TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some yrs ago, as he would constantly swap his Church’s dress shoes to get a more comfortable couple of Converse All-Stars during the entire workday, dependant upon whether he was leading a significant meeting or overseeing a fairly laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he explained.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first pair 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 just one pair of shoes right for pitching new business or heading out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker seems similar to a shoe but is comfortable like a sneaker,” he explained. In other words: 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 several styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, Retro 13 Mens Sneakers can constitute a crucial part of the modern menswear wardrobe. While Masters from the Universe still dutifully pair their Super 100s suits with proper leather lace-ups, other men in offices nearly as formal routinely pad around in upscale rubber-soled shoes. My own, personal 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 shop Barneys The Big Apple. Inside a telling move, the latter recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its New York City and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we need to separate the John Lobb guy as well as the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive v . p . of men’s, talking about consumers of traditional dress shoes and others seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
Still. Designer. Sneakers. As recently as five or six years ago, those words together still conjured an off-putting image for several men-in excess of-designed, gallingly expensive footwear, littered with logos in ways that evoked a duty free shop. The kind of thing a respectable guy wouldn’t be caught dead in.
1. Z Zegna Techmerino Racers, $395, zegna.com; 2. Sneakers, $720, prada.com 3. Sneakers, $625, Tod’s, 212-644-5945; 4. Adidas by Raf Simons Stan Smith Sneakers, $455, adidasx.com; 5. Calfskin and Neoprene Sneakers, $795, Balenciaga, 212-226-2052; 6. Givenchy Sneakers, $595, Bergdorf Goodman, 888-774-1855
1. Z Zegna Techmerino Racers, $395, zegna.com; 2. Sneakers, $720, prada.com 3. Sneakers, $625, Tod’s, 212-644-5945; 4. Adidas by Raf Simons Stan Smith Sneakers, $455, adidasx.com; 5. Calfskin and Neoprene Sneakers, $795, Balenciaga, 212-226-2052; 6. Givenchy Sneakers, $595, Bergdorf Goodman, 888-774-1855 Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas
How did we have here from there? A confluence of things have reached play. First, dress codes have become increasingly relaxed during the last decade-remember when sneakers weren’t allowed in night clubs?-permitting more creativity and freedom. Second, as designer-sneaker sales have ticked up and the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the price, more designers have begun watching the marketplace.
Though luxury brands have been making sneakers ever since the introduction of Gucci’s tennis shoes in 1984, Mr Porter buying-and-sales director Toby Bateman credits both Common Projects, which launched in Ny 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 from the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it since it was wearable. It didn’t appear to be that you were wearing running sneakers along with your suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of other folks entering the arena.”
That also includes folks you’d assume would sniff at the very thought of sneakers. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several varieties of sneakers, including $790 to $1,090. This spring, venerable footwear brand Berluti also launched sneakers, all priced over $one thousand, some in suede yet others within its signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker in the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running shoes for $925. “If I went back 5yrs over time and believed to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five years, you’ll possess a suede running footwear,’ they will have laughed me out from the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every man-regardless of his aesthetic. “You don’t should be wearing a couple of drop-crotch sweatpants being wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can wear them having a gorgeous suit and look such as a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair them with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he not any longer wears dress shoes in any way, donned sneakers for this year’s Costume Institute Gala in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. If in formal clothes, he was quoted saying, “wearing sneakers can be a means of dressing it down somewhat.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, 56dexppky 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 stated. However, he added, “certain people can pull them back, others can’t. It’s not for everybody.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will invariably argue that it’s ridiculous to pay for, say, $545, for Saint Laurent’s SL/01 Court Classic sneakers, which look a decent amount like Adidas’s classic Stan Smiths that cost around $75. But most designer sneakers are made with Italian leather comparable to that useful for dress shoes, hide that will look more refined and go longer compared to the leather of mass-market versions. And although they may take cues from more cost-effective 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 much longer, he added. “And they make me look a little bit more decked out, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] some Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon run out of steam? Perhaps. But when there’s just one factor cementing its spot in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what occurs with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s shopping area in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a guy wears sneakers and gets that degree of style and comfort, it’s tough to get him back to shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling an area in the store made of Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s dedicated to sneakers – “a temple to the category,” he was quoted saying. And the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for some Yeezy Boosts, the sneakers in the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can use them everywhere,” he was quoted saying. “Every restaurant, every event.”