Samuel Ross, since launching A-COLD-WALL* in late 2015, has carved out a name for himself in the upper echelons of streetwear designers who not only create great clothing but also build a universe around their designs for their followers to live in. It comes as no surprise that Ross would sit on many a top tier brand list, considering the heritage he carries with him. Being mentored by Virgil Abloh and working as creative assistant for Yeezy is a co-sign that few other designers operating in his space can claim.

This month, A-COLD-WALL* extended its ongoing collaboration with Nike, releasing three new colourways of the TN98. Much like previous years’ releases, these sneakers are marked by their restraint, focusing on simple design and material use rather than excessive logos or eye-catching elements.

This is nothing new, though — you only need to look at A-COLD-WALL*’s other footwear collaborations to see that restraint is the name of the game. Converse Chuck ‘70s were delivered last year in low-key slate toned grey or cream, featuring a large reflective patch with an ever-so-slight logo. A ‘considered rework’ of the classic silhouette brought it into alignment with a brand known for its avant-garde yet wearable clothing, that draws inspiration from Ross’ experiences with the British class system and his vision for the future.

This year’s Converse is even more pared back than the last, featuring the most minimal branding possible, making for a sneaker that fully falls into the ‘if you know you know’ realm of footwear collaborations.

Outside of the world of sneakers, ACW* have lent their brutalist, (in their words) mature design language to footwear juggernauts Dr Martens and Timberland, both again putting material choice at the forefront of the approach. Timberland 3-Eye Boat Shoes are reimagined in a ripstop nylon and lined with waterproof GORETEX, while the iconic Six-Inch Boot removes laces and eyelets all together, taking the familiar silhouette and shifting it just outside of what we recognise. When viewed from a distance, however, it’s difficult to tell any significant changes in form or function for either shoe. The same can be said for long standing partnership with Dr Martens, now in its fifth iteration, with each pair forgoing laces in favour of an industrial inspired zip fastening on the tongue but leaving the rest of the silhouette largely unchanged. Once again, both Timberland and Dr Martens feature the most minimal of branding, with ACW*’s small stamp on each shoe appearing more as a signature than anything else.

An argument could be made that the simplicity of the design approach makes the collaborations seem less exciting or have less impact than the likes of Ross’ contemporaries. Looking back at some of the more standout pair-ups in the past brings up images of Ross’ mentor’s landmark collaboration with Nike in 2017. Virgil Abloh’s ‘The Ten’ saw the renowned creative put his unique, de-constructivist spin on some of Nike’s most iconic sneakers, and you could not walk past a pair without seeing Abloh’s motifs literally stamped onto the outsole of each shoe — an approach that found him legions of followers and detractors alike. Whether a fan or not, the impact that ‘The Ten’ had both for Abloh’s career and notoriety within fashion can’t be overstated. Does that notoriety make the more statement, overt collaborations more worthy of discussion though? Or by sticking to a set of clearly established principles of design, and allowing the iconic footwear silhouettes to be the canvas for these principles, has Samuel Ross set himself apart from peers by operating in a lane totally his own. A lane which has attracted partnerships that brands dream of being able to secure even one of. All while creating sneakers and footwear that will more than likely outlast current waves of design trends. 

ACW* has achieved iterative, evolving designs by prioritising form and material quality over forcing a unique design solely for impact. This approach has allowed them to build on previous collaborations, making each new release feel deliberate and well-earned.

Taste is subjective, and even if A-COLD-WALL*’s output isn’t what you gravitate towards, it’s undeniable that Samuel Ross knows how to make collaborations into true partnerships.