Sneakers

Welcome To The Sneaker Hall Of Fame

And the 2022 inductees are...

Nike / Getty / Fatherly

Dad shoes are having a moment. No, not that derisive “dad shoe,” uttered in quotes with a roll of the eyes. Some of the most influential sneaker designers out there today — Kanye West, Virgil Abloh, Tinker Hatfield — are all dads. The shoes they create as such speak to passed down styles and nod to historical designs.

We’re not saying dads hold the cultural power over sneakers here — not by a long shot. Sneaker culture is a dialogue, and dads have a seat at the table, a voice to shape what’s cool, why it’s cool, and where certain trends came from (yes, “when I was a kid...” is a fine way to start a conversation about sneakers).

So on this Hall of Fame sneakers list you won’t find geriatric Nike Monarchs or New Balance 624 silhouettes. Instead you will find grail kicks, daily drivers, and function-first footwear for sneakerheads, style aficionados, and novices alike. Many of whom just happen to be fathers.

Nike Air Force 1

Image Courtesy of Nike/Getty/Fatherly

The Undisputed GOAT

Where else to begin but with Nike’s iconic 1982 basketball shoe, the Air Force 1.

The AF1 was first conceived by Bruce Kilgore, an ambitious young industrial designer who cut his teeth making major appliances for Whirlpool and Sears. His task: to find a way to incorporate the Nike Air sole into a performance basketball shoe.

Interestingly, Kilgore took styling cues from an early Nike hiking boot, the Lava Dome, and came up with a shoe that was tough, durable, austere, and an object that became so much more than a basketball shoe.

As the late designer Virgil Abloh put it to FT soon before his death, “It’s completely not a shoe. It’s an art object. It doesn’t even need to be on someone’s feet. … The ‘Air Force 1’ is a basketball shoe, but through hip-hop culture, it has energized a representative sculpture. It means a lot to very specific people.”

Still, the AF1 very much started off on the courts. “We started with a few people in the office — because we had some people that were reasonable athletes — and then we moved from there to collegiate level athletes,” Kilgore told me in an interview in 2017. “And so we made up a bunch of more test shoes, put them in the back of the pickup truck, drove them around to some of the colleges in and around the Boston area. Put them out on some players. When we got the two thumbs up from those folks, then it went on from there.”

Legendary music producer DJ Clark Kent remembers the Nike truck rolling up to his playground in Queens. “I was like, this sh*t, this is magical. I put the sh*t in my bag and kept playing in what I was playing. I stole them. Dead serious, because I was like, ‘I’m not playing in these — they’re beautiful!’ I went home with them and I never wore them because I thought they were so special.”

So basketball players, loved the AF1 — but the love continued off the court.

By 1984, when the AF1 was set to be phased out, its followers cried foul and the owners of three competing Baltimore sneaker shops — Charley Rudo Sports, Cinderella Shoes, and Downtown Locker Room — banded together with the objective of saving the silhouette. Harold Rudo, Charley Rudo’s son, ultimately flew out to Beaverton, Oregon, and persuaded the Swoosh to keep producing the sneaker. They were more persuasive than anyone would have ever expected.

“Towards the late ’80s, early ’90s, that’s when the Air Force 1 really starts to take off as style,” DJ, hoops legend, and cultural historian Bobbito Garcia said. How so? He once told me about how he felt a need to make the AF1 his own to illustrate the cultural and artistic weight the shoes began to carry. “I was painting Air Force 1s as far back as 1983. The only ones available then were white uppers with a gray swoosh. And since I played for Lower Merion, I painted my swoosh burgundy to match my uniform with Esquire shoe dye and acrylic paint. At the end of the season, I took off the burgundy, and put light blue paint on the swoosh. By the end of the ’80s, I’m painting the entire upper of the Air Force 1 and repainting the swoosh to make my own three color schemes, which Nike wasn’t doing. I was very much ahead of the game when it came to that. And that’s how I got my rep in hip-hop, when I was painting sneakers. People started asking me to paint their sneakers, too.”

Sneakers that can tell about race and class and wealth disparity, what it means to “make it” and who our heroes are — those are the backbone sneaker culture, and the pairs that deserve to be in the sneaker hall of fame. In that regard, no shoe is more important than the Air Force 1. It is a shoe for driving the lane and crashing the boards. It is a basketball shoe defined more by neighborhood legends than glitzy professionals. It’s why 40 years after its release, the Air Force 1 remains the most important sneaker in the universe. — Alex French

You can buy a pair of Air Force 1 at Nike.com (from $97).

Vans Old Skool

Image Courtesy of Vans/Getty/Fatherly

The Chillest Sneaker Ever

If Nike’s Air Force 1 evokes the gritty style of playground hoops heroism, the Vans Old Skool calls to mind the timeless style of Southern California’s sun-weathered surf heroes: Alva, Peralta, Spiccol, and untold numbers of other salty locals — loitering in beach parking lots, praying for waves.

Vans, known first as the Van Doren Rubber Co., began making high quality deck shoes in 1966. Company founder Paul Van Doren opened up a showroom in Anaheim and manufactured made-to-order shoes on the premises. Van Doren used premium materials: indestructible vulcanized rubber waffle soles and Duck Canvas No. 10, the strongest on the market. The narrow, grippy soles soon caught the attention of SoCal’s skate community. Van Doren embraced the new partnership and began sponsoring local competitors with free shoes and cash, most notably the members of the famed Dog Town Z-Boys.

In 1977, Van Doren had a breakthrough. While idly doodling, he came up with the iconic Vans “jazz stripe.” Van Doren enhanced the traditional deck shoe silhouette, reinforcing the design with leather panels on the side foot and toe. He added the “jazz stripe” and released his new creation, Style #36, in three unassuming colorways.

Vans eventually rechristened Style #36 as the Old Skool. And, just like the Air Force 1, devotees of the shoe made it their own, customizing with markers and paint. In the ’90s the Old Skool became a street wear stalwart as Vans launched a series of collaborations with the likes of Supreme; Stussy; Peanuts; Tyler, the Creator; and so many others. The Old Skool was not an exclusive shoe — it held a little something for everyone.

The Old Skool is, if nothing else, versatile. It brings a sense of knowing cool to any pair of chinos or jeans. It looks great with shorts and calf-length tube socks (the SoCal way). The Old Skool also brings the party to any just about any business casual look. No matter the outfit, the message is clear: I’m here for a good time. Alex French

You can buy a pair of Vans Old Skool at Amazon or Vans.com (from $60).

Jordan III

Image Courtesy of NBA Store/Getty/Fatherly

The Sneaker That Birthed A Culture

Streetwear designer Jeff Staple once told me that in his view, the Air Jordan III, released by Nike in 1988, was a watershed event: the moment sneakers crossed over from disposable everyday commodities like T-shirts or toilet paper and into the realm of luxury items.

The III was a collaboration between Michael Jordan and Tinker Hatfield, then a young designer with an architecture degree from the University of Oregon. Jordan wanted something sleek, light, and flexible. Hatfield responded with what many sneaker enthusiasts believe is the most beautiful sneaker ever designed: a mid-top featuring tumbled leather, gray elephant skin accents on the toe and heel, and gray eye stays. The Jordan III marked the first shoe where the trademark Nike Swoosh was absent from the side panels, appearing only on the grey plastic heel pull. It marked the debut of the ubiquitous red “jump man,” which appeared on the shoe’s prominent, arcing tongue. And it featured, for the first time on a Jordan shoe, a window cut into the sole revealing Nike’s Air cushion system.

Jordan’s on court brilliance obviously enhanced the shoe’s mystique. 1988, the year of the III’s release, was the most dynamic of Jordan’s young career. He won NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star MVP, and a handful of other awards. None was more important than his stunning performance in the Dunk Contest. He captivated the world, taking off from the foul line and delivering the most celebrated dunk in basketball history, transforming Jordan into a global icon. His celebrity was only magnified by a line of killer Jordan-branded sportswear from Nike and an unforgettable Weiden+Kennedy-produced advertising campaign, featuring Spike Lee as Jordan’s sidekick.

Nike began reissuing the Jordan III in 1994. Until recently, the sneaker was nearly impossible to obtain. However, the hype surrounding the IIIs seems to have subsided just a little bit. It’s now not so hard to track down a pair on the resale market for a reasonable cost or even buy a pair directly from Nike or a retailer. And that’s a good thing. Everybody should have a chance to own the GOAT. — Alex French

You can chase down a pair of OG Jordan IIIs at Amazon or StockX (from $230).

New Balance 990

Image Courtesy of New Balance/Getty/Fatherly

The Godfather Of the Dad Sneaker

What do Steve Jobs, Kaia Gerber, Timothée Chalamet, and the middle-aged dad next door have in common? They’re all apt to anchor a ’fit with the distinctive monochromatic tones of the New Balance 990 from time to time.

True to its Boston heritage, New Balance stayed committed to domestic manufacturing, with 990 exclusively assembled in the United States. Striking the right balance between comfort and athletic performance, the locally manufactured running shoe represented a leap forward in technology and innovation.

Prior to the release of the New Balance 990, flexibility and support were considered mutually exclusive in a running shoe. A flexible midsole enhances proprioceptive feedback, providing runners with a better sense of movement and location. On the other hand, support was achieved through the use of a carbon plate topped with soft foam cushioning — making for a stiffer shoe that divorced you from the ground.

The result of four years of research and development, the New Balance 990 fused the best of both worlds. A slip-lasted upper delivered flexibility and dynamism while a polyurethane heel-cradle known as the “motion control device” ensured foot support. The latter feature proved so successful that it is still present in New Balance’s current performance runner lineup. Released with a then-unheard-of price of $100, the New Balance 990 became a swift success, proving customers were willing to shell out for top quality.

Celebrating its 40th birthday this year, the New Balance 990 has endured. The gray-on-gray sneaker has transcended its utilitarian purpose-driven origins as a running shoe and is now a street style stalwart. From suburban dads in the Midwest to tech entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and supermodels in New York, the New Balance 990 effortlessly traverses cultural subgroups.

“The New Balance 990 can be widely credited as one of the silhouettes that inspired the ‘dad shoe’ trend that has taken over the past couple of years,” says Tom Woodger, VP of global cultural marketing at StockX. (While here at Fatherly we’re of the belief that any shoes or sneakers worn by fathers have the ability to be lauded as a “dad shoe,” the zeitgeisty term typically refers to the chunky, largely monochromatic, innocuous sneakers worn by the dads and middle-aged men of yesteryear.) “Additionally, more and more consumers are favoring comfort, which a chunky silhouette like the 990 can offer. Combine this with the 1990s and 2000s aesthetic that has made a comeback, and the 990 is the perfect storm.”

Defined by a mesh construction with suede overlays and a largely gray color scheme, the New Balance 990 is the ideal foray into “dad shoe” territory for many. Chunky without being too chunky, its neutral hues and understated nature allow the 990 to pair well with everything from slim-cut suiting to Dickies work pants and a T-shirt — not to mention Steve Jobs’ favored black turtleneck and jeans combo.

While the standard iteration — and its subsequent updates — is still easy to attain, a slew of covetable collaborations with the likes of Aimé Leon Dore, JJJJound, and Kith has kept the ubiquitous silhouette interesting.

“New Balance, like many brands in our space, has successfully leveraged collaborations with artists and creators to capture the attention of new audiences and remain top-of-mind with existing customers,” explains Woodger. “New Balance 990 collaborations seem to stand the test of time, with early collaborations increasing in value.”

While the collaborative ventures may be difficult to acquire, the standard grayscale version remains a reliable staple.

And for the actual fathers? The silhouette is as desirable as ever. “As a recently minted new dad, I have been wearing a lot more New Balance,” says Gijs Verheijke, founder & CEO at Ox Street. “Obviously, they are the stereotypical ‘dad shoe,’ which I find a fun joke, but New Balance is also currently trending hard.” Tanisha Angel

You can buy a classic pair of New Balance 990s at Amazon or NewBalance.com (from $185).

Adidas Stan Smith

Image Courtesy of Adidas/Getty/Fatherly

The Best Daily Drivers

While it’s all well and good to dream about five-figure resale kicks and hyped collabs, sometimes the best sneakers are ones you can actually get on your feet. While the words “effortless” and “timeless” are often sprinkled far too liberally in the sneaker world, the Adidas Stan Smith truly fits the bill.

A pioneer of its time, the Adidas Stan Smith can be credited with spawning hundreds of minimalist sneakers, from the elevated, suit-friendly Common Projects Achilles and Axel Arigato Clean 90 to the more casual Oliver Cabell Low 1 and Veja Campo. Still, none are able to match the enduring allure of the Stan Smith.

Like many sneakers that have stood the test of time, the Stan Smith has its origins in performance. In 1963, Adidas produced its first tennis shoes: the Robert Haillet, named after the French tennis star. Created by Horst Dassler, son of Adidas founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler, the Adidas Robert Haillet marked the first tennis shoe to be constructed from leather rather than canvas.

In 1971, Adidas inked a deal with American tennis star — and two-time Grand Slam champion — Stan Smith, with Horst Dassler proposing the Robert Haillet be repurposed with Smith’s name with the intention of gaining recognition in the United States. Following a brief period in which the leather sneakers carried both Haillet’s name and Smith’s portrait, the Adidas Stan Smith as we know it today was released in 1978, with the instantly recognizable kelly green heel patch and both Smith’s name and portrait.

Almost five decades from its initial launch, the Adidas Stan Smith’s fame has far surpassed the man on its tongue, a fact cheekily referenced by Smith’s book, Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m A Shoe.

However, the former world No. 1 is a fan through and through. “When the shoe came out with my photo on the tongue, I kept looking at it during my matches, and it was distracting, humbling, and exhilarating,” Smith recalled in an interview with Vogue. Soon enough, Smith’s opponents also began to sport his face on their feet. “I didn’t think it was appropriate for people to beat me with that shoe on,” he jokingly told Esquire.

The Adidas Stan Smith is defined by its minimalist, almost essentialist approach. All-white save for a dash of color on the heel, the Stan Smith swiftly transcended its roots as a performance shoe in the ’80s, as technical sportswear began to rise in popularity. Instead, the Stan Smith became a street style staple, sported by celebrities and everyday folk alike, with early adopters in the former camp including David Bowie and John Lennon.

In contrast to releases that gain desirability through scarcity, the Adidas Stan Smith has achieved notoriety through ubiquity. You needn’t line up for hours or drop a month’s rent to acquire a pair. “It’s a classic, wearable look, affordable and abundant in supply,” says Gijs Verheijke, founder & CEO at Ox Street, of the Stan Smith’s enduring appeal. “They are an easy choice since they are so commonly available and affordable.”

One of the key drawcards of the Stan Smith is that it doesn’t have to be “styled,” it simply looks good with everything. Innocuous in its minimalism, the streamlined aesthetic of the Stan Smith allows it to flit between dress codes. Verheijke attests to this, deeming it “one of the few silhouettes that you could feasibly bring as your only pair of shoes on a business trip.”

“Stan Smiths are in a league of their own in being able to look both casual and dressed up, depending on what you wear them with,” Verheijke tells me. “They look good with jeans, shorts, chinos, or even with a suit.” While the original white-and-green colorway is more than up to the task of accompanying any outfit, Adidas has also riffed on the classic design with an all-black iteration as well as an abundance of collaborative ventures that often see Stan Smith’s — the man, not the shoe — portrait swapped for that of its collaborator.

Still, the Stan Smith would not have the lasting appeal it does if it wasn’t for its beautifully essentialist design. The smooth round toe, perforated three stripes, and luxury leather look are lent a sense of playfulness by the dash of green. Epitomizing design purity, the Adidas Stan Smith can go pretty much anywhere — just not to the tennis court. — Tanisha Angel

You can buy a pair of adidas Stan Smiths at Amazon or adidas.com (from $70)

Water Be the Guide (New Balance x Salehe Bembury)

Image Courtesy of StockX/Getty/Fatherly

The Best Collabs

The Fatherly Sneakers Hall of Fame is thick with classic grails: the Jordan III, Old Skools, AF1s.

But the next inductee is a glimpse at the future. Salehe Bembury’s ascent has been rapid. His first job out of design school was at Payless Shoes. After that came Cole Haan and then at Adidas’ Yeezy with Kanye West. He spent four years as the head of sneaker design at Versace. In 2021, Footwear News named Bembury designer of the year on the backs of show-stopping collabs with New Balance, Crocs, and Anta. Bembury applied a groundbreaking distribution strategy to Finders Keepers, a limited release for New Balance. He hid pairs all over Los Angeles, dropped hints on social media, and then secretly filmed the lucky winners in the act of discovery. His hot streak rolled into 2022 with the release of a new Brand Black silhouette, a clothing and sneaker capsule with Vans, and the launch of Spunge, his own design label and e-commerce hub.

Most notable are two New Balance models inspired by Bembury’s adventures in nature. First came a desert-toned New Balance 2002R inspired by a hiking trip to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon.

Next came Water Be the Guide, our inductee, a NB 2002R that Bembury designed with contrasting warm and cool tones to evoke aquatic ecosystems. They are as pretty as a painting. The fuzzy cyan suede overlays read like pools of fresh water. The speckles on the white sole are like glints of light. There’s vegetation — lime and dark greens on the heel patch and around the NB logo. A burnt sienna tongue and suede patch on the upper are earth. Pale orange knitting feels like a sunset sky.

Like we said, the future. — Alex French

You can chase down a pair of Water Be The Guide at StockX (from $336).

Louis Vuitton Air Force 1s

Image Courtesy of Louis Vuitton/Getty/Fatherly

Best You’ll Never Have

Let’s get this out of the way: You’re probably never going to own the Louis Vuitton Air Force 1s. Well, not unless you have a spare five figures to drop on a pair.

The rags-to-runway success story is one shared by late Off-White founder and Louis Vuitton creative director Virgil Abloh and the Nike Air Force 1s. Now, we know what you’re thinking: Didn’t we already cover the grail-status Nike Air Force 1? Well, yes, but the Louis Vuitton Air Force 1 is just as much — and perhaps even more so — about Abloh and his almost Warholian approach to design as it is about Nike’s iconic silhouette. Arguably the pièce de résistance of Abloh’s work at the luxury French fashion house, the collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Nike is the physical embodiment of the symbiotic relationship between streetwear and luxury that the designer has pioneered throughout his career. Given his untimely passing late last year and the subsequent reception of his final body of work, how could we not include it?

“The Air Force 1 itself as a silhouette broke through as a staple of early hip-hop street culture in New York,” explains Gijs Verheijke, founder & CEO at Ox Street. “That scene was obviously rough and crime-riddled, but Virgil Abloh’s early work with Pyrex drew attention to drug abuse and poverty among Black youth in New York during that era.”

An ardent proponent of the Air Force 1, Abloh’s Off-White era saw him riff off the silhouette, collaborating with museums around the United States, including MoMA, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. “Those were produced in such limited runs that virtually all are worth well into the four figures,” notes Verheijke.

Widely credited with being instrumental in elevating streetwear to luxury status, Abloh’s appointment as creative director of Louis Vuitton marked a new chapter for the luxury French fashion house. While the Off-White Air Force 1s were highly limited release, the Louis Vuitton collaboration is a tad less so. In fact, there were 47 iterations designed.

Following Abloh’s untimely passing last year, an initial auctioning of just 200 pairs of Air Force 1s clad in Louis Vuitton’s all-over monogram canvas and accented with the fashion house’s Damier Azur canvas fetched a total of $23.5 million at Sotheby’s; an equivalent of $117,500 a pair. Despite 21 iterations set to be made available to the public (nine have been released thus far), the high resale prices have prevailed.

While colossal resale prices are nothing new in the sneaker world, they’re typically reserved for strictly limited drops and rare vintage styles. In contrast, the initial public drop of the Louis Vuitton Air Force 1s read more like a pop art show — with Nike corroborating the notion with a posthumous pop-up gallery inside the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse that displayed all 47 versions of the sneaker.

“[Abloh] was a true artist who did more to elevate sneakers to wearable pop art than anyone else,” said Verheijke. Tom Woodger, VP of global cultural marketing at StockX, concurs. “More than ever before, people are seeing this collection as art.”

Indeed, Abloh has long drawn comparisons to pop artists Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, with his design philosophy highly reflective of the former’s approach. Abloh stated that he uses a “3% theory” when it comes to producing a product, preferring to “edit” rather than “design.” Akin to Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych or Campbell's Soup Cans, Abloh’s Louis Vuitton Air Force 1 collection takes a classic — and frankly already perfect — silhouette and executes it in 47 different ways.

Although a couple of colorways — like the metallic gold and black metallic silver — dare to deviate from the standard Nike Air Force 1, the DNA of the shoe remains evident. The adaptive nature of the silhouette lends itself well to the 3% theory, allowing for a substantial body of work to be produced in a short time and presented together to striking effect.

A single pair of Air Force 1s with the Louis Vuitton monogram canvas? Cool. But a 47-strong collection of collaborative sneakers? Now, that’s art. — Tanisha Angel

You can chase down a pair of Louis Vuitton Air Force 1s at StockX (from $10,784)

Salomon XT-6

Image Courtesy of Salomon/Getty/Fatherly

The Most Functionally Fashionable

Rooted in (hyper-)functionality and utilitarianism, Salomon exists in an industry it aided in creating. Founded in Annecy, France, in 1947 by François Salomon and his son Georges, Salomon began as a ski hardware manufacturing company. Georges’ innovations propelled the company forward, with the younger Salomon initially developing a machine to manufacture the ski edges before pioneering the integrated ski boot binding system, with today’s ski bindings using the same design fundamentals.

While the brand has been producing alpine boots since 1979, the 75-year-old company didn’t venture into hiking and trail shoes until 45 years into its run. But once it did, it employed the same rigorous design sensibilities. Part of the enduring allure of the brand hinges on promise fulfillment: Salomon sneakers do what they say they will. They just happen to look good doing it.

Inherently focused on function rather than fashion, Salomon’s technical approach naturally lent itself to the gorpcore trend. Though purpose-led design has remained central to the Salomon identity, subtle alterations and color variations have aided in recontextualizing the alpine brand for a new audience. Introduced in 2013, the Salomon XT-6 silhouette was designed to provide performance and support features to athletes partaking in ultra-distance races under the harshest conditions, namely the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 170-kilometer race around the trails of the highest mountain in Western Europe. Built with cushioning, lightweight durable construction, and long-distance stability at its core, the Salomon XT-6 represents the pinnacle in trail running footwear.

Off the trail and on the street, the dynamic silhouette of the Salomon XT-6 allows it to play host to a slew of creative colorways and collaborative reimaginings. While the triple black XT-6 remains the silhouette’s most popular colorway, the recently launched Skyline series is one to watch. Comprising three colorways, the Skyline series draws inspiration from the hues of dawn to dusk. The lightweight mesh uppers take on a gradient effect with colors that reflect the sky, while the signature structural waterproof TPU zig-zags are dressed in a complementary color. Designed to provide maximum grip in the slipperiest conditions, the thick soles are defined by deep, sharp lugs that receive the three-toned treatment.

The abundance of technical features on the Salomon XT-6 is all fair game for other creatives to put their own spin on. The likes of And Wander, Palace, and Fumito Ganryu have riffed on the functional footwear, aiding in placing the alpine brand in front of the streetstyle crowd.

With its feet firmly placed in technicality but the door open to trends, the Salomon XT-6 is one to watch. — Tanisha Angel

You can buy a pair of Salomon XT-6s at Salomon.com (from $170)

Achilles by Common Project

Image Courtesy of Farfetch/Getty/Fatherly

The Best In Form

Some 15 years ago, two New York City designers Peter Poopat and Flavio Girolami set out to create the perfect sneaker; they came up with the Achilles, a minimalist trainer made from high quality Italian leather. The shoe features no technology. No air bubbles. No Velcro. No inflatable air bladders. Just rubber and leather and thread. The Achilles comes in a variety of muted tones, but white is the thing. Pure white except for the small, sexy gold stamp on the heel. Factory standard numbers. The article number, the size, the color. Simple and perfect. — Alex French

You can buy a pair of Achilles at Neimanmarcus.com or Mr. Porter (from $410)