2016 was the year of the sneaker technocracy. Sneakers have been at the forefront of “wearable tech” long before the Apple Watch, but recent innovations in both material and process have opened up a new frontier of comfort, lightness, and speed.
In a year when the little details became the big picture, high fashion took precedence over celebrity collaborations. The haute couture influence can be seen in the abundance of luxurious textures and experimental silhouettes. Here are the five men’s sneakers designs that broke the mold and defined 2016.
- ACRONYM x NikeLab Air Presto Mid
ACRONYM’s Errolson Hugh called his 2015 Lunar Force 1 design–a fusion of unexpected colors, patent heels, and idiosyncratic zippers–“the most hated shoe of all time.” But Hugh’s instincts proved stronger than the backlash. The Berlin-based designer returned in 2016 with the statuesque Air Presto Mid Collection. Again, Hugh synthesizes disparate elements with an architect’s sense of beauty and a programmer’s razor eye for detail. Featherweight mesh, neoprene, leather panels and zippers unite under ACRONYM’s vision of a cyborg everyman. The high collar is utilitarian, designed for easy access and versatility, but its silhouette is so striking it inspired a ceramic vase replica. The sneaker comes in militaristic olive green/black and orange/black as well as citrus-y hot lava/volt.
- Glimms Stylish Leather Sneaker
A dramatically ridged outsole lends a sci-fi edge to this sleek shoe, which can be found on Differio. Its exterior and soft, moderately padded interior are made of genuine leather. Wide-set elastic laces are pre-tied and can be tightened or loosened with a metal clasp at the top of the tongue. The stunning all white colorway makes this sneaker part athlete, part astronaut.
- nonnative x Converse Pro-Leather Hi
Mellow earth tones and rugged silhouettes are the key to Tokyo-based nonnative’s cult following. Their collaboration with Converse for the 40th birthday of the Pro-Leather Hi does not disappoint. The brown colorway has a moccasin vibe; head designer Takayuki Fujii swapped out the traditional Converse leather for gorgeous hairy suede and tasseled laces. Inside, there’s an elastic panel and a zipper down the front tongue, echoing the easy-access design of military boots. Throw in a vintage off-white sole, and you’ve got a Converse high-top unlike any other. The sneaker also comes in black and grey.
- Adidas Futurecraft 3D Runner
In a year full of buzz about Kanye West’s YEEZY and Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3, adidas’ most exciting collaboration was with a printer. The Futurecraft performance sneaker may revolutionize the way we buy shoes. Its fine lattice midsole is 3D-printed via Materialise technology to suit your foot’s unique shape. And the future doesn’t end there. adidas uses Aramis foot-mapping tech to craft a porous Primeknit upper. The ultra-low-top sneaker is currently available in all black and all white colorways.
- GraphersRock x PUMA Disc Blaze
Does our techno-future have to be drab? Japanese creative agency GraphersRock embraces colorful maximalism in their designs, referencing the early digital era without getting too retro. Their 2016 PUMA Disc Blaze shoe, with its twist-lacing mechanism and funky plastic exoskeleton, wouldn’t look out of place in a cartoon. There’s a lot to see here. The insole is lined with a chaotic pattern. Strange symbols are scattered over the exterior. In monochromatic black or vibrant pink/teal/white, the sneaker embodies a more unruly version of the future.