the meaning behind the world's greatest sneaker

By Michael Zhou

Nike’s Air Yeezy is the most discussed piece of footwear in the history of the world. It has achieved this dubious distinction not only because of its incredibly, jaw dropping, stunningly foolish, high price, but also because of its shape and design and maybe especially its shape and design. You wouldn’t have guessed it but well-known pop singer and husband to Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, the largest ego in the known world, is the creative design force behind this shoe. In 2012, Air Yeezy II rocketed to a level of popularity unheard for a pair of shoes. Almost every famous pop star had to have at least one. Sneakerheads on the street clamored and fought for them, even NBA players would have played on them if they could: it has now become the dream shoe for the sneakerhead set.

Whether you have a pair or not, just being able to see and follow what people are willing to pay or do for a pair is a testament to its deserved hype. While it may come as no surprise to those who have been following the Nike Air Yeezy 2 chaos that the resale value has skyrocketed, few are able to understand the exact level of price gouging that has taken place since their retail launch.

So what is Air Yeezy II? It’s footwear based on the shape of Nike Air Tech Challenge II, a tennis shoe made by Nike in 1990. The top cap and the inside and outside quarter of the shoe comes from a Nike technology called Vac-Tech. The seamless line makes the façade of the shoe clearer. Over the middle laces is a Velcro hold that fixes the foot and gives it stability. Not only does the hold help keep your foot in place, but it’s also pleasing to look at. Putting the Nike Torch technology at the top of the tongue is a smart move. The gridding design not only gives the shoes’ a more glamorous touch, but it also reduces its weight. The special triangle logo on the top of the tongue also adds some mystique.

The cover of the toecap connects with the Velcro in a kind of frizzled feathered suede, so the shoes gives off a sense of luxury. West caps the edge of the shoelaces with a piece of a metal that is shaped like a bullet. The wave shape of the heelpiece and the luminous sole are also special; this makes it different from other sneakers, because this is the first sneaker that mixes sports and High Fashion together. The sneaker evokes power and desire, which regular sneakers just don’t do.

The Name “Yeezy” is West’s nickname: it often appears in his songs. There are two generations: Yeezy I and Yeezy II, Yeezy I are based on 1987’s Nike Air Assault. You also can see some hints of Jordan III,Jordan V and Air Force 1 in it. It is as if West is reworking the whole history of Nike in his shoe design.

Yeezy II is much more its own thing than Yeezy 1, less reference to past shoes and more of West’s strange and crazy interests. West loves Egyptian culture and there are lots of Egyptian elements in II. The logo on sneaker’s tongue is in the shape of a pyramid; inside the logo is a head of a bird, which is Horus, God of the sun and the moon, the spirit and the symbol of royalty. But the logo is not the only part that makes references to Egypt: inside the Velcro, there are some pictographs. Actually, it is the word “YEEZY” written in hieroglyphics. The heelpiece is shaped like a wave. West is making two Egyptian references: one, the Nile River; and two, the fins of a shark, which is an Egyptian symbol of power and vitality. The material of the shoes’ quarter is also cut in the pattern of a snake. The snake in Egyptian culture means time and how it circles about for eternity. So Yeezy II has been given a kind of “magic power” by West. It is a pair of powerful sneakers. West attempts to give these shoes meaning and power. Do you know how crazy it is to try to give some athletic high-tops meaning and power?

There are a lot of different kind of sneakers are collectible, such as Air Jordan series, Foamposite series, Air Force 1 series and so on. However, Yeezy is far more expensive than those shoes. Air Yeezy II’s price is almost $5000 and the price is still going up. One of the reasons is the celebrity effect: having music and basketball stars wear your shoes is the best kind of publicity What’s interesting is that the design of the shoe seems to hold special meaning for the very celebrities who endorse it.

Once when I was reading a YOHO! magazine article about the tendency of how luxury brands are pushing their fashion close to the street so that young people will pay more attention to their products. As we all know, Rick Owens, Givenchy and Giuseppe Zanotti’s sneakers are the most popular luxury sneakers in the world. But through my experience, there’s one thing they can never beat Air Yeezy. The first reason is that the luxury designers only care about the design first, the shape of the shoes, and not whether the sneakers feel confortable when you wear them. In my point of view, that is the biggest mistake shoe designers make.

What’s the point of a pair of shoes? The shoes need to make us feel confortable when we are walking: design and style are secondary concerns. I recently bought and wore some luxury sneakers. The bottom was hard and the heelpiece was rubbing against the back of my foot in an unpleasant way. After an hour, I could barely walk. They barely feel like sneakers and more like a pair of women’s high heels. Kanye West wears his Yeezy’s in concert, which means he has to wear them for at least two hours and so comfort is a primary consideration. The second reason is Yeezy’s style. It breaks our definition of sneakers only being for sports. Not only can a sneaker stand for street fashion, but it can also stand for high fashion. Nike Air Yeezy is the first example of this new concept: a sneaker that is the best of both worlds.

©Michael Zhou and The CCA Arts Review

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