Why are these Kanye West sneakers valued at more than $1 million?

A significant piece of Grammys and sneaker history could be yours — for a very hefty price.

Valued at more than a record-breaking $1 million, the Nike Air Yeezy 1 prototype worn by rapper Kanye West at the 50th Grammy Awards is on sale this month at Sotheby’s auction house.

These aren’t just any old pair of shoes. The first look at a top-secret collaboration between Nike and the rap mogul, West’s Air Yeezy 1 was the debut of what was to become his billion-dollar Yeezy fashion brand. And the shoes took the sneaker world by storm in 2008 ahead of a booming black market for luxury sneakers..

“The Air Yeezy was an entirely new silhouette — created for an artist rather than an athlete, and paved the way for many of the artist collaborations of today,” Sotheby’s said in a press release for the auction. A company representative noted that the pair on sale was created exclusively for West.

Kanye West performing at the 2008 Grammy Awards, where he wore the Air Yeezy 1 sneaker prototypes.

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

The shoes are available for purchase via a private sale, in which prospective buyers submit their offers to the auction house. They’ll also be on display at an exhibition in Hong Kong starting Friday until April 21.

Ryan Chang, a sneaker collector and curator who previously owned the shoes, appreciates them for their cultural significance. “The Air Yeezy Prototype is particularly special to me because it captured the cultural moment in 2008 so perfectly,” he said in a statement.

The 2008 Grammys were particularly momentous for West. He took home four awards (out of eight nominations), including rap album for 2007’s “Graduation.”

Black Air Yeezy 1 sneakers

Kanye West wore these Air Yeezy 1 prototypes at the 2008 Grammys.


Backed by Daft Punk, West performed a commanding rendition of his hit “Stronger” at the ceremony before transitioning to an emotional version of “Hey Mama,” the song he wrote for his mother, who died three months prior.

The prototypes West wore for the performance come in a soft black leather, each shoe adorned with Nike’s swoosh and the forefoot strap that would become archetypal of Yeezy sneaker design. The size-12 pair up for auction also has bright pink medallions that weren’t worn during the show.

West’s Yeezy prototypes are poised to become the most expensive sneaker sale by the auction house. That record was formerly set by a pair of Nike Air Jordan 1’s worn by Michael Jordan himself, which sold for $615,000 last year.

The Air Yeezy 1 was born out of West’s creative partnership with Nike that went on to become notably contentious, ending once the musician struck a deal with Adidas in 2013. Not many collectors can say they own a pair of Yeezy sneakers from a collaborator that West would go on to diss in his 2016 song “Facts.”

Whether you buy into the hype, the shoe has long been been part of footwear history.

“It’s just kind of inspiring, crazy, cool to see that this type of hunger for sneakers still exists,” fashion designer Virgil Abloh said in a 2009 interview about the shoe’s release.

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