Top 10: Sneaker releases of 2011

Words: Alex Synamatix

With another year over, we showcase our selection of top ten sneaker releases from 2011.

Picking the top ten sneaker releases from a year is no easy task. Firstly, let me point out that this is not a list of our top ten sneakers of 2011, but our top ten sneaker releases of 2011 (in the UK). There is a subtle, but crucial difference between the two. Although your favourite (and some of our favourite) sneakers may well have not made it onto this list, that is because this list is all about the significance of each release.

Taking a good hard look at the year behind us and compiling a list of sneaker releases that made an impact is pretty simple; whittling that list down to just ten is not so simple, let alone putting them in some form of running order. Once again, Nike seem to have dominated this year, but then again they do have both Jordan brand and Nike SB to help boost their chances. The list also includes key releases from Asics, Gourmet, Adidas and Puma, who all brought serious heat to the table during the year.

Without further a do, here are our top ten sneaker releases of 2011…

#10: Gourmet Dignan

The Dignan is most certainly a Marmite shoe; people either love it on first sight or hate it with a passion. Either way, it strikes a huge amount of emotion on first site that usually sticks with that person forever. Personally, I can’t get enough of this shoe; it’s both bold and understated, fresh, creative and unique.

Taking inspiration from the scrubs that nurses in America put over their shoes, the Dignan was inspired by Mark Wahlberg’s character in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”. For me, it’s hard not to be inspired by a shoe that has been so heavily inspired itself. There is a such a strong character to this shoe and a rich history that doesn’t rely on the history of the brand itself, as Gourmet quite simply haven’t been around long enough. It’s a testament to such a young company in the sneaker world that they can produce a sneaker as iconic in design as this. I’m sure that this one will be overlooked by many and held highly by few in years to come.

#9: Hanon x Asics Gel Lyte III ‘Wildcats’

In 2011 Hanon teamed up with their friends at Asics to create one of the most beautiful Gel Lyte III’s in existence; the Wildcats. For the collectors, this was an obvious must have, and for us UK folk even more so.

Luxing out the Gel Lyte III with a complete suede upper and adding tonal 3M stripes, the Wildcat has a richness that usually only Mr. Fieg brings to an Gel Lyte III, but still retains that running function that is deep in the shoe’s history. Bold colours work so well on suede, especially when kept rather block like this. What is really exciting for the colectors, and partly what has helped land this shoe on the list, is the addition of a tongue tab on the infamously tongue-less shoe. A co-branded tab has been added to the outer side of the non-tongue, giving the shoe a very unique appearance among Gel Lyte III’s. I’m not sure if this is a first for this silhouette, but it’s most definitely an scarcity.

Crisp and perfectly executed, this one didn’t hang around for long at all, and it’s no surprise.

#8: Nike Air Max 90 Hyperfuse CTBBQ2011

2011 was Nike’s year of the Hyperfuse, seeing it moved from the basketball courts to the running shoes with little effort. However, Crooked Tongues stole the Hyperfuse show with their personal addition to the collection in celebration of their annual BBQ.

Taking the Air Max 90 Hyperfuse and giving it the Infrared makeover may sound a little obvious to most, especially considering how much hype the Infrared retro got, but I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I didn’t think of it. Not only that, but I didn’t think it would work this well. With the basics out of the way, let’s move on to why this sneaker release is so important…

Firstly, it was kept very under-wraps, with most people only finding out about it’s existence when arriving at the Crooked Tongues BBQ. Secondly, it marks the first time Nike have sponsored the CTBBQ, and therefor marks a rather serious occasion in what we hope to become a regular annual partnership. All this aside, there is one part of this release that makes it so special, and it’s not even on the shoe itself; the box label. I was excited as it was when I first saw this shoe and heard how limited it was, but when I saw the box, I flipped. Personally, I have no recollection of Nike ever putting colour on the text of their box labels. Now, this may not excite you terribly, but for those of use who enjoy every element of a release, and especially the boxes, this was a big deal.

#7: Footpatrol x adidas Originals Campus 80’s ‘B-Sides’

With Footpatrol re-opening it’s doors in 2010, it was only a matter of time before they once again started dropping colabs. This pair of adidas Originals Campus 80’s marks the return of Footpatrol collabs to the sneaker world.

As nice as this shoe is, and it really is, the importance of this shoe goes way beyond the silhouette itself. This shoe has landed itself on our list as a welcome return of Footpatrol to the sneaker shelfs. FP have released some of the most hyped collabs in the past, making the UK proud on a worldwide scale, so it’s great to have them back, starting with this pair of super nice Campus 80’s. Although there’s no mention of it on the shoe (in true British modesty), this shoe marks a key part of Footpatrol’s history, and the UK’s sneaker history as well.

#6: Air Jordan XI ‘Concord’ 2011 Retro

Even during the hype of the Jordan XI Cool Grey’s last year, people were talking about the Concord’s with excited anticipation. So, finally, right at the end of the year, Jordan dropped what was one of their most anticipated retro’s.

It’s been over a decade since these iconic Jordan sneakers have been seen on shop shelves, so it’s nor surprise that a shoe so important in Michael Jordan’s history caused a lot of excitement in the sneaker game when it was finally retro’d. With rumours circulating around the forums in January, only to be released in late December, this shoe has been in the minds of Jordan collectors almost all year without excitement fading once. It’s no surprise that this retro made it onto our list, and with the obsessive loyalty of Jordan fans this list could easily have been Jordan dominated, but these were a definite stand-out.

#5: Puma Shadow Society States

In 2001 Puma formed the Shadow Society, a secret sneaker society that resembled the freemasons, but for footwear. With it’s members kept top secret, we were left only to guess wildly who could possibly be in the society of hugely influential sneaker heads. The concept was simple – create a small, secret society who will be given complete creative control over their sneaker releases.

The result was the Shadow Society Puma States, dropped over three parts of 2011 in pairs, with this featured pair being in the first drop. Each pair came with it’s own extra laces and luxe lace bag. The real beauty of this release was the name given to the shoe. This is a Puma Suede, as you most likely have noticed, but back in the 80’s when the Suedes crossed the pond from their original birthplace to our shores they were called States as a reference to their home turf. The Shadow Society took us back into the depths of Pumas history with this release, paying homage to a unique connection between us Brits and America via this German company.

A lot of people went wild for this mini series, especially the Puma Suede fans and especially for this exact colourway. There has been no mention of future Shadow Society drops, it may well have been an exclusive project to 2011, but then again we were never informed of the project until 10 days before the first drop. We can but hope.

#4: Nike SB Eric Koston 1

2011 marks the year that Eric Koston releases his first shoe with Nike SB. That sentence alone should explain why this sneaker is on our list and so high up – this moment in skate sneaker history was huge.

For those who have been in the skate world for a long time, you will be well aware that Koston is the Jordan of the skate sneaker world, bringing complete innovation and forward thinking design on every shoe he does. To see him move over to Nike SB and drop this super clean piece of footwear was a very big deal. It would have been easy to put the ridiculously hyped Kobe version of this shoe in this list, but it’s this original version that holds the true importance. In true Koston style, this shoe is as innovative with technology as one of the new Nike runners, but for skating. A solid TPU reinforced suede upper, a neoprene colar and the first use of Lunar technology in an SB shoe. It’s quite literally a god in the world of skate shoes.

I can’t stress enough how exciting this shoe is, not only for the shoe itself, but for what it represents; the beginning of a (hopefully long) partnership between Koston and Nike SB releasing insanely dope footwear.

#3: Nike Free Run+ 2

There’s good reason that this shoe has made it to the 3rd spot on our list; it’s impact on the sneaker scene here in the UK.

Prior to the Free Run+ 2, Nike’s beautifully comfortable Free sole unit was only enjoyed by those in the running world or those sneaker heads who love their techy running shoes. It was a thing too ugly and hard to understand for most sneaker lovers here in the UK, but a select few of us knew that at some point in the future, the Free sole would get the love it deserved. However, I could never have guessed it would come so soon and so strong. The release of the Nike Free Run+ 2 broke the Free sole to the masses, putting it on a much more acceptable upper and introducing itself to a lot of peoples feet.

2011 has been a great year for the Free sole unit, finding its way onto a couple of Nike best Huaraches uppers towards the end of the year and generally being accepted by the masses in the sneaker world. But, it is this exact shoe right here that is responsible for that critical shift between secluded snobbery and mass appreciation; this shoe was the tipping point for the Free sole.

Now that I’ve explained the importance of this release, let’s look at the shoe itself. Not too far from the first Free Run+, but far enough to have it’s own character (and plenty of it), the Free Run+ 2 is most certainly a future classic. That spider-web style side paneling is a thing of beauty. All looks aside, all you need to do is put a pair of these on your feet and have a short stroll to fall in love with both this shoe and the sole unit it sits upon. What I love most about the Free Run+ 2 is that however great it looks, it is still primarily a running shoe, and a damn good one. Let’s just hope the Free Run doesn’t forget it’s roots in its new found popularity when the inevitable Free Run+ 3 hits shelves.

#2: Air Jordan III Retro (White / Cement / Fire Red)

The Jordan III had a damn good year for itself in 2011, with a heap of retros hitting shelves. This however, was not only the first release of the year, but arguably the most anticipated.

The White / Cement Jordan III is a highlight in the Jordan III history, with it’s clean aesthetic and historical place on the feet of Mike during his free throw line dunk in 1988. The Cement Retros take their well deserved place in a proud Jordan collectors collection, and they were eagerly received when they dropped in a sale-ridden time in late January of 2011, when it seemed like the January sales were going to last forever.

The Jordan III has made one hell of an impact this year, with the True Blue becoming a commonly sighted shoe after it’s general release in May, adding an even more special feel to the Cements, which were the last Jordan III’s to drop before the True Blue’s helped extend the popularity of this silhouette even further that it already was. This release also featured the addition of an Orange Air Jordan swing tag; a reference to the Nike Air swing tag that used to hang on the originals when they first came out, and another thing to send the Jordan heads into a fury.

#1: Nike MAG 2011

There’s been some great footwear released in 2011, but this has to be the obvious winner. A myth of a shoe, you either love it or hate it, but either way you should appreciate its importance. As far as sneaker releases go, this had to be one of the most exciting of the last decade, especially after Nike kept it so well hidden until literally days before release.

The Nike MAG holds a special place in almost every sneaker collectors heart, even film buffs had been waiting for this one to drop. Originally seen in Back to The Future II on the feet of Michael J. Fox, this self-lacing shoe sent sneaker heads into a daze and we’ve been there ever since, wondering if/when Nike will make them a reality. Fast forward to 2009 and trademark documents of a self-lacing shoe get leaked from the Nike kitchen, but that’s all we hear of it and the dream sinks back into the depths of our imaginations. Then, suddenly out of no where, Nike dropped the famed teaser video announcing that they will be dropping a 2011 version. Now then, think about any hyped Jordan release and how many heads know about it almost a year in advance (basically every fan), now think of how many people have been anticipating this release (basically every sneaker head), yet Nike managed to keep it so secret that it didn’t exist until a week before launch? Incredible. Not even top press or Nike’s PR company saw this one coming. When I think back to the buzz and excitement surrounding this release at the time, it still puts a childish smile on my face as I try to hide my excitement, and I knew I was never gonna get a pair. It was crazy.

Admittedly, there were some downers to this release, mainly being the lack of power-lacing and lack of availability (only 1,510 pairs were sold), but we are promised those for 2015 in the teaser video. The huge bonuses are that the shoe is still exclusive and not really released yet as they were so hard to get hold of, plus Nike raised millions of dollars for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research. So, not only was this the best release of 2011 by far, it raised millions for charity as well, marking this one as one of the top releases of the decade. Bring on 2015 …