It’s been a big year for trainers, both literally and figuratively. Building on the chunky styles that set 2017’s Richter scales racing, in 2018 platform-esque stompers made way for nineties-inspired dad shoes.
We also saw technology come on in leaps and bounds with innovations like Nike’s React cushioning system and the rollout of Adidas’s 3D-printed Futurecraft model, making the footwear market easily one of the most exciting sectors of menswear.
Elsewhere, we were treated to see-through uppers and the emergence of trail-running shoes as a fashion item (neither of which we saw coming). But even among all the madness, this year has also given us some solid gold classics.
With so much going on, you’d think it’d be difficult to pick the best trainers of 2018. (And it was.) But that’s what we’ve done. Here are they are, and the reasons why they stood out from the crowd.
Nike Epic React
Even if the product had been terrible, Nike’s expertly executed marketing campaign at the beginning of the year would’ve been enough to make us want it. However, it wasn’t terrible. In fact, Nike’s Epic React was the most revolutionary running shoe we’ve seen in a long time, utilising a cutting-edge sole unit that’s softer, lighter and bouncier than the brand’s previous top-end cushioning material.
As a result, this year’s marathons were a blur of React soles pounding streets and pavements across the globe. The biggest drop of 2018? Quite possibly.
This was the year the ‘90s resurgence really took hold of menswear. And trainers were no exception. One of the most memorable #throwbacks came courtesy of Adidas in the shape of the Yung-1 – a chunky retro trainer serving as proof that the 20-year trend-cycle clock is still ticking to the second.
Rewind to 1998, and Three Stripes had just released the Falcon Dorf, a bulky tricked-out kick that would go on to become one of the most recognisable silhouettes of the decade. The Yung-1 is a reincarnation of that style, brought bang up to date for the digital age.
Nike React Element 87
On paper, the React Element 87 doesn’t sound particularly appealing. It’s got a big lumpy outsole, a V-shaped tongue and perhaps most bizarrely of all, your feet are visible through it. Yet somehow all of this comes together to create one of the most handsome shoes we’ve seen all year. And it’s not all good looks. These bad boys use the same sole technology as Nike’s flagship running shoe the Epic React, only it’s been reinforced at key pressure points.
If you like to go sockless, though, best leave this one well alone. Don’t worry, there’s also the React Element 55, which is the same shoe minus the translucent upper.
Puma Thunder Spectra
Puma’s most iconic shoe is without a doubt the unapologetically minimal Suede Classic. However, this year the brand’s been putting itself on every sneakerhead’s map for a very different reason. This was the year Puma made itself the king of tasteful maximalism. The sort that even your mate who shields his eyes and hisses anytime there’s a pair of Balenciagas in the vicinity can get on board with.
The Thunder Spectra is the shoe that started it, using sharp flashes of colour set against a moody, black leather backdrop. It proved a huge hit, with several followup colourways released since, each one every bit as handsome as the last.
Just when you thought fashion couldn’t get any more ridiculous, someone turns to you and says, “trail running shoes are going to be the next big thing”. At first, you may not have believed them. But then, unless you spent the year blindfolded, you were met with the release of Balenciaga’s Track shoe.
This overengineered cross-country runner sprinted onto the market in September to all the hype you’d expect from the brand that single-handedly kickstarted the biggest trend of the last couple of years.
Nike Air Max 98 ‘Gundam’
For the uninitiated, Gundam is a Japanese franchise consisting of several anime series, games, toys and more. At its core, it’s about massive robots, but you don’t need to be into those or any of the above in order to appreciate one of the most low-key hyped releases of 2018, the Nike Air Max 98 ‘Gundam’.
The shoe’s colourway was inspired by the RX-78-2, the original Gundam robot first introduced in 1979. Whether you care about that or not is irrelevant, the fact remains: this is one seriously fine piece of footwear.
End x Vans ‘Vertigo’ Slip-On
If you were to drink three quarters of a bottle of gin and glance down at your feet while wearing a pair of checkerboard shoes, it would probably look a lot like this. Respected fashion retailer End joined forces with Vans to put its own stamp on two of the iconic California skate brand’s most recognisable silhouettes: the OG Slip-On and the Old Skool.
For us, the Slip-On is the one that stands out. It was the first model to bear the brand’s signature checkerboard pattern, and as well as featuring a psychedelic reimagining of it, the End version also boasts premium materials including fine leather and 6 oz canvas.
Puma RS-X Toys
German sportswear Stalwart Puma showed us all once again why it’s the best brand out there for bulky, colourful kicks that won’t break the bank nor your style credentials when it released the RS-X Toys.
This bold, colourful model was inspired by the vinyl toys of the 1980s and ‘90s and is bound to evoke some serious nostalgia in any red-blooded millennial. Of course, it’s not all about aesthetics. Believe it or not, this beast was built for running, meaning it’s feather-light and as comfortable as they come. A definite ‘Marmite’ shoe, but a masterpiece in madness and future collector’s item all the same.
Nike’s Tailwind runner was nothing short of revolutionary when it first hit shelves in 1979. So it’s little wonder that it’s one of our favourite re-releases of the year.
This simple-looking (by today’s standards) shoe was the first piece of footwear to incorporate the Swoosh’s now-famous ‘Air’ technology, and at the time whipped runners-up into an undying frenzy. A legend was born, and to mark 40 years since, we were treated to a limited batch in the original understated colourway. There was even a pair of socks to match.
Asics x Kiko Kostadinov Gel Delva 1
Everyone knows Japanese sportswear label Asics makes some of the best running shoes on the market. How could they possibly get any better? Easy, just add one up-and-coming Bulgarian fashion designer to the creative process.
Kiko Kostadinov may not be a name you’re immediately familiar with, but it probably will be soon. The 29-year-old is currently creative director at Mackintosh (the coats, not computers) as well as helming his own eponymous label. Even with all that on his plate, he somehow still found the time to collaborate on this moody technical runner.
Converse x Undercover 70 OX
At the beginning of 2018, renegade Japanese designer Jun Takahashi’s brand Undercover whipped Pitti up into a storm by parading some particularly spicy Converse All Star high tops down the runway. Every fashion-savvy man and his equally stylish dog wanted a pair. On September 25th, they got the chance.
The shoe released in four striking colourways, each with contrast detailing and the words ‘order’ and ‘disorder’ printed on the left and right toe respectively. Speaking of order, that’s exactly what we did when we first set eyes on them.
Nike x Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1/97
This year has been a phenomenal one for trainers by anyone’s standards, but even with such stiff competition, this corduroy belter from sportswear don Nike and famed trainer collector Sean Wotherspoon stands out.
There’s just so much to like: the beautifully contrasting layers of colour to the upper; the little wave motif on the tongue; the tactile fabrication; and, of course, the fact that this is not one but two shoes in one. For the less observant among you, its an Air Max 97’s body, sat on an Air Max 1’s sole unit. So wrong, but so right.
Adidas Spezial Lowertree
If there’s one man who knows what goes into making a great Adidas trainer, it’s designer, collector and all-round Three Stripes connoisseur Gary Aspden. His Spezial line is based around the brand’s archives, taking classic and historic models and updating them with contemporary touches. This usually results in some seriously good-looking footwear, and this year was no exception.
The Lowertree SPZL owes its silhouette to the iconic Marathon Competition model from 1985. Only where the original was beige with hits of red, this version has been reimagined in a vivid nineties colour palette to pay homage to the acid house scene of which Aspden is so fond.
Converse x Golf Le Fleur One Star
If you’re a fan of shoes that will burn your retinas if not viewed through sunglasses, then you’re probably already well acquainted with Tyler The Creator’s collaborations. The founder of hip-hop collective Odd Future is known for his Golf clothing line as well as his rapping, and in the past has had hypebeasts frothing at the mouth with his neon Vans.
This year, he turned his attention to another low-key skate classic, the Converse One Star. Redesigned with a flower motif to the side and released just in time for summer in a range of tempting vibrant colourways.
Puma x Santa Cruz Suede
It’s fair to say 2018 marked a big year for German sportswear don Puma. It was the 50th anniversary of its most iconic shoe, the Suede Classic, and what better way to celebrate than with a completely unexpected collaboration?
To mark the occasion, Puma joined forces with Californian skate brand Santa Cruz. The result was a pair of beautifully simple suede kicks, adorned with some of Santa Cruz’s famous artwork, Including the iconic screaming hand designed by artist Jim Phillips.
Nike ISPA React Runner Mid
You may not be familiar with Nike’s ISPA subdivision, but chances are you’re going to become very well acquainted over the coming years. This renegade team of designers is pushing footwear design in bold new directions, utilising technical fabrics, futuristic aesthetics and incorporating the Swoosh’s latest and greatest tech at the same time.
ISPA stands for ‘Improvise, Scavenge, Protect, and Adapt’, and this React Element-based mid-top was the first shoe to be created by the program. It featured a round-the-ankle lacing system, reflective detailing and boasts water-repellent uppers to keep the weather sealed out.
Common Projects Achilles Low ‘Rust’
Luxury minimalist sneakers may have been sidelined by the sort of shoes The Spice Girls would have worn circa 1996, but it’s only temporary. Stripped-back kicks are still out there, waiting for the chunky trainer’s reign to end. If this handsome new Achilles Low is anything to go by, they’re passing the time by playing with some new colourways.
Common Projects call this new shade ‘rust’. Whether or not that’s a deliberate metaphor for what’s been happening to its brand over the last two years is unclear. What’s certain, however, is that if the NY brand keeps lining releases like this up, chunky trainers might be toppled from their throne sooner rather than later.
Air Jordan x Levi’s Jordan 4
Okay, shoes made out of jeans are far from something we’d typically advocate, and these are far from the easiest shoes to style. However, from a design and brand perspective, 2018’s Jordan x Levi’s tie-up is easily the biggest of the year.
Nike’s Air Jordan subdivision is the biggest name in the game. If it hadn’t have been for designer Tinker Hatfield and his future-shaping basketball shoes, the modern sneakerhead as we know them may not even exist. Meanwhile, Californian brand Levi’s is the king of denim. Bring the two together, and naturally, you’ve got something rather special.
Adidas Alphabounce Instinct
If disturbing psychedelic painter H.R. Giger had designed a shoe, it would probably have looked a little something like this. Looks-wise, the Alphabounce Instinct is so odd that you can’t help but stare at it, and the more you stare at it, the more you think, ‘actually, that would look pretty sweet on my shoe rack.’
It’s not all aesthetics, either, there’s a lot going on under the hood here. Designed with athletes in mind, the Alphabounce Instinct takes cues from the movement of the human body and its adaptive design is supposed to allow the wearer to move more instinctively while running.
Reebok x Overkill Club C
Berlin’s favourite sneaker shop Overkill is no stranger to a juicy joint partnership. This year, its focus was the iconic Reebok Club C, which was treated to a makeover in premium, off-white leather with green corduroy accents and Overkill-branded satin insoles.
The inspiration behind the shoe comes from 1985 East Berlin, taking its colours from wallpaper, tablecloths and floor patterns that were prevalent in the former communist district at the time. A fine piece of footwear and one of the best versions of the Club C we’ve seen to date.