Every great shoe brand needs a flagship style, a reliable fan favorite whose appeal holds steady no matter which way the fashion tailwinds blow. Nike has the Dunk. Adidas has the Samba. New Balance has the 990. For Asics, the Japanese sportswear brand founded in 1949, that shoe is the Gel-Kayano 14—and despite a long and winding journey to the top, it’s one of the hottest sneakers on the market.
When it first released in 2008, the Kayano 14’s innovative tech and singular comfort garnered high praise from the running community. (It nabbed Runner’s World International Editor’s Choice that same year.) But the 14 was discontinued once Asics rolled out the Kayano’s younger brother, and fans were left scouring eBay as supply of the style slowly dwindled. So when Asics relaunched the silhouette in 2020, with nostalgia for early-aughts running shoes at an all-time high, it seemed uniquely suited to appeal to new and old fans alike. Internally, though, the company wasn’t sure the 14 was the right choice to propel it back into the fashion conversation. “You could close your eyes and pick anything from the Kayano 10 through 14 and they’re all bangers,” says Billy Fischer, Asics’ Global Collaboration Manager. Which put Asics in an unusual position: With over thirty years of Kayano styles to choose from, the company had amassed a glut of contenders with It Shoe potential.
Enter Kiko Kostadinov, the Bulgarian-born, Britain-based designer behind one of the buzziest labels in menswear. “Originally the model that was selected by Asics [to bring back] was the Kayano 13,” Kostadinov says via email. But the 14, which looked faster and more futuristic, caught the designer’s eye. The shoe’s distinct panels, which streak across its mesh uppers before trailing off around its biomorphic outsoles, were hard to miss, and Asics’s telltale tiger stripe insignia, often rendered in a reflective silver-y material, only added to its off-kilter appeal. If you had never seen the 14, you could easily mistake it for an unreleased silhouette expressly cooked up to stoke a frenzy of online chatter in 2022.
It helps that the design of the 14 hasn’t changed much since the shoe’s debut. Kostadinov and his team “showed how versatile and modern the 14 can look with their material choices and unique color blocking,” Fischer says. “Especially when placed next to the OG classic colorways, they can almost feel like different shoes.” The 14 was always ahead of its time; now its forward-looking silhouette and tech-y flourishes feel just right.
Kostadinov’s relationship with Asics has since evolved from direct collaborator to something closer to a consultant. The two entities dropped the double name convention that defined their early partnerships, though eagle-eyed shoppers can still discern which pairs were influenced by Kostadinov in the product descriptions on Asics’ website. The reconfiguration isn’t meant to obfuscate the designer’s involvement; it’s a way for Kiko and co. to indicate their permanence within the Asics universe. Save for a few discreet details, you might not know that your 14s were a product of Kostadinov’s influence—and that’s kind of the point.