Some might be surprised to learn that Kanye’s first adidas design was not the Yeezy. While Ye’s friend Ibn Jasper caused a stir by claiming that the first Kanye x adidas colab was going to be a model in the ZX series, a former VP of adidas Originals says otherwise. After a fugazi version surfaced last year, Ben Pruess took to Instagram to show off what he claims is the first adidas sneaker concocted by Kanye.
In an interview with Hot 97’s Angie Martinez from 2013, Kanye announced to the world that he had inked a deal with adidas. After airing his discontent about his partnership with Nike, Kanye went to say that, ‘The new me, with a daughter, takes the adidas deal. Because I have royalties and I have to provide for my family.’ Just a couple of weeks later, the union was made official.
After the deal was made public, Kanye further cemented his relationship with the Three Stripes by attending their 2014 Global Brand Conference. Wearing a pair of Stan Smiths, he performed a litany of hits before giving a sobering speech. While talking about the thrill of creativity through product, he commended the brand for being ‘experienced and brave enough’ to let him create.
Leaks and rumours percolated in the sneaker world for more than a year, until February 14, 2015 – when the first adidas Yeezy was released. Fans waiting for a pair of the BOOST 750s at the adidas Performance store in New York were treated even further by a surprise visit from West himself, who hand-delivered them pairs of the coveted sneaker.
Determined to spread the love internationally, Kanye then showed up at an adidas Originals store in London to do the same – even sticking around to make sure they fit right.
One of the earliest instances of the Kanye effect bleeding into other areas of adidas Originals was the impact he created simply by wearing the ‘Triple White’ Energy BOOST ESM. After donning the shoes at Kiss FM’s Wango Tango concert, and then again at the NBA Playoffs, the shoes were found on eBay going for upwards of $1000.
Days later, Kanye wore the same colourway of the UltraBOOST to the Billboard Music Awards and Power 106’s Powerhouse 2015, and getting your hands on a Triple White UltraBOOST became virtually impossible.
The rest of 2015 was a whirlwind for Kanye and adidas. A presidential candidacy announcement was made and a new shoe hit stores – the Yeezy BOOST 350. A momentous success, the sneaker was instrumental in the Yeezy being named Footwear News’ shoe of the year. While Kanye could have let any spokesman accept the award, he took to the stage to give an off-the-cuff speech. During the talk, he honoured adidas vice president of global entertainment and influencer marketing. ‘I’m going to have to talk about how Jon [Wexler] basically saved my life,’ Kanye said, before talking about the creative bond that the two had formed.
In June 2016, adidas and Kanye penned a deal, creating what they claimed was the ‘most significant partnership ever created between an athletic brand and a non-athlete.’ Yet to be actioned, the deal will see the two create a Yeezy-branded entity that will include footwear and apparel across street style and sport. This means that Kanye designs could appear throughout adidas’ entire catalogue. Yeezy retail stores are also included – and in a 2016 interview with Vogue, Kanye expressed that he’d like the first store to open close to his home in California.
In mid-September 2016, adidas shared Kanye’s first foray into sports-specific footwear with the release of the Yeezy 350 Cleat in ‘Turtle Dove’. The shoe cleared off shelves faster than a speeding bullet pass, and within a fortnight the shoe was banned from the NFL. Not only was it an unprecedented release for Kanye and adidas, the model’s prohibition was also significant because of its parallels with another infamous sneaker moment. Similarities were quickly drawn between the 350 Cleats and Michael Jordan’s banned AJ1s, pointing to the fact that we were watching sneaker history in the making. Kanye later released 750 cleats that didn’t violate the NFL’s ‘dominant base colour’ rule.
All Kanye needed was the infrastructure – and after he built it with the Yeezy BOOST, we began to see what the rest of Kanye’s footwear would look like. In March, the adidas Yeezy Powerphase released without warning on Yeezy Supply. The shoe is the first in what might be considered a sort of diffusion line of sneakers, carrying a relatively affordable $120USD price tag. The yet-to-be-named runner he debuted in Yeezy Season 5 takes the same approach, borrowing the EQT Solution, and will no doubt buoy interest in Equipment line on arrival.
Of all the things Kanye has done for adidas, perhaps the most salient is his dedication to wearing Three Stripe models other than his own. He’s been seen wearing the Stan Smith, UltraBOOST, Energy BOOST, Gazelle, Superstar, Rod Laver and ZX Flux – along with adidas sneakers by Yohji Yamamoto, Raf Simons and Jeremy Scott. And that’s just at a glance.Even at a time of emotional turmoil, when he took a break over the 2016–17 holiday season, he was still seen with a Gazelle in hand, tinkering with new designs. His continual co-sign of the brand fortifies the connection between the two, one that – as he said at the 2014 Global Brand Conference – goes deeper that just celebrity advertising.