An Unofficial History of Celebrity Sneaker Collaborations - A.K.A. a Friendly PSA to Step Up Your Shoe Game

Your inner hypebeast will thank us later

For all the youths out there who can barely remember a time before the athleisure trend took over all of our lives and our wardrobes, and for whom a celebrity creating a sneaker is as natural as one shilling his or her latest eponymous fragrance, allow us to give you a mini, non-comprehensive history lesson.

sneaker collaboration history

Mario Tama/Getty; Ron Wood/BSM/AFA/Nike; Greg Washington/BSM/AFA/Erik Blam Collection; Nike; Kevin Mazur/Getty; Puma

Back, back in the day, sneakers were not the ubiquitous footwear choice of the masses, but something relegated to the realm of sportswear and those athletes that technically needed them. Which is why Converse is responsible for the first ever documented celebrity endorsement for a shoe, signing Chuck Taylor in 1934, quickly followed by Jack Purcell in 1935. Senior Curator of The Bata Shoe Museum of Toronto, Elizabeth Semmelhack says, “Although Chuck Taylor was very interested in working with Converse to develop the soles of the All Star, the idea of celebrities actually designing sneakers is a new phenomenon.” In fact, Converse was so ahead of its time, the subsequent athlete-endorsed footwear didn’t start up again until the 70s with athletes like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Walt Frazier, Stan Smith, and Arsher Ashe all getting signature shoes. But in 1984, basketball legend Michael Jordan blew them all out of the water with the release of the first iteration of his Nike Air Jordans. The ’80s version of the shoe looks almost unrecognizable compared to the many Jordan styles we know and love today, having gone through a number of transformations before reaching the modern sleek, padded-out style; but more on Jordans later.

RUN DMC were the first musicians to break into the sneaker collaboration game, using their song “My Adidas” to segue into a contract with the brand and launching a customized pair of Adidas’ iconic Superstar style in 1986. The redesigned shoe features the year in large font across the heel, a special label on the tongue, and most notably a touch of gold embellishment across the toe box that mimics the rappers’ famous twisted gold chains.

According to Semmelhack, the reason we’ve seen sneaker brands’ partnerships with musicians flourish from this point forward is “the fact that sneaker manufacturers have been open to collaboration…[and] many musicians have become fashion icons and are interested in making their mark in fashion as well as music.” Which leads us to the modern generation of sneaker mania, whose hyped to the max future seems unsustainable, at best. But Semmelhack insists, “that collaborations will grow but the hype will be less as it will become more expected.” Which could mean a day will come when Kanye will drop a new sneaker style and the world won’t even blink an eye. Nobody tell Yeezus.

2002: Jay Z — Reebok S. Carter

Jay Z Reebok S. Carter

Ray Tang/REX Shutterstock

It took until 2002 for the next major collab to come about between musician and sneaker, once again with one of the biggest rappers in the game, Jay Z aka Sean Carter, hence the name S. Carter for the musician’s Reebok customization. Jay kept things simple for his first sneaker design sticking to all white, with a subtle great accent at the heel, a green soul, and red laces. The kicks were immediate best-sellers and are still highly collectable today.

2004: 50 Cent — Reebok G6 from the G-Unit Collection

50 Cent followed in the footsteps of Jay Z’s sneaker success and created a very similar looking G-Unit style, featuring a small red and blue stripe on the side and the word G Unit embroidered on the outside of the heel. 50’s collection flew off shelves, probably partially due to the rapper’s heavy promotion, wearing the shoes on tour, at appearances, in his music videos and even rapping about the style in his song “Stunt 101.”

2012: Lil Wayne x Supra S1W

Alexander Tamargo/Getty

Alexander Tamargo/Getty

If you’ve ever wondered why rapper Lil Wayne seems to exclusively be spotted in Supra sneakers, it’s not just because they’re known to be the perfect shoe for landing that double ollie. In 2012, Wayne launched his own sub-brand for the company, SPECTRE by Supra, a collaboration that came about through the friendship he struck up with another of the brand’s collaborators, professional skateboarder Stevie Williams, on the half-pipe.

2013: Beyoncé — PMK sneaker

Okay, so this isn’t technically a collaboration available to the masses, but it is probably the closet thing we’ll ever get to a true Beyoncé sneaker creation. PMK is a company know for its custom shoe designs, commissioned by celebrities or sneaker fanatics to recreate their favorite styles out of luxury leathers and exotic skins to give their clients a truly one-of-a-kind piece of footwear. In this case, the ultimate diva asked for a pair of all-white Isabel Marant wedge sneakers made out of stingray, ostrich, calf’s fur, crocodile and anaconda skins, appropriately called “The King-Bey.” While you will never be able to own this exact pair, if you have a roughly $5K burning a hole in your pocket, you can at least order your own personalized kicks.

2014/2016: Riccardo Tisci x Nike

Courtesy NikeLab x Riccardo Tisci

Courtesy NikeLab x Riccardo Tisci

He’s technically a fashion designer so it shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise that Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci decided to put his stamp on two iconic Nike shoe styles, but it’s still one of the biggest, most buzzed about collaborations in recent sneaker history. The first launch in 2014 featured Tisci’s take on the classic Nike Air Force 1s, giving us a low, high and all new mid-calf style that instantly became a fashion cool girl favorite. For his second collection launching this year, the designer not only gave us another shoe style to lust over, this time giving the Nike Dunks a minimalistic pro-wrestling-inspired makeover, but he’s also launching his own activewear capsule collection. And judging from the first images released by Nike this month, it’s going to be worth spending your whole salary over.

2015: Kid Cudi-Inspired Giuseppe Zanotti Design

Kid Cudi Giuseppe Zanotti Sneaker Collaboration

Chris McPherson, courtesy Reebok

This sneaker is actually a very interesting spin-off from your standard rapper-sneaker collab. Though Kid Cudi didn’t technically design this shoe from Giuseppe Zanotti’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection, while attending one of his concerts, the shoe designer was inspired, “by the singer’s great artistry, energy and vibes.” And so this super futuristic, almost balloon animal-like design was born featuring two, oversize velcro straps that would look just as at home on Cudi’s feet as they would on George Jetson’s.

2015: Kendrick Lamar x Reebok

Chris McPherson, courtesy Reebok

Alexander Tamargo/Getty

Kendrick Lamar‘s collaboration with Reebok first kicked off in 2015 with a Ventilator style, but his second offering isn’t just a cool shoe, it comes with a really powerful message. Each of the all-grey classic Reebok sneakers is embroidered with the word “RED” on the right foot and “BLUE” on the left and “NEUTRAL” written under the tongue of both shoes, meant to evoke the blood and crip gangs Kendrick grew up with in Compton. The sneakers are meant as a symbolic bridge between these two warring groups, demonstrating that this perceived differentiation is all in the mind, two halves of the same whole.

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2015: Kanye West x Nike + Adidas

<a href="" data-inlink="true">Kanye West</a> Nike Adidas Sneaker Collaboration

Courtesy Nike; Kevin Mazur/Getty

Kanye may now write lyrics about how “Nike treat employees just like slaves, gave LeBron a billi not to run away,” but once upon a time, the rapper and the athletic conglomerate were a match made in footwear heaven. Kanye released two designs for the company, the Nike Air Yeezys and the Air Yeezy 2s, both of which went on to become hugely successful best-sellers for the brand, even now both editions retail for between $4-6000 a pair. However, according to the rapper when he approached Nike to renegotiate his contract after the huge success of his designs, they scoffed as his suggestion for more compensation, and so he want running to the competition, namely Adidas. And the rest is Yeezy pandemonium history (or reality for the many of us still waiting to get our hands on a pair…)

2016: Rihanna’s FENTY x Puma

Rihanna Fenty Puma Sneaker Collaboration

Courtesy Puma

And from the Yeezys the Fentys were born. Following on the heels of the rapper’s third runway show for Adidas, Rihanna held a fashion show of her very own featuring her full collection for Puma activewear. Much as Ye did with the 350 boosts, RiRi released a pair of creepers about a year prior to the launch of her apparel line that were instantaneously sold out across the Internet. And while the Fentys seem to be selling at a slightly slower clip, the pop star’s prowess as a fashion designer is just heating up.

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2016: Pharrell’s Adidas PW ZX333 CORK

Pharrell has been working closely with Adidas Originals for a couple of years now, helping to put their classic Superstar style back on the fashion map, releasing them in pretty much every color of the rainbow. But it’s taken until 2016 for the shoe company to finally give the singer a style of his very own, which so far, according to his Instagram account, is going by the name of PW ZX333 CORK. So far there are only two images of the shoe posted to Pharrell’s Instagram, one in black and white, and one of him doing some very speedy fancy footwork. Though he’s only debuted this turquoise color way, knowing the rapper-producer’s love of vibrant hues, we have a feeling a lot more bright shades are headed our way.

2016: Kevin Hart x Nike

Kevin Hart Nike Sneaker Collaboration

Douglas Gorenstein/NBC

Kevin Hart is the surprise Nike collab of the decade as not only the first comedian, but the first entertainer to ever be offered his own sneaker deal, an honor typically reserved for rappers and athletes as this brief history has proven time and time again. He first debuted his new design, the “Hustle Harts” cross trainers, on
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
, jumping on the hosts desk to give viewers a good look as his new kicks. To customize the shoes even further, Hart covered his sneakers in inspirational quotes such as “don’t give up,” “make today your last, but also make it your first” and “health is wealth.” While he may be a funny man onstage, when it comes to the gym, Hart’s as dead serious as they come.

2015 slash 2000 and never: Drake’s Air Jordan 10 OVOs and Air Jordan 8 Retros

What a time to be alive. Especially if your name is Aubrey “Drake” Graham. The infinitely meme-able rapper seems to be on a winning streak that just won’t quit, and his new Nike sneakers are, of course, no exception. While he’s already made his Air Jordan 10 OVOs available to the public, well, if you were quick enough to pick up a pair, back in September of 2015, judging from his Instagram posts there’s still another style or two coming down the pipeline. Both Jordans feature a white and gold color palette with his signature owl embroidered across the back, however, the Jordan 8s (which may be forthcoming, may be custom, or may just be one more example of the beautiful things Drake owns that will never belong to us) also feature a secret message beneath one of the straps that reads, “6IX YEARS.” Not exactly the cryptic message we would have chosen for Drake to scrawl across his new sneakers, but perhaps “IF YOU’RE READING THIS IT’S TOO LATE,” didn’t quite fit.

The Bata Shoe Museum’s touring exhibition, “The Rise of Sneaker Culture,” will be on display from June 11 through August 14 at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Which pair of sneakers is your favorite? Are there any you can’t believe we missed? Sound off below!

–Emily Kirkpatrick

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