Kanye West’s ascent to sneaker stardom has been something of a lifelong process. According to an interview with Forbes magazine, Kanye’s design obsession dates back as far as his passion for music. The Atlanta-born, Chicago-raised rapper would reportedly get in trouble for sketching sneakers in class.
As we now know, his pursuit of that interest paid off. Today, Kanye’s famous Yeezy sneakers typically retail around $200. Limited quantities and insatiable demand have driven secondary market prices into the thousands, with the most expensive pairs reaching the 5-figure mark. Recently, Kanye’s Nike Air Yeezy 1 Prototypes sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby’s. The shoes were a one of a kind collectible for passionate sneakerheads, as Kanye wore them himself to the 2008 Grammy awards. That sale set a new record for most expensive sneakers (the previous record was a pair of 1985 Nike Air Jordan 1s, sold by Christie’s for $615,000).
What makes Yeezys so special (and so expensive)? In an industry dominated by legacy silhouettes, the innovative features and visionary aesthetics of Kanye’s sneaker designs are a large reason for why these shoes continue to be so coveted. From his earliest roots with brands like Reebok and A Bathing Ape to his multi-billion dollar Adidas deal, West’s Yeezy is currently one of the most well-known and respected names in sneakers, only rivaled by the likes of Michael Jordan, Virgil Abloh and Travis Scott.
Read below as we list our take on the top 5 most iconic Kanye West sneakers.
(1) Nike Air Yeezy 2
Initial Release Dates: 2012, 2014
The coming of Kanye’s second shoe with Nike, the Air Yeezy II, is often credited with being his best work to-date. The sneaker world had never seen the likes of a silhouette like this — a total refresh for the Nike roster. The “Pure Platinum” and “Solar Red” colorways were released in 2012, divided by West Coast and East Coast respectively. Due to the incredible demand for the shoes, the Nike Air Yeezy 2 is credited as a shoe that helped start “sneaker raffles” as a system for selling limited-quantity shoes.
The third and most sought-after colorway is known as the illustrious “Red October” pair — a shoe immortalized in sneaker lore. Pictures and rumors began circulating in 2013 about the all-red colorway, a little over a year after the release of the initial two colorways. After Kanye had announced his departure from Nike, many had assumed the shoe would get shelved. Unbeknownst to, the Red Octobers gained even more notoriety after Nike dropped them as a surprise release via a link on Twitter in February 2014.
(2) Nike Air Yeezy 1
Initial Release Date: 2009
After receiving words of encouragement from fashion industry icons like Hedi Slimane, Kanye West developed the confidence to share some of his own sneaker designs with Nike CEO Mark Parker when he found himself on the same plane. His conversation with Parker blossomed into the birth of Yeezy, a shortening of the “Kanyeezy” nickname Jay-Z gave West in the intro to a 2003 song, “”. Kanye and Nike would go on to formally announce their official partnership in 2007.
In 2008, Kanye West shocked the world when he debuted his Nike Air Yeezy 1 at the Grammys, the first shoe released under his contract with Nike. The Air Yeezy 1 marked the first time a non-athlete was given a signature sneaker with Nike–a seismic shift in the sneaker landscape. It was a full-circle moment for West, who had been sketching sneakers on a notepad since the fourth grade. Just like his beats, Kanye remixed elements from the past to create something uniquely new and exciting, eventually releasing the “Blink,” “Zen Grey,” and “Net Tan” colorways in 2009.
(3) Adidas Yeezy Boost 750
Initial Release Date: 2015
After leaving Nike, Kanye was determined to both maintain ownership of his brand and partner with a major distributor under better terms. When executives at Adidas invited him to Germany, West saw the perfect opportunity and signed with the brand in 2013. The new union saw West debuting his clothing and sneakers side-by-side in his first “Yeezy Season” in 2015. West utilized Adidas’ Boost technology to transform trainers into high fashion and make comfort “cool.”
The Adidas Yeezy Boost 750 OG (Original) was the first shoe released under Kanye West’s new partnership with Adidas. The pair was released during New York Fashion Week in 2015.
(4) Kanye West x Louis Vuitton
Initial Release Date: 2009
Prior to the release of his Air Yeezy 1s, Kanye West had begun to make a name for himself in the world of fashion, known in part as the self-proclaimed “Louis Vuitton Don.” In 2009, West would announce an official collaboration with the luxury fashion house, producing three silhouettes that had been inspired by his closest entourage: Don C, Mr Hudson, and Ibn Jasper.
Despite the fact that the partnership had been announced prior to the Nike Air Yeezy 1, the shoes would not be released until after the Yeezy had hit (and flown off) shelves. West and LV would go on to launch 10 colorways across three different models — hinting at both his design cues and paving the way for the world of streetwear, hip hop and high fashion to merge into the zeitgeist of street culture
(5) Kanye West x BAPE
Initial Release Date: 2007
In the late 2000s, when Japanese streetwear was taking over the hip-hop fashion scene, one brand stood above the rest: Nigo’s legendary A Bathing Ape. Before Ye was designing silhouettes from the ground up, he was given the opportunity to put his own twist on the company’s most well-known silhouette, the Bapesta. In 2007, Kanye would partner with Bape to design his “College Dropout” bapestas, featuring the “dropout bear” motif used on his College Dropout and Graduation album artwork.