How Nike Sneakers, Supreme Streetwear and Skate Culture Defined 'The New Luxury'

How Nike Sneakers, Supreme Streetwear and Skate Culture Defined 'The New Luxury'

The defining styles, iconic pieces and pivotal moments of contemporary pop culture come to Sotheby’s Paris in ‘Important Sneakers and Modern Collectibles’, an essential selection of streetwear icons.
The defining styles, iconic pieces and pivotal moments of contemporary pop culture come to Sotheby’s Paris in ‘Important Sneakers and Modern Collectibles’, an essential selection of streetwear icons.

I n the Important Sneakers and Modern Collectibles auction taking place in Paris, March 2024, a fascinating group of properties from the world of sneakers, streetwear, accessories, vinyl toys, modern art, skateboarding, sculpture and furniture combine into an important overview of modern collectibles, from the past four decades. The heart of this modern collecting culture often starts from the ground up… with sneakers.

Nike Dunk SB Low Freddy Krueger Sample Estimate: 15,000-20,000EUR

For many years sneaker collecting was a niche underground subculture with enthusiasts travelling to specific neighbourhoods across North America, Japan and Europe to track down coveted footwear. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, increasing access to the internet brought these like-minded individuals closer, via online forums such as Crooked Tongues and NikeTalk to compare their sneaker collections, share upcoming release dates and feverishly analyse the latest industry leaks.

This cultural phenomenon can be traced back to 1985, when the original Nike Air Jordan 1 basketball shoe became as big a hit in the streets as it did on the hardwood, inspiring a new breed of modern collector. And with the launch of Nike’s SB line in spring 2002, sneaker culture stepped into a whole new space, as a fresh breed of aspiring entrepreneurs realised the value of these limited-edition shoes, only sold to those in the know, from a small selection of core skateboard stores across the globe.

Later that same year, Nike SB began to collaborate with Supreme, a small skate shop in downtown New York City that had quietly built up a cult following since opening in 1994. When dedicated sneaker collectors lined up at Supreme to purchase their coveted SB Dunks, they quickly realised that the store’s own brand of clothing was also limited to short production runs, difficult to purchase outside the physical shop itself – thus making it highly desirable.

'The open-minded attitude of these early streetwear brands inspired the likes of Daniel Arsham, Virgil Abloh and Ronnie Fieg to go on to create their own legacies in art, design, retail and branding'

Supreme became a worldwide cult phenomenon, expanding from skateboards and streetwear to full lifestyle brand, with everyday items sporting the iconic ‘box logo' design. With products releasing on a ‘drop’ system weekly throughout a season, collectors and dedicated sneakerheads still queue outside its 16 worldwide retail spaces each week for the chance to pick up the latest exclusive goods and collaboration products.

Brands such as Supreme and the Tokyo-based ‘A Bathing Ape’ (aka BAPE) also expanded their appeal and creative credentials by working extensively with artistic friends such as Kaws, Takashi Murakami and Futura, all of whom have gone on to become hugely respected figures in their own right. Plus, the open-minded attitude of these early streetwear brands inspired the likes of Daniel Arsham, Virgil Abloh and Ronnie Fieg to go on to create their own legacies in art, design, retail and branding.

Today, the culture of limited-edition sneakers and streetwear continues to inspire ever more numbers of collectors. The ‘New Luxury’ scene celebrates street and skate culture, the spirit of independence and unfettered creativity. From numbered vinyl figures to branded household objects, from artists replacing traditional canvases for skateboard decks, to innovative sneaker designs, these collaborations are where we find the cutting edge of creativity, attitude and style.

Bearbrick x BAPE Mickey Mouse Set 1000% (Blue/Red/Multi) Estimate: 3,000 – 5,000EUR

The ‘Important Sneakers and Modern Collectibles’ sale reflects that spirit of innovation, with a selection of pop culture lots, each a striking object of design and desire - from luxury collaborations to game-changing sneaker releases. And in each, lies a story that encapsulates a defining moment within the culture.

The Luxury Sales

About the Author

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top