Picture this: It’s Saturday night and you’re selecting an outfit. You decide to un-DS a new pair of Jordans worthy of the occasion. You go out, etcetera etcetera, and later find yourself at your friend’s place, J's still on, trying to figure out why some clown with ASICS on is getting the complements. But you catch yourself double-taking, triple-taking, so you finally approach and ask where he got those sneakers. Oh, you haven’t heard of Kiko?
Collaborations being the driving force of the current sneaker industry, it is almost impossible to not associate a brand with a designer. With the success of "The 50" alluding to Virgil Abloh’s long-term partnership with Nike, and recent announcements of Jerry Lorenzo and Teddy Santis’ appointment to Adidas and New Balance respectively, it’s no surprise that other sneaker brands are rushing to find their designer.
In this age of designer-brand collaborations, let’s take a look at one of the best: the unconventional pairing of ASICS and Kiko Kostadinov.
Predating Nike’s inception, ASICS sportswear was founded in 1949 and first established itself as a basketball shoe manufacturer. Soon after, the brand’s expansion into other sports (running in particular) earned it international success. While ASICS’ Gel-Kayano series and collaborations with the likes of Ronnie Fieg and Vivienne Westwood (to name a few) have kept the brand relevant over the years, the recent partnership with Kiko Kostadinov has given new meaning to the ASICS sportswear brand.
After graduating from the esteemed Central Saint Martins (CSM) and making waves with his M.A. Fashion Graduate Show in 2016, the Bulgarian-born designer wasted no time catching the limelight. He established his self-titled label and secured collaborations with Stüssy and a residency as the creative director at British heritage brand Mackintosh.
Although the meteoric rise to fame gave Kostadinov mythical status, the Bulgarian designer has kept his feet on the ground. From humble beginnings, Kostadinov brings a sincerity to his craft and gained an audience that craves his utilitarian yet sleek designs. It wasn’t until 2018 that Kostadinov formed a now-legendary partnership with Japanese Sportswear giant ASICS to produce footwear for his Spring/Summer 2018 collection.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the various footwear ASICS and Kiko Kostadinov have produced over the years.
ASICS X Kiko Kostadinov
Release: January, 2018
Debuting on Kiko Kostadinov’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection, the GEL-Burz 1 was the first sneaker of the ASICS X Kostadinov collaboration. Combining the midsole of GEL-Nimbus 20 and the upper of GEL-Venture 6, the hybrid sneaker silhouette also sports FlyteFoam technology and GEL cushioning, assuring a comfortable fit. Given the dad-shoe craze of the time, the limited initial release of the GEL-Burz 1 was met with a frenzy, which elevated the sneaker to legendary status. The GEL-Burz 1 released in three colorways: Grey, Black, and Limeade.
Release: August, 2018
The second collaboration came in the form of a sequel to the first sneaker: the GEL-Burz 2. Although much of the sneaker remained unchanged, the GEL-Burz 2 takes inspiration from the traditional pottery of Kostadinov’s native Bulgaria. The previously translucent plastic side panels were upgraded to leather paneling, accented by the ASICS stripes stitching overlays, reminiscent of Bulgarian pottery details. The GEL-Burz 2 was released in three colorways: Seafoam, Forest, and Terracotta.
Release: November, 2018
With a successful introduction of the first hybrid sneaker silhouette, ASICS and Kostadinov were ready to launch the second sneaker, the GEL-Delva 1. Using the GEL-Kayano 24 as a base, the GEL-Delva 1 also takes design cues from the GEL-Fujitrabuco 7. While sporting the same FlyteFoam technology and GEL cushioning, the hybrid silhouette also sports the Dynamic Duomax technology for enhanced comfort. The GEL-Delva I initially released in three colorways: Pine Green, Rosewood Brown, and Cement Black. Three more colorways were released shortly after in January, 2019: Cool Mist/Forest Green, Murasaki/Performance Black, and Tai-chi Yellow/Taupe Grey.
GEL-Sokat Infinity 1
Release: April, 2019
The third iteration of the hybrid sneaker silhouette came in the form of GEL-Sokat Infinity 1. Sporting a full-length GEL cushioning midsole taken from the GEL-Quantum Infinity, and combining a mesh-base with an unorthodox oversized ASICS spiral logo on the lateral side. The asymmetrical ankle area was inspired by the Tsunahiki 109, a shoe designed for professional tug-of-war. The GEL-Sokat Infinity 1 was released in three colorways: Dark Grey, Green, and Purple.
GEL-Sokat Infinity 2
Release: August, 2019
The direct sequel to the GEL-Sokat Infinity 1 was first introduced during Kiko Kostadinov’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection. Although similar in shape, the GEL-Sokat Infinity 2 is inspired by basketball sneakers, taking cues from the Dan Gable Ultimate series. The GEL-Sokat Infinity 2 was released in two colorways: Coffee, and Carrier Grey/Silver.
Release: October, 2019
As the collaborative partnership gained confidence and garnered acclaim, we can see Kostadinov start to flex his unorthodox creativity. The GEL-Nepxa takes design cues from wrestling footwear, constructing a high-top sneaker, complete with ankle straps. Adding to the GEL cushioning, the midsole also sports FlyteFoam technology, for added comfort. The GEL-Nepxa was released in two colorways: Black, and Roselle.
Release: November, 2019
Dialing back the experimentalism, next in line is the GEL-Korika. Although reminiscent of a traditional running sneaker at first glance, the new silhouette featured a double-stacked FlyteFoam sole also found on the GEL-Nimbus 21, and combined the mesh and synthetic leather upper of the GELBURST RS. Renowned fashion photographer Juerger Teller was enlisted for the campaign. The GEL-Korika released in four colorways: Black, Silver Steel, Red Alert, and Multi Blue.
Release: February, 2020
Exemplified by past projects, Kostadinov draws inspiration from different facets of life in his collaborative endeavors with ASICS. Although many were unique in their own right, the GEL-Kiril 1 marks the first sneaker in the long-running partnership to be designed completely from scratch. Familiar details such as the oversized ASICS spiral logo and exposed GEL on the midsole are present. Also notable: the checkerboard pattern made of mesh material and patent leather overlays, and the outsole that covers the FlyteFoam midsole that extends upward to the toe cap, creating one of the most eye-catching silhouettes yet. The GEL-Kiril 1 was released in three colorways: Cilantro, Ice Mint, and Black.
Release: April, 2020
Making its debut in Kiko Kostadinov’s Spring/Summer womenswear 2020 collection headed by Laura and Deanna Fanning, the GEL-Aurania was designed specifically for women. Taking design cues from GEL-Quantum Infinity Jin, and borrowing qualities from the Skysensor Slash JJ, the hybrid silhouette bolsters a block of GEL on the heel, while also designed to be able to tighten the laces with a single hand. The GEL-Auranium was released in two colorways: Coffee, and Black.
Release: September, 2020
Debuting in Kiko Kostadinov’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection, Gesserit 1 is another woman's offering designed by the Fanning twins. Drawing inspiration from the Central American activist group Bandidas, the low-top sneaker resembles a track and field shoe while combining wrestling shoe features on the outsole. Sporting a metallic finish on the patent leather, the micro-mesh material evokes the high-performance aesthetic of the sneaker. The Gesserit 1 released in two colorways: Heritage Blue/Imperial, and Dark Taupe/Sheet Rock.
Release: May, 2020
The sequel to the Gesserit 1 is almost nothing like the first iteration. Taking design cues from the Excourt 2, the mid-cut sneaker features a quilted leather upper and the same wrestling shoe-inspired outsole on the Gesserit 1. Notably, the quilted upper of the Gesserit 2 is also equipped with pockets of GEL, which seem to be entirely for aesthetics. The Gesserit 2 was released in two colorways: Phantom, and Cream.
Release: October, 2020
As the long-term partnership between ASICS and Kiko Kostadinov came to an end, the Fanning twins capped it off with the GEL-Teserakt. Taking inspiration from the GEL-Frantic 6, the low-top sneaker sports a metallic finish on the upper, while borrowing the midsole from the GEL-Kiril. The Minimalist construction gives a classic runner style to the upper while hiding a beautifully complex pattern reminiscent of kaleidoscopes on the outsole of the sneaker. The GEL-Teserakt was released in two colorways: Gunmetal, and Pure Gold.
Release: November, 2020
Retail: $230 (estimate)
The finale of the ASICS X Kiko Kostadinov partnership came in the form of a GEL-Kiril sequel. Removing the bells and whistles from the first iteration, the GEL-Kiril 2 is a sleek low-top sneaker, ditching the lacing system found in many of the previous silhouettes for a simple and easy strap. In a twisted turn of events, the iconic ASICS stripes finally make a debut on the final sneaker while reusing the entire midsole found on the first GEL-Kiril. The GEL-Kiril 2 was released in three colorways: Lavender Grey, Graphite Grey, and Beet Juice.
Release: November, 2020
Retail: $180 (estimate)
As it turns out, the GEL-Kiril 2 was not the finale to the partnership after all. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the GEL-Lyte 3, Kostadinov worked on a hybrid offspring, the GEL-Glidelyte 3. Borrowing iconic features such as the split-tongue found on the GEL-Lyte 3, the performance sneaker also boasts GUIDESOLE technology found on the Glideride, which helps runners with energy conservation. The GEL-Glidelyte 3 was released in two colorways: Asphalt, and Red Bud.
Release: July, 2021
We were lead to believe that the partnership had ended. It hadn't. In the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics the GEL-Quantum Levitrack dropped, inspired by the international spirit of sport. Aesthetically taking cues from past ASICS silhouettes and boasting the newest GEL cushioning system on the heel, the GEL-Quantum Levitrack was released in three colorways: Fired Brick/Blue Glass, Meteorite/Cress Green, and Candy Apple Red/Cloud Dancer.
Release: August, 2021
In line with the triple collaboration trend, ASICS and Kiko Kostadinov partnered with Los Angeles-based creative collective Brain Dead to release the GEL-Fratelli. The combination of GEL-Nimbus 23's soles and Lazerbeam's upper was constructed to appear mismatched as a result of each side of the sneakers being designed independently by Kiko Kostadinov's and Brain Dead's teams (Left-side Brain Dead/Right-side Kiko Kostadinov). The daring yet intriguing GEL-Fratelli was released in the Edible Moss/Infinity colorway.
Clearly, this successful partnership has evolved to see Kostadinov and his team work closely with ASICS. Starting in November of 2020, the Bulgarian designer, along with Laura and Deanna Fanning, have become in-house designers at ASICS SportsStyle, responsible for the next 10 styles of sneakers for both the menswear and womenswear lines. Kostadinov explained that with the new partnership, he and his team aim to create products that live outside of the fashion cycle where the partnership initially was conceived, and produce sneakers that cater to a larger audience. Starting the multi-year initiative with a bang, the UB1-S GEL-Kayano 14, arrived on November 27, 2020.
Sneakers have become more than just something you wear - for some collectors, they are a new class of asset. Fueled by technological advancement and industry practice, sneakers have become increasingly impossible to acquire without the necessary cash and effort.
What is upsetting about this situation is that sneakers are supposed to be democratic. Understandably, exclusivity creates excitement. But the rise of resale marketplaces and bots has taken away the slight democracy that was left in sneakers culture.
As shallow it may seem, branded products are what the masses are drawn to nowadays. In understanding this, the closure of the ASICS X Kiko Kostadinov line can seem counterintuitive.
But we cannot underestimate the fact that the Kiko Kostadinov audience is not your typical sneakerhead. Putting design and function at the forefront, the strategic partnership between the two is perhaps a step toward disrupting the current hype-obsessed consumer landscape, slowly but surely swaying the preference for quality over brand. If the unique blend of western and eastern sensibilities found in silhouettes coming out of the ASICS SportsStyle are any indication, it seems that Kostadinov's studio is doing God's work of letting sneakerheads know that hype is not everything.