedes were great too even if that project deserved something more substantial than those flimsy eco-friendly barely-a-box homes.
THE BEST OF THE TENNIS STUFF
Normally we wouldn't isolate tennis because contemporary court designs are a little weighty and unnecessarily embellished. We would have just folded retro court offerings into other categories, but Nike's Vapor Tour 9 for Mr. Federer is superb Tinker Hatfield creation with a strong debut colourway in a world when every shoe seems to lack a definitive makeup. On NIKEiD it looked amazing and we weren't mad at the Agassi-homage either. The retro of the McEnroe endorsed Challenge Court Mid was great, but the Gino-endorsed Nike SB one with the Lunarlon insert is one of the best SB shoes in a while. The Rod Laver Super is a masterpiece and The Soloist's Takahiro Miyashita gave it a grey makeover that worked incredibly well as part of a pack that delivered, but might have been to subtle for some.
THE BEST OF THE TRAINING STUFF
Neon Nike Total Air Pillars making a comeback (and being ever so slightly slept on) is the best training release of the year. That shoe is a masterpiece. There were other great shoes too, like the Diamond Turf II, the OG Nomo Max white and red colourway (the best version) finally dropping and the Zoom Revis proving that the training category's still as relevant as ever at performance level. With 2012 being the 25th anniversary of the Air Max 1, the Air Safari AND the Air Trainer 1, a Safari version of the AT1 was appropriate and did a good job, even if it lacked the subtlety of the old co.jp tribute from 10 years ago. adidas brought the legendary Munchen back in a superior (and appropriately) German-made form that was perfectly packaged as part of the Consortium collection. Packer's burgundy and gum Reebok Workout is one of the best incarnations of that shoe ever.
THE BEST OF THE SKATE STUFF
Apologies in advance for the Vans-heavy nature of this paragraph, but between the Bulgiarian Camo Vans Pro Era, Carhartt Old Skool 92s and the Syndicate Local Boyz and Julien Stranger packs and the AVE/Dill reptile print Authentic, they delivered the goods. The Half Cab shoe is one of the best shoes ever and for its 20th anniversary, there were some great shoes. That cut down Cab, hand craved and gaffer taped by Caballero himself is the best of the bunch though -a perfect tribute to the D.I.Y. silhouette and one of the few recent limited and collectible shoes to actually feel special.
WE DON'T GET IT
Why put 360 Air on our beloved Terra Sertig and Free on the Huarache? The original sole units are at least 50% of the shoes' appeal. And we wanted to see an Air Max 96 retro before some Hyperfuse remake dropped. Yellowing on shoes is something we try to avoid, so why apply it to an Air Max? Why not go all out and pre-crack the paint on the midsole too? We've noticed pricing creep up beyond that Â£95 point, but we can see Â£140+ becoming a norm - brands need to remember that for that kind of madness, quality needs to be perfect (see the US-made New Balance releases as a reference point) and delivering goods in generic packaging kills the impact of a release.
Thank you to EVERYBODY who supported Crooked Tongues in 2012. Happy Holidays!
This one is dedicated to our friend Mark Cadwaladr, who would've named at least five shoes we forgot to include.