TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years back, when he would constantly swap his Sexy Shoes Women for a convenient set of Converse All-Stars through the workday, dependant upon whether he was leading an essential meeting or overseeing a relatively laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he said.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first set of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and creative director of brand new York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could go out in a single set of footwear suitable for pitching business or going out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker seems a lot more like a shoe but is comfortable like a sneaker,” he explained. Quite simply: A size-10 Holy Grail. Though he still pulls out his Church’s for “very smart meetings,” he mostly lives in sneakers and owns around 20 pairs of Common Projects, in a variety of styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in finding that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute a crucial portion of the modern menswear wardrobe. While Masters of your Universe still dutifully pair their Super 100s suits with proper leather lace-ups, other men in offices as formal routinely pad around in upscale rubber-soled shoes. My very own once-beloved wingtips are gathering dust, forsaken for some Adidas Stan Smiths made in collaboration with Belgian designer Raf Simons.
Luxury sneakers now dominate men’s footwear sales for e-commerce site Mr Porter and department store Barneys New York City. In a telling move, the latter recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its The Big Apple and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we really need to separate the John Lobb guy and the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive vice president of men’s, talking about consumers of traditional dress shoes and people seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we receive here after that? A confluence of factors tend to be at play. First, dress codes have grown to be increasingly relaxed over the past decade-remember when sneakers weren’t allowed in night clubs?-allowing for more creativity and freedom. Second, as designer-sneaker sales have ticked up and the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the purchase price, more designers have begun taking note of the market.
Though luxury brands are already making sneakers considering that the development of Gucci’s tennis shoes in 1984, Mr Porter buying-and-sales director Toby Bateman credits both Common Projects, which launched in The Big Apple in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the category. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker with a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle in the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it mainly because it was wearable. It didn’t appear to be you had been wearing running sneakers with your suit or smart trousers. That led to many others entering the arena.”
That features folks you’d assume would sniff with the very concept of Designer Shoes. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several styles of sneakers, which range from $790 to $1,090. This spring, venerable footwear brand Berluti also launched sneakers, all priced over $1,000, some in suede among others within its signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker from the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running sneakers for $925. “If I went back 5 years soon enough and thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5 years, you’ll possess a suede running shoe,’ they will have laughed me from the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every man-irrespective of his aesthetic. “You don’t need to be wearing some drop-crotch sweatpants to become wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can wear them by using a gorgeous suit and appear similar to a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair them with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he will no longer wears dress shoes whatsoever, donned sneakers with this year’s Costume Institute Gala in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. While in formal clothes, he was quoted saying, “wearing sneakers is actually a means of dressing 08dexspky down somewhat.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers having a tux. “I possess a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a set of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he said. However, he added, “certain people can pull it away, others can’t. It’s not for everybody.”
To return to those galling prices, some men will invariably argue that it’s ridiculous to spend, say, $545, for Saint Laurent’s SL/01 Court Classic sneakers, which look a good amount like Adidas’s classic Stan Smiths that cost around $75. But most designer sneakers are created with Italian leather comparable to that used for dress shoes, hide that will look more refined and go longer in comparison to the leather of mass-market versions. And while they could take cues from more affordable styles by Nike or Adidas, their upgraded air presents them entree where cheaper sneakers wouldn’t dare tread.
Athletic brand “sneakers look so ragged after a number of weeks,” said King & Partners’ Mr. King. Designer versions feel nicer for extended, he added. “And they make me look a little more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a couple of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon exhaust your steam? Perhaps. However, if there’s an individual factor cementing its devote menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what will happen with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s department store in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a guy wears sneakers and gets that amount of comfort and style, it’s very hard to get him back in shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling an area in the store made from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple for the category,” he was quoted saying. As well as the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a set of Yeezy Boosts, the Designer Shoes through the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can use them everywhere,” he stated. “Every restaurant, every event.”