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The Sneaker Market's Auction Moment of Truth

The Sneaker Market's Auction Moment of Truth
December 2, 2022
Dylan Dittrich

The sneaker market has boomed for the better part of a decade. Casual observers became full blown sneakerheads, some sneakerheads became full blown resellers, and the sneaker resale market became a multi-billion dollar arena.

2020 and 2021 were particularly impressive years for secondary sneaker commerce, with values of many grails skyrocketing to four figure sums. While 2022 has brought market softening, several auction houses are betting big on the potential of sneakers as a new staple of the high-end luxury segment. There's a belief that some of the rarest and most coveted kicks can take their place alongside watches and luxury accessories as the aspirational goods of a younger generation.

Sotheby's, Christie's, and Heritage will all host sneaker-focused auctions over the next two weeks. For Heritage, it's the very first sneaker-specific auction, and they've announced their presence with a heavy-hitting assortment. For Christie's, "The Greats" auction represents another step forward for the recently announced "Department X". And for Sotheby's, the "Fifty" event, honoring 50 years of Nike, is the latest in a growing history of sneaker and streetwear events.

For all three houses to host events, it's clear that there must be confidence in the existence of an audience comprised of both sneakerheads who grew their collections and wealth in recent years and consumers from other, tangential categories that will see their heads turned by sneakers' inclusion alongside their collecting pursuits of choice.

But the next few weeks represent a major test of what market demand can absorb at present. Judging by the low estimates, opening bids, and reserve prices, there is an expectation that over $2.5 million in high-end sneakers could be sold. Moving to high estimates, that number pushes closer to $3.5-4 million. To be clear, that's exclusive of any game-worn items. We're just talking deadstock sneakers for the moment.

Look, that may not sound like a major sum. As we noted in Alts & Ends this week (subscribe!!), within 10 days of its release, almost $8 million worth of "Lost and Found" Jordan 1s traded on StockX. But that's a high volume sneaker with a price in the low-to-mid triple digits. Never before has such a great quantity of high-end sneakers gone to the block at essentially the same time. 56 different pairs of sneakers are expected to draw five-figure sums. That's pretty unprecedented, because, really, five-figure sneakers are a pretty new phenomenon. But here they are, expected to shoulder an auction load at some of the world's preeminent auction houses.

Here are a few storylines and sneakers to watch out for as the action unfolds.

Virgil Abloh and Louis Vuitton underpin the category

Three of the four most valuable sneakers in the Heritage event are Louis Vuitton Nike Air Force 1s, specifically made for friends and family of the late Virgil Abloh. Abloh was the founder of Off-White and the Artistic Director for Louis Vuitton. Under his leadership, Louis Vuitton took greater strides into the realm of streetwear, embracing younger audiences who were enamored with Abloh's Off-White Nike collaborations. The opening bid for each of those three sneakers is $90,000.

Over at Sotheby's, two pairs of the iconic Louis Vuitton Air Force 1 with the Pilot Case return to the block. Sotheby's sold 200 pairs earlier this year, with the vast majority entering six-figure territory as the luxury brand's monogram pattern was a major source of attraction. Sotheby's is also offering a yellow Friends & Family pair.

Photo: Sotheby's

The Christie's event features a number of LV Air Force 1s, though none are of quite the same stature as the aforementioned pairs.

Coveted pairs from the Nike x Off White collaboration also sprinkle each of the three events. Pairs hand-signed in some capacity by Virgil on the midsole tend to be auction favorites. It's not just because an autograph is incrementally valuable, though. Rather, when Virgil would seed pairs to friends and celebrities - particularly of the initial Jordan 1 collab - he would handwrite a large, block-letter inscription on the midsole, effectively customizing each pair for the recipient.

A Dunk contest is imminent

The Nike Dunk has been arguably the single most popular sneaker silhouette of the last few years, serving as the source of abundant frustration for unsuccessful sneaker seekers. At auction, some of the most elusive Dunks in existence will be up for grabs.

The "Paris" and "Freddy Krueger" Dunks come to both Heritage and Sotheby's. It's not hyperbolic to rank those two pairs among the rarest and most coveted Dunks to ever hit the streets. The Freddy Krueger pairs and the Paris pair at Sotheby's are samples, meaning they were promotional pairs created before official release.  The Paris Dunks were released as part of a traveling exhibition in 2003, with an estimate of 200 pairs in total. The sneakers feature the art of Bernard Buffet. Meanwhile, the Freddy Kruegers were meant to be part of a "Horror Pack" but were ultimately shut down due to a legal issue with New Line Cinema, meaning that the amount of pairs that actually saw the light of day is no more than a few dozen.

There are several other memorable Dunks across the two events, but sneakerheads might be most excited by the Wu Tang Dunk from 1999, even though it's a size 6. Small feet or not, it's an incredible talking piece, and it's another Dunk that did not see more than three dozen pairs made.

Museum-quality history a differentiator

While most of the auction lots are comprised of sneakers from after the turn of the millennium, there are some truly special trophies for sneaker history buffs. As is often the case, it's the sneakers that tell the richstory of Nike's rise to prominence that are poised to command hefty sums.

Over at Heritage, a prototype pair of the original Air Jordan 1 is up for sale. The Jordan 1 requires little introduction, and this particular prototype hints at the design process. The sneakers are accompanied with a letter from the Jordan 1 designer, Peter Moore, who details the trials and tribulations of bringing the shoe to life. The lot carries a reserve of $200,000.

The Jordan 1 features prominently in each of the other events as well. Sotheby's is offering a signed Player Sample version of the sneaker, made to Jordan's specifications. They are estimated to sell for between $100,000 - $200,000. Christie's will offer a game-worn pair with an estimate of $200,000 - $300,000. Also available at Christie's is another signed Player Sample pair with an estimate of $100,000 - $150,000. There may be some evidence of game wear, but it's nothing ironclad or ascertained to be from Jordan himself.

Both Heritage and Christie's will offer pairs of the original 1985 Jordan 1 in the Chicago colorway.

There are two other major pieces of Nike history at Sotheby's. Well, in one case, it's actually pre-Nike history, as brand-less, handmade track spikes from Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman come to auction with a $100,000 - $200,000 estimate. These would be a precursor to later Nike spikes and shoes. Speaking of which, a pair of handmade Nike Moon Shoes is up for sale. The shoes were designed by Bowerman and cobbled by Nike OG Geoff Hollister. Fractional investors will recognize these as the pair on Rally - they carry an estimate of $80,000 - $120,000, which is a hearty premium to the most recent market cap of $54,000. An unworn pair of Moon Shoes was once the most expensive sneaker ever sold, fetching $437,500 at Sotheby's in 2019.

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