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KAWS: A Collaborative Sneaker Biography

Posted by Ross Dwyer at

KAWS: the most important street artist of our generation. From his legendary Companion figures to his masterful pop-culture inspired paintings to his vinyl "Companion" figures made in tandem with Medicom, to his myriad of collaborations with street culture heavy hitters (Supreme and Bape to name a few) to his own brand Original Fake (R.I.P.), KAWS has had a hand in some of the most legendary art and design of the last decade-plus. 
Not familiar with the legend? Here's the Cliff's Notes version of his backstory: born Brian Donnelly in 1974, he graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York with a Bachelor Of Fine Arts in illustration. After graduation, he briefly worked as a freelance animator for Disney, contributing to 90's classics like 101 Dalmatians, Daria, and Doug.
 
He began his street art career by subverting images on billboards, bus stop ads (like the one pictured above), and phone booths in New York. The ads were left alone at first, but as his popularity skyrocketed, they disappeared almost as quickly as they were painted. From there, his popularity grew as he produced his first "Companion" vinyl figure in 1999  and the rest is history.
But we're not here to write a thesis on KAWS's life story, as interesting of a story as it is. That's not something that could be achieved in just one article We wanted to give you a little background on what exactly he does before we delve into the body of this piece. As we're sure you already know, KAWS and Jordan Brand recently announced a collaboration that sent the internet into a frenzy. As it's his first footwear project in a couple years, now's as good of a time as any to delve back into his past projects and provide their history.
KAWS has a lot of clout in the footwear design game ... and there's a good chance that you haven't seen some of his best work, especially if you're one of our younger readers. Fear not ... you gon' learn today. Let's get to the (chronologically ordered) collabs. 
KAWS x DC "Chum"-2002
There's a good chance that if we asked you to guess what footwear company KAWS collaborated with first, you'd have never guessed DC ... but that's the correct answer. Produced in both black and grey and released with a matching keychain, only 300 pairs were produced globally, making it the rarest KAWS release ever.
KAWS x Bapesta-2005
KAWS joined forces with Nigo for the first time in 2005, when the two titans of street culture came together for a collection of minimal Bapestas in grey and white. Apart from the paneling behind the star logo and the trademark double X on the heel panel, KAWS's touch on these was quite light ... especially when compared to his later Bape collabs. 
KAWS x Bape Camo Skullsta-2005
For his second collaborative release with Bape, KAWS chose to deck the Skullsta (look like a certain pair of Adidas you know?) in pink, blue, and green renditions of Bape's signature camouflage. The signature X's made an appearance on the toebox, and a small figure adorned the star logo.
KAWS x Bape "Apesta"-2005
Three collaborative releases with Bape in one year? Yeah, KAWS has got some kind of work ethic. The Apesta (what Converse does this silhouette remind you of?) released in a myriad of colorways and themes, from severed Companion heads and limbs to this all-over skull print (the most popular). 
KAWS x Bapesta "Chompers"-2006
Arguably KAWS's most famous footwear collaboration, every colorway of the Chompers were bright, colorful, and in-your face. Loud multi-color patent leather uppers adorned with Chomper teeth on the toe and Kaws's X over the star would turn heads and invite questions everywhere you went. A high point of mid-00's streetwear culture. 
KAWS x visvim Skagway Suede Slip On-2007
After the release of his successful Bape collabs, KAWS linked up with legendary high-end Japanese brand visvim in 2007 to lend his signature touch to their Skagway slip-on. The X and Companion hits on the forefoot and heel respectively added just enough pop to this simple, clean silhouette. These were a very limited release, and a decade later are almost impossible to turn up. 
KAWS x Vans "The Simpsons" Chukka Boot LX-2007
When Vans and The Simpsons came together for a collaborative capsule in 2007, KAWS was one of the artists tagged (along with Neckface and Stash) to design a shoe for the collection ... and for good reason. His "Kimpsons" characters (classic Simpsons characters with Companion heads) were some of his first and best-known pieces, and lent themselves perfectly to the collection, adorning the white Chukka Boots beautifully. 

OriginalFake x visvim Logan Low-2008
At first glance, it would be completely understandable to mistake these for another Vans collab ... but they're not. The first collab with with visvim was a hit, so KAWS (through his clothing line OriginalFake) and visvim joined forces again in 2008 for this off-white Logan Low, featuring the OriginalFake "Eyes" motif all over the upper. Clean and extremely wearable, these are still a must for any die-hard OriginalFake fan. 
Kaws x Nike Air Force 1 Low Supreme-2008
When you have the amount of clout that KAWS does ... you're gonna get that Nike collaboration sooner or later, and 2008 marked the year when that moment arrived. Nike introduced their "1World" collection, in which famous artists and creatives got their chance to take a crack at the legendary Air Force 1, and KAWS knocked this pair out of the park. The signature "X" is stitched around the toe box (with two volt yellow X's on the left shoe for a little added pop) and on the midfoot as well as the tongue. These are one of the rarest Air Force 1's in the world, and will run you about $2,500 nowadays if you want to get your hands on a pair. 
KAWS x Nike Sportswear Air Max 90 Pack-2008
The first collab was so nice, they just had to do it twice. A few months after the release of the Air Force 1, KAWS and Nike put out an Air Max 90 pack with the same volt detailing. The white Air Max 90 featured a classic midsole and outsole, while the black pair sported the modernized Free midsole. 
KAWS x Air Jordan IV-2017
Although there's not a ton of solid info on the upcoming KAWS Jordan IV (this is the only image we've been hit with so far), the shoe will apparently feature a black suede upper with gold accents, and a glow-in-the-dark bottom with that legendary "X" graphic (pictured above). The shoe is supposed to release March 1st, but we'll have to wait for more official imagery before then. 
So there you have it. A complete list of KAWS's sneaker collabs. Now you don't have to be in the dark about your history when the IV's drop in March. We'd suggest you do yourself a favor too, and delve into Kaws's work. From paintings to sculptures to album covers to way more, there's truly something for everyone ... and we can guarantee you're going to love what you find. The man's a legend for a reason, after all.  
What's your favorite collaborative shoe from KAWS? Are you going to try and cop the IV's in March? Hit us up and let us know on Twitter, check our Facebook page for updates, and, as always, be sure to follow us on Instagram for all the fire photos you can handle.
Editor's Note: KAWS's Marc Jacobs Mouse Flats and Uniqlo UT Room Shoes were excluded from this article as it's a "best sneakers" list and they're not sneakers. We didn't forget about them!

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