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Virgil Abloh Changed The Game — Here Are His 30 Greatest Contributions To Sneaker Culture

The legendary designer Virgil Abloh passed away over the weekend at the far-too-young age of 41, ending a private battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Abloh’s mark on streetwear and modern fashion is undeniable and will be forever felt, but before he solidified himself as certified streetwear royalty, long before he landed the job as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, before Off-White, and the global DJ Sets, he was just a kid sketching shoes in his spare time.

That’s important to remember. Abloh wasn’t born into the house of Gucci. He had an ambition that truly knew no bounds and a vision that could not be denied. He took those early sneaker sketches and sent them to Nike. Nothing came of them but that didn’t slow him down for even a beat. By 2017, after a brief stint in architecture, an internship in Rome at Fendi, and the successful launch of his own label, Abloh’s swoosh dreams became a reality when he designed, “The Ten,” a collection that would go down in history as the greatest sneaker collaboration of all time.

That’s not hyperbole, ask any sneakerhead, they’ll tell you: nothing beats The Ten. Abloh would follow up that historic run by producing a fleet of fifty Nike Dunks a few years later. His was truly an insatiable spirit for creation.

Many publications make note of Abloh’s time studying architecture like it’s some sort of footnote in his career, but the truth is Abloh never stopped being an architect. Through his design work — which, in addition to sneakers, included album covers, commissioned art pieces, and more — he always treated whatever he was approaching as more than an object, everything, even a water bottle, was a monument. You and I look at a Jordan 1 and see a sneaker, Abloh saw a skyscraper of possibilities. Abloh’s best design moments catch your eye, spark conversations, and create trends. It’s a trifecta that even the most well-respected designers (besides Abloh’s friend and collaborator Ye) can’t lay claim to.

“What we’re talking about here is larger than sneakers, it’s larger than design culture… It’s nothing short of state-of-the-art design,” Abloh said when he first debuted “The Ten.” “To me, they are on the same level as a sculpture of David or the Mona Lisa. You can debate it all you want, but they mean something. And that’s what’s important.”

Ultimately, Abloh’s greatest contribution to the world of streetwear wasn’t a specific sneaker, or a brand, or any single collaboration. It was his unmatched ability to recognize and what sneakerheads all around the world know inside their bones: that a pair of fire Jordans aren’t just shoes, they’re modern-day canvases. A piece of wearable contemporary art to be collected, coveted, cared for, loved, and inspired by.

To celebrate Abloh’s vision and philosophy, we’ve collected the late designer’s 30 best contributions to the world of sneakers. This isn’t a ranking. Instead, we’ve presented the sneakers here as the truly astounding body of work that they always will be, even as Abloh has left a generation of designers to forge their own path without his guiding hand. His influence will always be felt, like the great masters before him that he revered but never hesitated to push past. Abloh viewed sneakers like they were the Mona Lisa, and we’ll always remember him like he was our Da Vinci.

Off-White Nike Air Max 90 ‘The Ten,’ 2017

Nike

We’re kicking the list off with Abloh’s take on the Air Max 90. The Ten dropped in two sets of five, dubbed “Revealing” and “Ghosting” with the Air Max 90 leading the pack and exceeding expectations. With this design, Abloh deemphasized Tinker Hatfield’s original look, breaking the sneaker down to its silhouette and paneling with a few minimalist accents that help the design feel fresh.

With a pristine white leather upper, an oversized white Swoosh, and grey suede overlays atop an icy blue midsole, and yes, zip ties, The Ten’s Air Max 90 almost looks like it should be in a museum.

Off-White Nike Air Presto ‘The Ten,’ 2017

The Ten

You’ll find The Ten’s Air Presto topping a lot of lists chronicling Abloh’s greatest designs and for good reason. For the Air Presto, Abloh once again broke down the sneaker to its skeleton, stripping away the sleek layers of the original design for a lightweight mesh upper with a bone-like lace cage. Even four years later, they just look so damn cool. By 2021s standards, the idea of deconstruction in sneakers has been done to death, but at the time of its release, this kick was truly revolutionary.

Off-White Nike Air VaporMax ‘The Ten,’ 2017

The Ten

Off-White has dropped two other Nike Air VaporMax sneakers since the original black pair from The Ten, but nothing matches these. This is simply one of the best VaporMax colorways and designs of all time.

Abloh’s VaporMax features a Flyknit upper with a bright white oversized swoosh stitched on, atop a blacked-out VaporMax sole that gives off heavy Darth Vader vibes. Abloh is a Star Wars head, so we’re almost certain that’s what this big (very cool) nerd was going for.

Off-White Nike Air Jordan 1 ‘The Ten’ 2017

The Ten

C’mon, you knew you were going to come across this pair. It’s easily the most recognizable sneaker Virgil Abloh has ever designed. This is the shoe that Abloh-haters use to discredit his craft and that’s probably because it includes every cringey Abloh trademark, from the “Air” quotation marks, the visible stitching on the swoosh, the Beaverton, Oregon production stamp. Ugh, right?

It isn’t even an original colorway, borrowing the original “Chicago” makeup, which is legendary unto itself. Does this dude even actually design anything? But look closer and you’ll see that this is how Abloh infuses the spirit of hip-hop into his design work, and why it catches hold with heads worldwide. Abloh is sampling a piece of sneaker history and recontextualizing it for a modern sensibility. Is Drake’s “Nice for What” any less of a great song because it owes a debt to Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” which itself sampled “Can It Be All So Simple” by the Wu-Tang Clan, which draws from “The Way We Were/Try To Remember” by Gladys Knight & The Pips?

Nope — that’s what art does. Borrows, remixes, and makes the old new again. That’s where Abloh excelled.

Off-White Nike Blazer ‘The Ten,’ 2017

Nike

We have Virgil Abloh to thank for breathing new life into Nike’s Blazer sneaker which, prior to 2017, was a seriously overlooked shoe. Nowadays, even Nike is showing the Blazer constant love, releasing vintage colorways on a yearly basis. For The Ten’s Blazer, the upper is dressed in white leather with a descending swoosh that dives into an off-white midsole. The inner side of the sneaker features the Beaverton, Oregon production stamp, which is a call back to where the original design was crafted.

Off-White Nike Air Force 1 ‘The Ten,’ 2017

Nike

While Abloh’s “Revealing” set from The Ten shed away layers to reveal the inner workings of these iconic silhouettes, for his “Ghosting” set, Abloh opened a window, dressing each sneaker in a translucent upper, another trend that has become pervasive since the designer popularized it.

Abloh’s Air Force 1 is probably the most extreme design out of the “Ghosting” collection, it’s so broken down that it almost looks like it’s still midway through production. If you don’t like deconstructed sneakers, you probably won’t like these, though it’s pretty hard to mess up the Air Force 1.

Off-White Nike Hyperdunk ‘The Ten,’ 2017

Nike

The Ten’s Hyperdunk was a way for Abloh to prove that he wasn’t just about style over substance. Through and through, this Hyperdunk is a court-performance sneaker, despite its high-fashion appearance. A breathable FlyKnit upper keeps players light on their feet, with an added midfoot strap for extra support atop a bouncy React midsole. The hype for The Ten was so great that you’d have to be insane to actually wear these on the court, but we like to spend some time imagining what that might look like every time we see them.

Off-White Nike Zoom Fly ‘The Ten,’ 2018

Nike

This pair truly comes alive with your sock game, making the Zoom Fly one of the most visually varied sneakers Off-White and Nike have ever made, and giving it a slight edge over the Tulip Pink — which are a little harder to rock.

Off-White Nike Air Max 97 ‘The Ten,’ 2017

Nike

Virgil Abloh’s Air Max 97 is pretty interesting in that its design changes the way you normally see the Air Max 97. Usually known for its aerodynamic waves, Abloh instead obscures those eye-leading lines beneath a translucent upper, with a large, long swoosh in place of the sneaker’s usual tiny swoosh — which works to highlight the sneaker’s aerodynamic shape.

This very minor change really manages to give the Air Max 97 a totally unique look within its own history. It’s proof that small changes can equal out to really radical results.

Off-White Chuck 70, The Ten 2017

Virgil Abloh
Nike

Released as the final piece of “The Ten,” Abloh’s take on the legendary Chuck Taylor All-Star sees the designer take on yet another legendary design. But unlike the AJ-1, which leaned on the sneaker’s heritage by utilizing one of its most recognizable colorways, this take on the Chuck 70 ignores the past and attempts to contextualize the sneaker for the modern age.

Gone are all the recognizable markers of the Chuck 70, that iconic star label is obfuscated under a ghostly translucent upper, the familiar color patterns are replaced with a monochromatic design, that signature toe cap is rendered icy and cold. This release sees Abloh paying tribute to the foundation of this great sneaker, no doubt a call back to his days in architecture.

Off-White Nike Air Force 1 ComplexCon, 2017

StockX

We’re finally out of The Ten territory with this ComplexCon exclusive. If The Ten’s AF-1 was a little too stripped back for your liking, Abloh released a design that played things pretty close to the original with his second Air Force 1. Featuring a clean all-white leather upper, the ComplexCon sneaker sports a metallic swoosh with exposed stitching, and orange branding tags on the exposed foam tongue and Nike check.

In terms of moving the AF-1 forward, this sneaker doesn’t do too much to change the game — but it’s quite the sight regardless. Unfortunately, giving this sneaker’s exclusive status, there aren’t many pairs out there floating around.

Off-White Air Jordan 1 White, 2018

StockX

It won’t come as a surprise to find out that the second Off-White Jordan 1 was actually Abloh’s original idea for the sneaker’s entry in The Ten, as its all-white upper with off-white overlays looks a lot more visually consistent with the rest of the collection. But then, it’s hard to blame Abloh for taking a crack at the OG Chicago colorway.

It might be a controversial opinion, but we dig these over the original pair from The Ten. Easily. That pop of orange just works.

Off White Nike Air Jordan 1 UNC, 2018

StockX

Naturally, you’re going to find a lot of Air Jordan 1s on this list and while we tried to avoid too many doubles, Abloh has a particular talent for understanding what makes the Air Jordan 1 so great. Featuring a powder blue paneled upper with white accents and contrasting orange stitching, the UNC continues Abloh’s practice of taking the absolute best
Air Jordan 1 colorways — in this case, the Michael Jordan University of North Carolina Blue — and giving them a modern revamp.

Off-White x MoMa x Nike Air Force 1, 2018

Nike

We don’t know why Virgil Abloh insists on making his Air Force 1s — probably one of Nike’s most popular silhouettes — the most exclusive Off-White and Nike link up, but with the instant sell-out of the AF-1 from The Ten, the hard to find ComplexCon exclusive, and this three-way collaboration between Nike, Off-White, and the Museum of Modern Art, AF-1s designed by Abloh is a rare find.

This 2018 release is essentially identical to the ComplexCon exclusive, only this time it’s dressed in black.

Off-White Nike Air Presto White, 2018

Virgil Abloh
Nike

The dominant color palette of The Ten was white, which made the black upper Air Presto a standout amongst the collection. But plenty of people in the sneaker world wished the Presto adopted the same translucent colorway enjoyed by the rest of The Ten. Those people had their wish granted in 2018 when Abloh finally dropped a white iteration of the Presto.

With gentle accents of orange and red, the white Presto presents the design in a cleaner futuristic light than the more worn and gritty Presto found in The Ten.

Off-White Nike Blazer Hallow’s Eve, 2018

Nike

Released for the Halloween season, Abloh’s All Hallow’s Eve colorway feels more targeted toward Thanksgiving than All Hallows Eve itself, but we’ll try not to get too hung up on that fact. Featuring an orange-toned tan upper with a deep-diving wrap-around pumpkin swoosh, the Blazer All Hallow’s Eve is the best Nike Blazer Off-White has ever put out.

If this didn’t have the teal swoosh tag and the “Shoelaces” text, you might even be able to fool a staunch Abloh hater into admitting that these are pretty dope.

Off-White Nike Blazer Grim Reaper, 2018

Goat/Nike

See, now this sneaker should’ve been given the “All Hallow’s Eve” name! Oh well, the Grim Reaper differs from the other Nike Blazer Off-White silhouettes in its use of a translucent black panel along the upper coupled with a bright white wrap-around swoosh.

It’s hard to not love this sleek pair, though it does feel like a step down in general creativity from the All Hallow’s Eve.

Off-White Nike Air Max 97 Serena. 2018

Nike

Ahead of Serena Williams’s opening match at the 2018 US open, Abloh dropped a few silhouettes that bear the tennis legend’s name — the best of which was the Air Max 97 Serena. Ditching the translucent sheath obscuring the 97’s wavy lines, the Serena features a soft pink-toned upper with a pink, purple, and gold gradient midsole, a yellow tab, and an oversized swoosh.

Off-White Nike Blazer Serena Queen, 2018

Virgil Abloh
GOAT

There are a lot of great Off-White Nike Blazers, they’ve pretty much all made the list, but none feel more underrated than this pair designed with tennis legend Serena Williams in mind. Featuring a hot pink to platinum midsole with an oversized wraparound Swoosh over a wolf grey upper, the Serena Queen Blazer looks like a sneaker that exists with its own permanent blacklight hovering over it.

Off-White Nike Air Force 1 MCA, 2019

Nike

It’s pretty clear that while Abloh might’ve had a knack for producing fire colorways of the Air Jordan 1, it’s the AF-1 that he truly considered a masterpiece. Why else would he drop another exclusive fine art Air Force 1 with the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art? This pair is dressed in a beautiful University Blue all leather upper with a metallic silver swoosh.

These are so beautiful that a part of us absolutely hates the idea of someone wearing them.

Off-White Nike Air Max 90 Desert Ore, 2019

StockX

The Off-White Air Max 90 Desert Ores represent a transition in design styles for Abloh, featuring touchstones from his work immediately proceeding The Ten to the more modern Off-White Nikes we see today.

Featuring a dark beige upper with a bright mango swoosh, the Desert Ores look a bit like what we imagine a Yeezy and Off-White link up might look like — thanks to its dusty earthy appearance.

Off-White Nike Dunk Low Pine Green, 2019

Virgil Abloh
Nike

Before Abloh would go on to release a 50 sneaker collection consisting solely of the low-top Nike Dunk, he was prepping himself for that ambitious project in 2019 by dropping this Pine Green take on the design. Featuring a radical inclusion to the original design by way of a zig-zagging lacing system, this design laid the groundwork for Abloh’s most ambitious Nike project.

Off-White Nike Dunk Low University Red, 2019

Virgil Abloh
Nike

Released alongside the Pine Green colorway, this University Red edition was made in tribute to Nike original 1985 College Colors program which introduced the world to seven different, but legendary, Nike Dunk colorways. It’s an improvement over the Pine Green, that Wolf Grey causes such an eye-catching contrast to the bright red panels and laces.

Off-White Nike Air Jordan V Muslin, 2020

Nike

It’s a little hard to believe there aren’t more Air Jordan Vs by Abloh. An often overlooked sneaker in the Jordan brand line, the V Muslins represented a new aesthetic era for the designer. Sure, he was still using translucent textiles and breaking the sneakers down to their rough interiors, but now he was doing it in a much more refined way. While it doesn’t feel as groundbreaking as anything from The Ten, we appreciated Abloh’s commitment to always pushing his designs forward and not just cashing in on the trends he made popular.

Off-White Nike Air Jordan IV Sail, 2020

Nike

Released as a women’s size exclusive — much to the dismay of big-footed sneakerheads — this Air Jordan 4 features a full-grain leather and grid mesh upper, with clear textiles, air cushioning, exposed foam, and a totally monochromatic makeup.

These sneakers were an instant sell-out and are currently fetching prices well above $1000 on the aftermarket, making them the most beloved Off-White Nike’s since The Ten era. In a dark year, they were a bright reminder that even three years into their extended collaboration, Off-White and Nike were a natural matchup.

Off-White Air Jordan V Sail, 2020

Virgil Abloh
GOAT

For Abloh’s second AJ-V colorway, he adopted a colorway that paid homage to the legendary Fire Red Jordan V while retaining his translucent additions to the design. Featuring a sail textile mesh upper with 3M reflective details and a translucent outsole the Off-White Jordan V Sail is equal parts traditional and futuristic, which feels more like a trademark of Abloh’s overall design than superficial details like Helvetica branding and zip-ties.

Off-White Nike Air Force 1 Lemonade 2021

Virgil Abloh
Nike

Debuted at the pre-game tunnel at this year’s NBA All-Star Game by LeBron James, the Lemonade sees Abloh following the template laid out by his previous Air Force 1 collaborations, this time dipping the sneaker in an impossible to ignore mustard yellow colorway.

Rounding out the design is a silver Swoosh outlined with contrasting stitching, with an exposed foam tongue, and a woven tag. Abloh always hit the AF-1 with the boldest colorway choices.

Off-White Nike Dunk Low Lot 1/50, 2021

Virgil Abloh
Flight Club

This year saw Abloh embark on a journey that would serve as an official follow-up to the Ten, a fifty sneaker collection focused on a singular silhouette — the Nike Dunk. Abloh transformed the Dunk with the inclusion of Flywire laces that zig-zag across a crisp white upper with an exposed foam tongue, Helvetica branding, a metallic silver swoosh, and a yellow midsole.

It was a design inspiring enough that Abloh saw fit to reiterate on it forty-nine more times. A testament to his restless work ethic.

Off-White Nike Dunk Low Lot 50/50, 2021

Virgil Abloh
GOAT

Bookending the fifty sneaker collection is this moody blacked-out version of the Dunk Low. Featuring an all-black canvas upper with leather paneling, purple accents, and a metallic swoosh, this is a special pair in the collection and stands in stark contrast to the 49 proceeding colorways.

Abloh kept color to a minimum throughout the Dunk collection, restricting pops of color to the Flywire laces and keeping the sneaker primarily dressed in white and grey tones, for the final pair he threw that idea out the window. When you look at the entirety of the fifty Dunk collection, you realize the whole thing is one big color gradient. Abloh was always one to paint a bigger picture

Off-White Nike Air Jordan II Low, 2021

Virgil Abloh
Nike

Closing out our list of Virgil Abloh’s greatest sneaker designs is the final Off-White Nike sneaker to be released in Abloh’s lifetime, the Off-White Air Jordan II. The Air Jordan II has for some time been an underrated silhouette in the lineage of early Jordans, the always ambitious Abloh attempted to rewrite history and overhaul the silhouette’s image in the cultural zeitgeist not by radically reimagining it, but by paying tribute to its history.

The sneaker’s design is an attempt to recreate the natural aging process of a vintage pair of Jordan IIs and features an artificially decaying midsole that is patched over with translucent materials, and Jordan’s signature adorning each pair, a call back to Jordan’s practice of signing and giving out his shoes to kids at Bulls games.

It’s not a radical departure from the original, instead, it presents the shoe not simply as a design, but as an artifact of time, like a great skyscraper designed by the geniuses of a bygone era made more beautiful with age. There is that connection to architecture again, it stands as one of Abloh’s best and most subtle reimaginings and shows just how deeply he cared about what came before, even as he always forged ahead.

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