Kanye West is already responsible for one of the funkiest shoe releases of 2021. His Yeezy 450 pairs a knit upper with a toothy foam midsole, and not much else—the sole dictates what little shape the shoe has. But for his latest trick, Kanye is going even floppier. The new YZY KNIT RNR (Yeezy Knit Runner) is basically fully knitted—a sweater for the foot. It might be Kanye’s strangest shoe yet—but it’s entirely of a piece with his recent interests. The first colorway, a mustard-tan combination called “Sulfur,” is set to drop September 23rd.
When images of the shoe first leaked, social media users accused Kanye of stealing Mickey Mouse’s kicks. And, sure, the Knit RNRs really do resemble upscale shoe booties. But there’s a little more happening here than meets the eye. Picture the shoe in foam and sliced with cutouts and you’ll see what I mean: the Knit RNR is basically identical to Kanye’s beloved Foam Runner—except, of course, this shoe trades out foam for the knit material.
The shoe suggests that Kanye is increasingly disinterested in designing what we perceive as traditional sneakers. Midway through the Yeezy project, Kanye pivoted away from his early experiments to more classic sneaker silhouettes: the three iterations of the 700, the QNTM, and the 500, practically boring compared to the new Knit RNR. But it seems like Kanye has been working towards a shoe like the Knit RNR since the very early days of Yeezy. What is the Knit RNR if not a Yeezy 350 stretched to its most shapeless form? The laces have been stripped away, the upper puffed up, and the sole is now nothing more than a thin line. Even laces seem to be an excess he can do without. Recent shoes like the Slide, 450, and Foam Runner are paving the way for a future without rabbit-ear lessons.
More generally, shapelessness seems to be the new defining aesthetic of Kanye’s entire design vision. You know what else is blobby and lacks any sort of closure? The flagship product from the Yeezy x Gap collaboration, a jacket that has all the structure of a cloud. In that way, the Knit RNR is right in Kanye’s current wheelhouse.
It should be noted that amorphous jacket was a best seller for Gap. Even Kanye’s less-traditional shoes like the Foam Runner and Slides have turned into surprisingly hot items on the resale market. When the 350 originally came out, it was an oddball in the sneaker world—and now it’s a top-10 selling shoe. While the Knit RNR looks (very) funny now, Kanye has a track record of changing mass taste to match his own.