words_Nick DePaula photography_Zac Dubasik [As published in Sole Collector's Issue 29, available HERE] By the time 2008 rolled around, there was already a considerable amount of buzz building up on messageboards across the interwebs about a possible Kanye & Nike co-designed sneaker, and the digital savages couldn't wait to check up on every last rumor, detail, camera phone picture or leak. For Mark Smith and the team, the internal process was a bit out of the usual only in terms of protecting information, as West is clearly a man whose every move is watched by paparazzi. They clamped down on every single sample made to try and prevent potential leaks. "We didn't send anything out to him, ever. We would always just meet up. He would come out or we would fly out to see him on trips. We always just kept it real simple and never left anything with him. But, it was more about making sure it was on the right track, because we just didn't want it out there yet," says Smith. "We didn't want him walking around out there and wearing it and getting people to see it until we decided when was the right time. The Grammys felt like the right time to do something, and we were far enough along on the design that we felt like it was going to evolve, but not change." It was on February 10th, 2008, at The 50th Annual Grammy Awards that Kanye would officially debut the much-speculated and gossiped about Air Yeezy, as he gave a heartfelt performance just months after the passing of his mother. Not only was it the first time that West wore the shoe on a grand stage for all to see, but it was also the first time Mark Smith left Kanye on his own with a pair. There was, however, just one stipulation: He'd have to overnight them back to Smith the next day. With clear pictures emerging online later in the night, every last sneaker and lifestyle blog known to man was racking up comments and page views as a result of the Yeezy debut. It might even be worth taking it back all the way to the time that Michael Jordan broke out the Concord XIs for the first time in the 1995 NBA Playoffs that we've seen such an overnight frenzy and interest level, and with MJ hooping in a pre-Internet era, this was on a whole new level. "We knew there would be a ton of buzz," says Tiffany Beers. "Considering that Mark worked a deal with Kanye to get them back the next day, and as usual, Mark usually doesn't ask permission before he tends to do things, we expected that much buzz, and it was good for everyone." Above: They gotta pass the mirror test. The ever creatively focused man that he is, Smith actually didn't think much of the ordeal. It doesn't hurt that he's worked on a few high level sneakers in his day. "I don't really care about that stuff," he laughs. "I just want to make really good product. Although the buzz was, 'What's going on?' and people approached me and said, 'Hey man, there's a lot of buzz out there, and some people think it's really ugly.' I love ugly. Who's to say what ugly is? Beauty is relative. With me, it's always been, if he likes it and he's the guy, and I like it and I'm the guy, then we're really in good shape."
The Making of The Air Yeezy | The Grammys
The 2008 Grammys meant everything to Kanye.