Top Sneakers of 2022
Another 365, time to count 'em down
2022 was a profound twelve months within the sneaker industry. Whether it is the triumphant return of the Air Jordan 2, the vice grip that Joe Freshgoods had across the landscape, Teddy Santis leading a banner year for New Balance, the upcycling of existing design language to create a modernized product or the infusion of new product into the space. We are entering quite a transcendent time in the footwear industry and within sneaker culture; brands are being challenged, the storefront landscape is changing – we're entering the next frontier that is the metaverse and independent designers are finding their niche, and at the intersection of it all is product. 2022 had a bit of everything for everyone.
We encourage you to join in on the conversation, what is your sneaker of the year, what sneaker(s) were snubbed, what pair(s) are ranked too high or too low? Join the conversation with us on Twitter. Without any further delay, we give to you – our annual retrospect: the Top Sneakers of 2022.
30. Sacai x Nike Zoom Cortez 'Forrest Gump'
When Sacai began their reimagining of classic Nike silhouettes starting in 2019 with the LDWaffle, its success lended room for the brand to dig deeper into Nike's vault. And out of the Nike Department of Archives (DNA), came a cult classic, the Nike Cortez. Fifty years after its debut, the silhouette which was an early Nike model created by co-founder Bill Bowerman – was retrofitted with a Zoom air bag in the forefoot. It also marked the return of the White/Varsity Royal-Varsity Red color blocking which was re-popularized by Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in the 1994 film of the same name.
The 2022 iteration; now armed with a double Swoosh, extended heel, double tongue, upgraded tooling and a classic colorway – was the perfect synergy of past meeting present and the personification of 50 years of Nike.
29. HUF x Nike SB Dunk Low 'City Pack'
Nike SB celebrated 20 years of operation in 2022 and from the anniversary, we were revisited by a beloved HUF x Nike SB theme which was scaled down from a SB Dunk High to a SB Dunk Low. But more importantly and closer to the HUF Brand was the opportunity to celebrate Keith Hufnagel, for whom the brand is named after. Sadly and unfortunately Keith passed away in 2020 due to brain cancer – but his presence is felt literally in the brand that is his namesake. With "Keith Forever" emblazoned on the left and right heels of each pair; the bi-coastal 'City Pack' pays homage to Hufnagel's hometown of New York City and HUF's home of San Francisco.
Both themed to the colors of the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants respectively, the back paneling features the skyline of the east coast and west coast metropolises, and as a callback to the 2004 HUF x SB Dunk High, the tie dye underlay is revealed when using an Xacto knife.
A rather thoughtful homage.
28. Bad Bunny x adidas Forum Powerphase
What a banner year 2022 was for Bad Bunny. Benito's album Un Verano Sin Ti was critically acclaimed; debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. He embarked on a global tour that lived up to its billing as "The World's Hottest Tour". He also made a surprise appearance in the 2022 WWE Royal Rumble match before being eliminated by Brock Lesnar. He also took home five Latin Grammy Awards and was nominated in 2022 for three Grammy Awards proper in early 2023. All that, on the music and entertainment front and still had time to partner with adidas to launch multiple products – among them was the February multicolored Forum Powerphase.
The 'Catch and Throw' color scheme added a soft tan base with black accents, and bright touches of pink and blue and peach to tie it all together wonderfully.
27. END x Bape Bape Sta 'Bowling'
END's keen eye for aesthetics is always on full display when it comes to their collaborative projects, editorial shoots and holistic approach. And their partnership with Bape is perhaps the most evident of that for the European retailer. Taking the theme of bowling and converting the Bape Sta's look into that of a classic split-upper rental bowling shoe. Equipped with alternating colors on the stars shooting across the lateral and medial paneling, the look is perfectly tied by the rubber gum outsole. Once again, another flawless execution from END.
26. Dapper Dan x Puma Clyde VTG
"For the communities we came out of." – Dapper Dan
The beautiful thing about the Dapper Dan collaboration with Puma was that the Harlem designer and OG influencer was receiving his flowers on a larger scale. And given Dapper Dan's body of work over the decades, the recognition was a sight to behold. Taking another New York born entity – the Puma Clyde, of course named after famous New York Knick and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame guard, Walt "Clyde" Frazier; the match was as organic and synonymous to New York as the Knicks and Harlem itself. A dynamic diamond shaped pattern dressed the underlay of the low cut model with an accenting purple and blends of red, while a leather studded overlay anchored the black motif that engulfed the majority of the silhouette. The higher luxury take on the Clyde for its 40th anniversary was certainly memorable indeed.
25. Bape x Reebok Instapump Fury 'Multi Camo'
Reebok had quite the interesting 2022 – the brand's sale to Authentic Brands Group was completed as of March 1st and there was also the departure of Kerby Jean-Raymond as Creative Director; effectively ending the Pyer Moss partnership. But the brand did bring forth a number of in-line products including the Reebok Question Mid – which has become a staple in their Classics rotation, and they also pulled off a very entertaining collaboration with Bape.
While this was not the first pairing of the two, the duo revisited the beloved Instapump Fury and decked it out in a colorful flurry of Bape's signature camo, equipped with the Bape branding on the pump front-and-center. Also enlisting the assistance of Bryson Tiller in the editorial shots, the project was thoroughly scoped and executed.
24. Patta x Mizuno Sky Medal
Patta's initial entry on the Top Sneakers of 2022 list (spoiler alert 🚨) comes from a very unconventional POV. The third installment in the collaborative series which began in 2018 and followed-up in 2020 utilizes a clean and familiar color palette. The mesh muted underlay is matched with a deep green overlay and red Mizuno branding along the sides. Having turned the clock back to 1992 – the year in which the Sky Medal debuted, the 90s vibes were in full force for this springtime launch.
23. NOCTA x Nike Air Force 1 'Love You Forever'
"Look what you've done ..."
NOCTA's take on the classic Air Force 1 silhouette was a refreshing one during the icon's 40th anniversary. If anything it further solidifies the AF1 as Nike's most versatile model; having began as a basketball silhouette in 1982 by Bruce Kilgore – little did he know that over the decades the AF1 would still be around and that it would become the streetwear and lifestyle icon that it has become. The timeless all-white motif was completely rebuilt with a brand-new mold that replaced the outsole's signature stars with hearts befitting of the "certified lover boy". Additionally, the homage to his favorite childhood book with his mother, Love You Forever. A deeply thoughtful release from "The Boy".
Love You Forever.
22. Salehe Bembury x New Balance 990v2 'Sand Be The Time'
December releases are always tough to gauge. For starters, a comprehensive year-end list has to be incredibly well rounded and thought out – you have to guard against recency bias while simultaneously assessing what indeed makes a sneaker one of the top of the year. For Salehe Bembury, he was extremely busy in 2021; whether it was with Crocs or New Balance, the designer was just as busy in 2022. Not only did he launch an apparel collection with New Balance, he partnered with Canada Goose and the NBA ahead of All-Star Weekend. Not to mention a rousing endorsement from LeBron James as he was appointed Creative Director for Uninterrupted.
All that helped make 2022 quite the successful one for Bembury – and then came the late entry in the 'Sand Be The Time' New Balance 990v2. The inspiration which was rooted in truth came from Bembury sledding a sand dune. Featuring fuzzy textured suede paneling the model was excellently captured in the editorial shoot featuring Thundercat. Simply put, Salehe did it again.
21. YCMC x New Balance 990v3 'Nimbus Cloud'
This particular entry on the list is near-and-dear to our hearts, because it comes from a hometown staple. Whether you grew up in Baltimore and knew them as Shoe City or know them now more officially by their tagline "your city, my city" aka YCMC, either way you slice it ... the local chain is as Baltimore as half-and-half's, chicken boxes and Baltimore Club Music. But also one other thing the city is known for is its overwhelming presence of New Balance sneakers. Gathering inspiration from the nimbus cloud in the sky above – the shades of grey play to New Balance's iconic look but also is a signal of precipitation is in the air, hence the look.
Well played. Well executed.
20. A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 4 Retro 'Violet Ore'
In 2021, A Ma Maniére charted two entries on the Top Sneakers of 2021 list. The Air Jordan 1 and Air Jordan 3 Retros placed no. 19 and no. 1 respectively and the storefront had another strong year in 2022 when it came to NRG projects. Among that was November's Air Jordan 4 Retro, which some will contend is indeed the sneaker of the year. No matter where you fall on the spectrum on that particular topic, one thing is for certain – it is indeed in the running. The 'Violet Ore' color scheme with Sail accenting followed the pattern laid out by the previous releases but does so with a grace that is rather inexplicable. Especially considering it is the first of the four Air Jordan Retro releases to feature a dark upper rather than a lighter color. And the Nike Air on the heel, chef's kiss.
19. AMBUSH x Nike Air Adjust Force
Yoon Ambush dug into Nike's Department of Archives to bring back a mid-90s basketball cult classic. The mid-cut Nike Air Adjust Force had not been seen since that original run and digging into the vault, she came out with four colorways. The first two being a simple white heavy and black heavy motif – the latter was a staple of the 90s popularized in-part by Michigan's "Fab Five" and other Nike Basketball silhouettes of the era. The latter two colorways were a more vibrant display of 'Habanero Red' and 'University Blue'. But what also perhaps went under the radar was the use of the Nike Grind in the outsole pods, adding a sustainable touch.
The first entry into the teens on the Top Sneakers of 2022 list belongs to Yoon Ambush.
18. Tom Sachs x Nike General Purpose Shoe
When Tom Sachs and Nike is set to drop the sneaker world pays attention. And while it was not the Mars Yard, the General Purpose Shoe was an exhibition in functionality. The thing with Tom Sachs and his infatuation with space exploration is that each project is designed with functionality and usage in mind. So when it came time to unleash the General Purpose Shoe (GPS) on the world, it was simply meant to be plain, and worn. As they placed it, it was meant to be boring but there's beauty in boring. There's beauty in routine and after all, sneakers are meant to be worn. With another restock of the lead 'Studio' colorway and new colors coming in 2023, GPS will be directing the tempo for functionality all year long.
17. Patta x Nike Air Max 1 'Pure Platinum'
Remember that spoiler alert way back at no. 24, well – here it is! Patta continued their work on the Nike Air Max 1 and did so with two colorways in 2022, which followed a quartet of drops in 2021. The 'Pure Platinum' AM1 however did damage. Selling out rather instantly, the release had sneakerheads across the globe doing their time conversions to try and catch Patta's delivery. From the wavy white leather top layer to the platinum mesh underlay and matching Swoosh, this release was a summer delight.
16. KITH x New Balance 990v3 Made In USA
Ronnie Fieg has years in this game and perhaps no one in it has the grasp of design language and communicating said language throughout a project and campaign quite like the Queens native. His ability to take classic looks and modernize them adds to a timeless mixture that works in any era. His autumnal New Balance 990v3 project gave off cozy vibes and gave off classic vibes with the deep navy blue suede tooling and a subtle blueish-grey mesh tucked underneath. Working in touches of grey and an aged beige topline midsole, the look seemingly works in 1982, 1992, 2002, or 2022.
15. Two 18 x Air Jordan 2 Low Retro
Detroit, what up doe?! Two 18's Air Jordan 2 Low Retro was undoubtedly one of the best executions of the year. The upper is a beautiful two-tone brown suede look, matched by a lighter shade on the laces and as an ode to the Detroit Pistons, is a blue and red piping on the quarter. If there was ever an example of the importance of storytelling and translating it through product, it is the outsole which transitions from a murky opaque to a clear, clean translucent as a reminder of the ongoing Flint, Michigan water crisis which began in 2014. But also, serves as a beacon of hope that the blue collar city will indeed have clean and safe water once again.
For more on the Flint water crisis and how you can help, volunteer and/or donate, follow the link.
14. OFF-WHITE x Nike Air Force 1 'Green Spark' (Brooklyn)
In 2021, Virgil Abloh's 'Lemonade' Air Force 1 Low came in at no. 2 on the year-end countdown. And while the OFF-WHITE brand continues to find its footing without Abloh, his vision is still on full display. Coinciding with the Virgil Abloh: "Figures of Speech" exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, visitors were treated to a surprise when they saw the security personnel wearing the 'Green Spark' AF1 on-foot. At that point, the anticipation for a release was at a fever pitch as images and video hit the internet. From the green base to the silver shimmery Swoosh and the hole punched tongue, Swoosh tab, "AIR" and zip tie – it is very much so a Virgil Abloh production.
Virgil Was Here.
13. Air Jordan 3 Retro OG 'Fire Red'
Jordan Brand continuing their development and evolution of the remastered retro line turned out perhaps the crown jewel of the entire seven-year program. After a much needed benching – the brand brought the Air Jordan 3 Retro back into the mix in 2018 but even with Tinker's original sketches coming to life, a 'Black Cement' re-release, a transparent take on the 'White Cement' colorway to encapsulate a literal moment in time and a duo of Justin Timberlake collaborations, the silhouette was still missing something. Fast forward four years, and the triumphant return of the 'Fire Red' color scheme – because not only did Jordan Brand refer to the 1988 original with its detailing, but the powers that be even referenced the original shape of the signature.
In doing so, the brand created the closest retro to the OG Air Jordan 3 to date. The slanted profile, the accurate height of the elephant printed toe cap, the deep red color palette – the hot take has merit; this is arguably the best Air Jordan 3 Retro to date when taking every aspect into account.
12. Nike Zoom Kobe VI Protro 'Mambacita' (Sweet Sixteen)
Storytelling and authenticity are often sought in the creation of product and its design language. However, for the no. 12 entry, there was every bit of both. Celebrating their daughter, Gianna and what would have been her 16th birthday, Vanessa Bryant and Nike curated a beautiful simplistic yet striking elegant Zoom Kobe VI Protro. Fittingly, the colorway took after her nickname, Mambacita – which is derived from Kobe's "Black Mamba" nickname, which was further articulated on the Kobe VI when it launched back in 2010. The silhouette featured her no. 2 on the lateral heels emblazoned in a solid gold, and a patterned lining, adding a new dimension for the beloved model. A touching homage to an angel gone too soon.
Mambacita Forever 🕊
11. Air Jordan 2 Retro OG 'Chicago'
No matter what side of the fence you're on when it comes to the Air Jordan 2, Jordan Brand basically said "opinion be damned" and gave the world a flawlessly executed rendition of an original AJ2. Taking us back to 1987, the retro was meticulously designed to mirror the OG, even down to the minute details of the hangtag, card insert and the retouched wings logo on the tongue. Removing the piping along the quarter which had been presence after the 1994 retro release, the only thing Jordan Brand did not do was curate the release with Italian leather. But nonetheless, the release was done to perfection.
Fingers crossed for that premium Italian leather release in the future (🤞🏾)
10. Joe Freshgoods x New Balance 993 'Performance Art'
The hardest working man in the industry was quite busy in 2022. Joe Freshgoods was named New Balance's Creative Director and released a host of drops throughout the calendar year. Leading the way was the 'Conversations Amongst Us' collective earlier in the year and in the mix came a well-crafted New Balance 993 collection. Taking premium materials across the upper, the runner was dipped in a blue, olive and pink pastel watercolors for a near monochromatic appearance. Each with a matching set of laces and accentuating pink tones – the name 'Performance Art' was fitting as it felt as if a painting had come to life.
9. A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 2 Retro 'Airness'
"I think we're idea partners ... the ideas that are represented in our stores and product is probably a modern, classic, luxurious take," – James Whitner, owner & founder of The Whitaker Group
Making another entry onto the countdown, is A Ma Maniére with another Air Jordan collaboration. The first of this year for them, arguably was their best – and in terms of this particular year-end listing, that statement holds true. Taking from the luxurious origins of the Air Jordan 2; the Maniére iteration truly recaptured a bit of 1987 with its premium depiction. From the crackled leather textured upper to the python skin contorting its way around the midsole, to the Burgundy Crush accenting that supplied depth throughout, and the clean, vintage Sail appearance ... this is undoubtedly one of the best releases of the last 12 months.
8. Kasina x Nike Air Max 1 'Made To Be Together'
One of the more colorful launches of the year came courtesy of Kasina and their twin Air Max 1 releases. The two which were "made to be together" gathered its inspiration from the Won-Ang. The two Mandarin ducks symbolize unity and love, and are a symbol of matrimony. Hence the title – 'Made To Be Together'. Textured uppers featuring pony hair, suede and leather combos work in harmony with each other throughout the silhouette and features an embroidered Won-Ang on the heels. Additionally, the translucent outsoles show an abstract depiction of the duck. Details rule the day when it comes to this twin showing.
7. Concepts x Nike Air Max 1 SP 'Mellow'
Concepts turned the time machine back to the 1960s for a trio of releases but no matter which is your favorite, each donned their own unique execution that gracefully tied together the feeling of the days of The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. The tie-dyed, bleached, plush look of the 'Mellow' Air Max 1 SP brought with it a tranquil sensation that could only be matched with harmonic melodies and perhaps some recreational assistance. Concepts' detail when it comes to storytelling is undoubtedly top tier in the industry and that has netted them the no. 7 position with the first of their Air Max 1 drops from 2022.
6. Trophy Room x Air Jordan 7 Retro 'New Sheriff in Town'
Barcelona, Summer Olympics, 1992. Michael Jordan is at the ultimate peak of his powers – coming off an NBA Finals where the Chicago Bulls captured back-to-back titles; Jordan averaged 35.8 points, 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds for the series. "His Airness" also took home a near-unanimous Most Valuable Player honor with 94-percent of the first-place voting shares. And despite the accolades there was still one more Jordan was after, and that was a second Olympic gold medal. And there was also a title Jordan was not after ... but he made sure by the time the "Dream Team" left Spain ... that title was his unequivocally.
We've heard of the fabled runs of the 1992 Olympic USA Basketball team – those practices and scrimmages included a handful of the world's greatest players; the greatest assembling of talent the world had seen to that point. It was there, in a semi-empty gym – June 22nd, 1992 a heated scrimmage took place. It's been looked at as the greatest scrimmage in the history of the game where by its conclusion ended with MJ's bold declaration to his contemporaries; "there's a new sheriff in town".
Trophy Room's new twist to the original 'Olympic' Air Jordan 7 featured a dynamic red suede underlay and Sail overlay, elevating the gold stitched Jumpman to a gold plated one and stamping the heels with solid gold pieces. And to further hit home the storytelling was an old Western-style flick playing off Marcus' father's famous words.
5. Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 Low Retro 'Reverse Mocha'
2022 was a quiet year for Travis Scott and Jordan Brand and understandably so. Of the two Cactus Jack x Air Jordan Retro releases, the summer's 'Reverse Mocha' had folks clamoring for it, particularly if you missed on the original Air Jordan 1 High Retro drop. Inverting the color scheme and taking the top off, the drop was accented by a beautiful Sail-colored reverse Swoosh across the low-cut upper on a bold deep roasted, 'Dark Mocha' durabuck base. Tying it all together was blistering accents of University Red and Cactus Jack branding. Subtle, neutral, clean – [insert adjective here]; the Travis Scott x AJ 1 Low is just that damn good.
4. Joe Freshgoods x New Balance 9060 'Inside Voices'
For the no. 4 spot, we return to the hardest working man in the industry, Joe Freshgoods for his 2022 masterpiece. Playing off the theme from 2021's New Balance 990v3 'Outside Clothes'; Robinson takes the new NB 9060 inside, with a two-pack titled 'Inside Voices'. Coming in a 'Baby Shower Blue' muted suede upper and a 'Penny Cookie' look, the silhouette features warm accents throughout both and cool colors for a soothing appearance. Made to encapsulate the futuristic vibes of the Y2K era, Joe Freshgoods' version does with a level craftsmanship and penmanship that is to be celebrated.
3. Concepts x Nike SB Dunk Low QS 'Orange Lobster'
Say what you will when it comes to the release of the no. 3 entry, but despite the chaos that ensued when the 'Orange Lobster' washed up on the shores of the internet, one thing is certain – everyone was out to catch the scarce SB Dunk. It was the sixth overall installment in the Boston-area shop's exploration of the oceanic crustacean, but this one came with more fanfare than the others, and understandably so as the concept [no pun intended], has become one of the most fun and sought after since the first release back in 2008. With a sultry orange body, light speckling for detail and texture, the picnic table styled lining and of course the thickened rubber bands that grace the toe, just as the other Lobsters before it, this one is another beautiful execution from Deon Point and team.
2. Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG 'Chicago' (Lost & Found)
There is something to be said for a brand's ability to not only set a trend or a wave but to also put their toe in the water and ride the wave as well. Whether you believe Jordan Brand capitalized on the theme that involves aging pairs to give an older look from a custom standpoint, or you believe Jordan Brand with their work throughout the vault took the next evolutionary step in their conceptualization process. No matter which end of the spectrum you're on, you have to admit – the brand did extremely good in telling the story of a lost and then found original 'Chicago' Air Jordan 1.
From the tiny crackles of leather on the underlay to the collar's distressed appearance, the yellowed tongue and midsole and the discolored outsole – Jordan Brand acted on history to tell this story. But also, it's a love story. It's a story that is meant to captivate generations – as if you discovered the pair in your grandparent's attic. It easily became one of the most anticipated releases of the year and its spin-off featuring the "Re-Imagined" 'White Cement' Air Jordan 3 Retro will be one of the most desired in 2023.
And the attention to detail is one that you have to simply see up close to truly take in and appreciate.
1. Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 By Virgil Abloh
This may cause contention for some, because this pair is virtually unattainable – yet that should not detract from the sheer beauty and precision that is Virgil Abloh's 2022 masterpiece. Released posthumously, the Louis Vuitton x AF1 By Virgil Abloh featured a handcrafted assembling of LV's finest genuine leather and materials to construct the monogram debossed and Damier printed Low and High iterations. Louis Vuitton's goal when embarking on this luxurious collaboration with the Swoosh; "create the most authentic high-end sneaker ever." And with Virgil's design language and influence all over this – from the OFF-WHITE signatures to his desire to elevate streetwear and culture into luxury arenas, as LV's Head of Menswear, and Artistic Director ... the Louis Vuitton x AF1 is that Magnum opus for Abloh.
Across nine color palettes, the LV x AF1 not only captured the imagination, it captured the intersection of sneaker culture, high fashion and streetwear in a fashion that could only be achieved by Abloh. And all the while, was a beautiful gemstone to the 40th anniversary of the Air Force 1.
This is truly the personification of the vision and legacy Abloh has left with the fashion industry and the culture that surrounded and influenced him.