Shoes That Started the Modern 'Sneaker Culture' Tipped to Fetch P1.5 Million in Auction

Here’s a sneak preview of Sotheby’s ultimate sneaker auction.
IMAGE Sotheby's

Premium auction house Sothebys dropped eight ultra-rare artist-created sneakers in a sale titled “Cult Canvas” exclusively using Nike sneakers. These collectible and much sought-after shoes are creations that celebrate the cross section between art and fashion, illustration and design, and sport and culture according to premiere auction house Sotheby’s.

Also read: Study Reveals the Two Pop Songs Most Enjoyed by Psychopaths  

The items are open for bidding until September 30, and the auction is for one-off limited-edition pairs and production samples, all of which were made in collaboration, or incorporate an artist’s work: from French Expressionist Bernard Buffet to New York street artist Futura 2000 and Michael Lau, the pioneer of designer toy figures, whose 2006 “Gardener Wood” Nike Dunk Low Pro SB was inspired by his very own skateboarding comic strip, titled Gardener.

Bernard Buffet

Photo by Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s said that the sale is attributed to Ryan Chang, the founder and Chief Curator of Applied Arts [], a media company that celebrates sneakers as fine-art objects.


“These sneakers possess historical and cultural significance, rarity, and aesthetic appeal. They are art objects created by some of the most prominent figures in the category, and I cannot think of a better partner to explore this new dynamic with than Sotheby’s.” said Chang.

James Arizumi

Photo by Sotheby's.

He believes that art has found a new medium of expression and using these rare sneakers as the artists’ canvas, the collection will get worldwide attention not only with serious sneaker collectors but art lovers as well.

The sneaker that started it all

The line-up includes “NYC Pigeon” Nike Dunk Low Pro SB (est. $25,000-$30,000), which is often referred to as “the sneaker which started it all” or the one that birthed sneaker culture. It was designed by Jeff Ng, aka “Jeff Staple” of Staple Design and released in 2005. Nike had a very limited production of only 150 pairs. 

‘NYC Pigeon’ Nike Dunk Low Pro SB by Jeff Ng aka Jeff Staple

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Photo by Sotheby's.

Futurama 2000

Photo by Sotheby's.

On the very first day of its release, a huge crowd gathered outside Staples’ Lower East Side storefront, Reed Space and created what New York Post calls a “Sneaker Riot!” that ended up in 20 people getting arrested when the NYPD was called in. They had to ask for police cars to escort lucky buyers home and it became one of Nike’s wildest launches in history.


Another notable lot is one pair of Nike Dunk High Pro SB “FLOM” sneakers (estimated price: $50,000-60,000) designed by Leonard Hilton McGurr, AKA Futura 2000. Only 24 pairs were ever made of this pair of sneakers, whose name is a nod to the artist’s favorite film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Released in 2005, the sneaker is considered one of, if not the rarest, Nike SB since only three pairs were raffled to the public, while the remaining 21 were gifted to friends or family members. Often dubbed the “urban Renaissance man,” Futura 2000 titled the model “FLOM,” which is an acronym meaning “For Love of Money,” binding its exterior with a tile-based pattern of denominations of printed money. Popular rap artist Travis Scott is counted among its collectors. 

Peter Moore

Photo by Sotheby's.

A pair of “Paris” Nike Dunk Low Pro SB joins the line-up (estimated $70,000-$80,000) also joins the collection. Overlaid with the workings of Bernard Buffet, the pair was created during Nike’s testing process before the final design went into production, so no two pairs are the same. The shoes were created on the occasion of Nike’s travelling White Dunk Exhibition in 2003 and approximately 200 editions of the final design were produced for the tour’s host cities. This pair comes in “Rope/Special Cardinal”  colorway and represents the city of Paris with a clown and ballerina for which Buffet is most known for. 


Another part of the collection is a sample pair of Nike Dunk SB Low by Japanese illustrator Katsuya Terada. The shoe was originally intended for the White Dunk Exhibition too, though this prototype was never released. This very rare pair is just 1 out of just 12 in existence.

Katsuya Terada

Photo by Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s first-ever dedicated Sneaker auction was held in 2019, and sales in this category have been phenomenal and tapped a largely new market for the auction house, with over 50 percent of the bidders in these auctions specifically new to Sotheby’s. The average buyer is aged just 45.

Last June, Sotheby’s set a record for any pair of sneakers when Michael Jordan’s game-worn autographed “Nike Air Jordan 1s” from 1985 was sold for $560,000 (estimated price: $100,000-$150,000) in a special single-lot online auction

We live in unprecedented and strange times, where street wear with provenance is revered as valuable memorabilia and high art at a time of great pandemic. And artists continue to use unconventional mediums for their art pieces. It’s a sign that the moneyed-art-crazy crowd is shifting their collecting interest to less traditional purchases.


Pieter Jansen

Photo by Sotheby's.

Last week, Sotheby’s inaugural auction dedicated to hip-hop achieved $2.1 million (est. $1.2-1.7 million) with 91 percent of all lots offered finding new homes.

Sotheby’s reported that over 400 bidders registered and more than 25 percent of those were new to Sotheby’s. The sale was led by the crown worn and signed by Notorious B.I.G. when photographed as the King of New York in 1997, which sold for $594,750 (estimated price: $200,000-300,000). 

Michael Lau

Photo by Sotheby's.

On a side note, my son just told me that a “Charizard” Pokemon card he bought for about $23 a year ago in Chicago is now valued at $2,000. 

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