Let’s be real: 2022 was a tame year for sneakers. Without mincing words, there was a lack of exciting debuts in the world of collaborations and in-house designs, and not much in the field of unprecedented surprises or comebacks. Still, there was just enough to add up to a solid twelve months and putting together such a list of limited elbow room continues to be a challenging task.
Despite Web3 and digital assets making significant leaps forward, sneaker consumers were still very much loyal to the past when it comes to wearable goods. The most in-demand footwear models have decades old roots, but reimagined through modern-day ideas and concepts that continue to usher these near-ancient designs into the future. The bulk of our Top Ten list, let alone the year’s most wanted footwear models, we’re born in the 1980s as style trends haven’t strayed much from the minimal, almost bland aesthetic that have dominated footwear fashion for the last few years. And although no Dunk (non-SB), 550, Samba, or Air Max 1 made our list, these classic models deserve a lot of credit for reinvigorating the in-store retail business.
That hardly means that new designs and modern ideas didn’t deserve attention. Nike’s Cryptokicks iRL sneaker, the first native sneaker to drop on Web3, gave us a taste of the future of the sneaker community. Kiko Kostadinov once again displayed his vision with the GEL-Quantum Lylia, a blend of two archive silhouettes. And while we’ve been conditioned to expected the unexpected with Cactus Plant Flea Market, their Flea 1 bent rules and convention like no other.
History has shown as that a “down” year is always followed by a memorable one. There’s even more brand parity than ever. The aforementioned Web3 space continues to evolve. Once-changing partnerships are completely dissolved. The future is completely wide open.
Without further ado, here is Sneaker News’ 10 Best Sneakers of 2022, followed by “honorable mention” selections made by our team of editors.
10. Joe Freshgoods x New Balance 90/60 “Penny Cookie Pink” Joe Freshgoods was arguably the most active collaborative of the year, coordinating a bevy of constructions across New Balance’s lengthy line of casual offerings. While the Chicagoan capitalized off of his efforts in 2021 by helming the Boston brand’s “Conversations Amongst Us” campaign, it was his “Penny Cookie” collab with the newly, chunky constructed New Balance 90/60 that turned the most heads for its neutral composition and homage to the Windy City treat.
9. adidas adiFOM Q Regardless of your stance on him, the being formerly known as “Kanye West” will leave a void in the world of sneakers – until he finds a new home. The Three Stripes hasn’t publicly acknowledged its appreciation for the former adidas Yeezy-frontman, but it sure capitalized on trends, color palettes, and design choices popularized and associated with Ye. In the midst of a public fall-out between the former Mr. West and adidas, the German sportswear giant launched silhouettes like the adilette 22 and adiFOM Q, the latter at the center of a cheeky TikTok video addressing its controversial nature (Ye believed it was a blatant rip-off of the Yeezy Foam Runner). The adiFOM Q has a way’s to go to rival Yeezy’s laceless design, but it does shed light into the future of the brand’s design direction.
8. Gucci x adidas Gazelle 2022 saw the Three Stripes fully immerse themselves in the world of runways and high fashion, and they have a number of luxury collaborations to show for it. But among the many projects released this past year, the Gucci x adidas Gazelle is by far the most compelling, as its several colorways perfectly distill the essence of one of the most legendary fashion houses of all-time.
7. Concepts x Nike SB Dunk Low “Orange Lobster” Mimicking and mixing the primary colors of a lobster has proffered one of the most heralded sneaker chronicles in recent memory. And four years after its last installment, Concepts blessed the tail end of 2022 with the sixth iteration in its iconic crustacean-influenced Dunk Low lineup. Coated in a titular orange homage to the coastal delicacy, the return of the adorned composition only further cemented the Boston brand’s gargantuan hold over the industry.
6. Off-White x Nike Air Force 1 Low “Brooklyn Museum” Despite having passed away over a year ago, Virgil Abloh’s influence can still be felt across both fashion and sneakers, as much of his later work – from the Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 to his first original Nike sneaker – was released throughout 2022. The Off-White x Nike Air Force 1 “Brooklyn” joins the Swoosh’s several tributes to the late designer’s life, and it certainly ranks amongst the collaboration’s most memorable offerings.
5. Jjjjound x ASICS GEL-Kayano 14 On the surface, JJJJound’s ASICS GEL-Kayano 14 from August looks like (jjj)just another budget-friendly runner from the Japanese sportswear institution, and that’s part of its appeal. The Montreal-based design studio has been equally praised and criticized for favoring simplicity that flirts with laziness –- a widespread critique of the GEL-cushioned proposition — but there’s something impressive about creating “it” shoes with this formula. Instagram mood-boards and downtown New York City have inflated the collaboration’s importance, but when looking back at 2022, it’s impossible to not see the year partly summarized by the retro runner — particularly since the model has been on store shelves for over two years.
4. Nike Kobe 6 Protro “Mambacita” The collective breath of Kobe Bryant fans was on hold since the Black Mamba’s existing contract came to an end in March 2021. A year later, the two sides agreed to a renewal, promising a prolific future of Kobe footwear for his global fanbase. Up first was the sentimental “Mambacita” Protro, designed with Gigi Bryant in mind. Fittingly, the shoes dropped on May 1st – the date of Kobe’s late daughter’s Sweet 16 birthday – and later again in August for Los Angeles natives.
3. Tom Sachs x Nike General Purpose Shoe The Tom Sachs x Nike General Purpose shoe is up there with some of the most boring shoes of 2022, and that’s exactly what the artist intended. Designed to be a “perennial” not unlike the Air Force 1 and many other Swoosh icons, the collaborative model – often called the “GPS” – challenges the very fabric of what sneaker culture has become today, all the while proclaiming that “your sneakers shouldn’t be the most exciting thing about you.”
2. Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG “Lost And Found” Perhaps the most demanded sneaker over the last half-decade, the famed “Chicago” colorway finally saw the light of day in November 2022. Jordan Brand chose to add a layer of story-telling to the release, adding an aged effect to the shoes and the shoebox while inserting a mock receipt from Sandy Bros. Sports Depot. Dubbed the “Lost And Found”, this release nodded to the old traditions of finding old, deadstock pairs in storage rooms of mom-and-pop retailers.
1. Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 Low There’s little that hasn’t been written or said about the late Virgil Abloh’s work with Louis Vuitton and Nike since the collaboration surfaced during Paris Fashion Week on June 24th, 2021. The Illinois-native lost the battle to cancer before he could see pairs fetch over $350,000 at auction; friends and family receive their exclusive styles; and his magnum opus see the number one spot on countless best-of lists. Through his work as Menswear Director for Louis Vuitton, impromptu deejay, and more, Abloh showcased a near-neurotic fandom of “the culture,” from skateboarding to the Clipse.
Without the Off-White-frontman, an Air Force 1 with “LV” print at the profile swooshes would’ve remained a thing of the past, left to only find credibility and value amongst proponents of hip-hop and street fashion. Yes, all 47 pairs of the Louis Vuitton Air Force 1 collection were near-impossible to obtain for “regular” folks, but that doesn’t make the effort any less important; on the contrary, the aspirational nature of Abloh’s expansive project harkens back to the era the architect-by-study looked to for inspiration for it. Whether or not there’s another collaboration between both institutions, the Air Force 1 by Louis Vuitton has cemented a spot in the sneaker pantheon.