Without a shadow of a doubt, Kanye West is the busiest man alive. From his humble beginnings in 1970s Atlanta to his awesome ascent to superstardom, he's now even got his eyes on the White House. With all that said, it would take at least a decade or two discuss everything about his fascinating career, so we're going to pick out one aspect: his iconic partnership with adidas.
Whatever you think of the adidas Yeezy collaboration, it will always be etched into the history books as one of the most influential sneaker collections of all time. Announced a few months after his well-documented fallout with Nike, it all began with the release of the Yeezy Boost 750 in 2015, and over the next few years, it has expanded towards eleven silhouettes across hundreds of different colourways. Though one thing that has never changed is Ye's unique approach to sneaker design.
If you stand back and look at his entire line-up, you'll quickly discover that there's really no clear correlation between each model. Upon further inspection, however, you can easily split it into three distinct stages, and we're going to explore each one of them now.
The Present — 2015 - 2016
2015 was kind of odd when it came to sneakers. The adidas Ultra Boost had just made its debut, and silhouettes like the Nike Air Presto were still running rampant across collections everywhere. While they're both made from two different brands, if you kind of squint your eyes a little it's pretty hard to tell the difference between them.
With the Yeezy Boost 750, Kanye set out to transform sneaker design as we knew it. Done up in buttery smooth suede, a single zip ran across the lateral side, while an oversized velcro strap made its way across the toe box for the ultimate lockdown fit.
Of course, you can't talk about this high top shoe without mentioning that ribbed midsole that had absolutely everyone talking back in the day. Housing a Boost unit within, it resulted in an insane amount of cushioning with every step.
Four months later, this was followed up by the legendary Yeezy Boost 350 which utilised a full Primeknit upper for a comfortable sock-like fit. The lacing system was built right into the shoe, while a conveniently placed pull tab was stitched across the heel for sneakerheads who were always on the move.
While sneakers like the Nike Flyknit Racer did exist beforehand, knit uppers were reserved for running-centric models only. With that said, as soon as the "Turtle Dove" launched, brands began to realise that they work impeccably well on lifestyle sneakers too, and that was the exact moment when The Present began.
The Past — 2017 - 2018
You know what the power of The Present is? It's timeless. At the end of 2016, Ye unveiled the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 to the world. The second generation of his highly coveted silhouette, it's so popular that it’s still being sold even today with more-or-less the same design. With that said, the second stage of Kanye's design ethos looks to The Past.
Back in January 2017, Yeezus was spotted at a Harper's Bazaar party in New York rocking a pair of adidas Powerphase sneakers. While a Three Stripes endorsed celebrity wearing a sneaker from the '80s may not seem weird at first, this particular pair was adorned with "Calabasas" branding along the sides in gold foil - something that wasn't on the original pairs from decades past.
After two months of radio silence, he finally took the wraps off the Yeezy Calabasas Powerphase and it was pretty much a one-to-one take on the original. Almost immediately, the sneaker community went on full meltdown mode with many criticising West's "lack of creativity". However, this uproar was nothing compared to what came next.
At the end of 2017, three words were on the lips of every sneaker enthusiast: chunky dad shoes. A trend that was kicked off by French footwear master David Tourniaire-Beauciel with the Balenciaga Triple S, the fad never really gained any traction until Kanye flexed the Yeezy 700 during his Season 5 runway show.
Released in extremely limited quantities, the "Wave Runner", as it was coined, was painted in a clean "Solid Grey" palette with blue and teal tones making their way to the midfoot. Mainstream media quickly caught wind of this voluptuous pair, and literally within days, brands started churning out copycat pairs left, right, and centre. Of course, one can argue that Raf Simons started the trend off with his take on the adidas Ozweego four years prior, but the Belgian fashion designer only managed to gain a cult following amongst a very niche group of people. Kanye, on the other hand, had made it the new normal.
At this moment in time, nobody thought that Ye could top the 700’s level of extra-ness - until the Yeezy 500 was first unveiled that is. Originally dubbed the "Desert Rat" or the "Mud Rat", leaks of these big bulbous boys began surfacing in the middle of 2017, with an official release set for the start of 2018 with the "Blush".
A sneaker like no other before it, it was as if someone had put five or six retro silhouettes into a blender and mixed it all together. Crafted from a premium concoction of mesh, leather, and suede, the craziest thing about the 500 is arguably the hefty adiPRENE midsole underfoot which was engraved with a grid pattern underfoot as if it was something from TRON. While we're on that topic, that's actually one of Kanye’s favourite films of all time, and it also segues nicely to the third stage of his design philosophy.
The Future — 2019 - 2020
At the end of 2018, Yeezus launched the second generation of the 700. Aptly dubbed the Yeezy 700 V2, the "Static" took the aggressive aesthetic to the next level. Gone was the ridiculously retro stylings in favour of sleek lines and smooth curves. In fact, as the name of this section suggests, it looked like something straight out to The Future - and this was just the beginning.
While the 350 V2 was still going strong, it became clear from the outset that Ye was leaving behind the old "SPLY-350" moniker that nobody really understood. In its place was a single transparent mesh stripe that elegantly shot across the lateral panel. See-through shoes were certainly not uncommon at this point in time, playing a massive role in Virgil Abloh's Off-White x Nike "The Ten" Collection that made its debut in 2016. Though this was the first time that it was used in such an understated fashion that forced people to focus all their energy on a single section of the shoe.
Kanye took this feature to new heights with his next release. Originally rumoured to be the long-awaited 350 V3, the Yeezy Boost 380 took his flagship silhouette and completely revamped it for the modern era. Gone was the stiff upper in favour of a sock-like design, while the mesh stripe from previous releases was reworked into both the lateral and medial side panels, acting also as the lacing system in the process. Of course, the ribbed midsole from the 350 and 750 was also completely removed, replaced with a streamlined unit that was as comfortable as ever.
Just two weeks later, West released the Yeezy 700 V3 into the wild, and it completely transformed the dad shoe fad once again. While the OG pair was very clearly inspired by models of the past, the "Azael" was a chunky crep that was made for The Future. Gone was the original leather and suede combination that was more akin to Ye’s 2015 drops, and in its place was a Primeknit base overlaid by a supportive RPU cage that glowed in the dark.
Transparent panels were also added to this release, and down below, the midsole was taken straight from the 380 complete with the heel that extends upwards. While it did away with the usual Boost technology in favour of EVA foam, this small change resulted in an insanely lightweight fit that felt like something you'd wear on a voyage to the Moon.
As if that wasn't enough, he decided to give the 700 a complete and utter overhaul with the Yeezy 700 MNVN. Short for "Minivan", the range comprised of four tonal colourways that subtly paid homage to the deconstructed design movement. Decked out in one-piece nylon construction, oversized "700" branding shot across the laterals, and Kanye's brand new "infinite" lacing system also made its first appearance.
While conventional shoes required you to physically kneel down and tie your laces, this new setup automatically conformed to the shape of your foot. Unlike the Nike Adapt BB 2.0 or the Nike Adapt Huarache, this was done without the use of motors or electronics. In fact, it was all achieved using a series of bungee cords that stretched and relaxed in an instant, showing just one of the many times that Kanye was designing shoes for sneakerheads of The Future.
Eight days later, Ye's team took to the streets of Chicago to give out pairs of the Yeezy QNTM. A basketball silhouette that's been in the pipeline since 2018, it took bits from each of his latest silhouettes and combined them into an avant-garde piece that looks like something straight out of 3020. From the 380's sleek midsole to the 700 V3's lacing system and toe box, this took the conventional b-ball shoe to another dimension. It was also infused with swathes of 3M throughout, just like the aforementioned "Minivan" model.
And of course, this all leads us to West's latest endeavour: the Yeezy Foam RNNR. First spotted on the feet of North West last summer, it was heavily ridiculed for its unconventional Croc-like design. Many sneakerheads criticised its "ugly" looks, but it's important to remember that when the 350 was first announced, people were saying the exact same things, and just look at how much it has influenced sneaker culture since.
The first Yeezy ever to be made entirely in the U.S., the thing that makes the Foam RNNR stand out from the rest is its algae-based construction. Extremely sustainable and friendly to the environment, it's harvested directly from the hydroponic farms at Yeezy's Wyoming headquarters. It's also extremely lightweight as well and boasts a $75 price tag which is extremely affordable. All these points come together to create the perfect formula for the future of footwear, not only for Kanye himself, but for the industry as a whole.
Utilising eco-conscious materials at a budget-friendly cost is no easy feat. Nowadays, brands tend to introduce a price premium for sustainable products. Whether it's fast fashion or high fashion, if something is made with the greener good in mind they're naturally going to be noticeably more expensive, and that's exactly why the Foam RNNR is so revolutionary. Straying away from the norm, it's the first step to creating sustainable sneakers without the eye-watering price. While the debut colourway "Ararat" literally sold out within seconds, rumour has it that four more versions are already in the works, so it's safe to assume that this won't be a one-off.
The Present, The Past, The Future: These are the three stages to Kanye West's ever-evolving design process. From the Yeezy Boost 750 all the way to the Yeezy Foam RNNR, there's literally nothing similar between either of these two silhouettes. With all that said, his vision has always remained the same, and we're beyond hyped to see what comes next.