TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some in the past, when he would constantly swap his Designer Shoes for a more comfortable couple 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 stated.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first couple of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and inventive director of New York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house within a footwear ideal for pitching new clients or going out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker that looks a lot more like a shoe but is comfortable such as 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 various styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in finding that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute an important area of the modern menswear wardrobe. While Masters of the 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 getting dusty, forsaken for a pair of 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 The Big Apple. In a telling move, the second recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its New York City and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we really need to separate the John Lobb guy as well as the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive vice president of men’s, making reference to consumers of traditional dress shoes and people seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we get here after that? A confluence of factors are at play. First, dress codes are getting to be increasingly relaxed within 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 retail price, more designers have started watching the industry.
Though luxury brands are already making sneakers 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 The Big Apple in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the category. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker using a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle inside the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it because it was wearable. It didn’t look like that you were wearing running sneakers with the suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of other individuals entering the arena.”
Which includes folks you’d assume would sniff in the very thought of Sexy Shoes Women. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several varieties of sneakers, ranging from $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 sneakers for $925. “If I went back 5yrs in time and said to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5yrs, you’ll have got a suede running shoe,’ they might have laughed me out of your showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every single man-regardless of his aesthetic. “You don’t need to be wearing some drop-crotch sweatpants to get wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can put them on having a gorgeous suit and check similar to 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 at all, donned sneakers for this particular year’s Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. While in formal clothes, he stated, “wearing sneakers is actually a means of dressing 08dexspky down a little bit.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers having a tux. “I use a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a couple of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he said. However, he added, “certain people can pull them back, others can’t. It’s not for everyone.”
To return to those galling prices, some men will reason that it’s ridiculous to cover, 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 a majority of designer sneakers are created with Italian leather comparable to that utilized for dress shoes, hide that will look more refined and go longer in comparison to the leather of mass-market versions. Even though they will often 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 much longer, he added. “And they can make me look a little more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a set of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon run out of steam? Perhaps. But when there’s one particular factor cementing its spot in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what goes on with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s shopping area in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a man wears sneakers and gets that level 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 a region inside the store made from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s focused on sneakers – “a temple on the category,” he explained. Along with the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for some Yeezy Boosts, the Designer Shoes from your high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he stated. “Every restaurant, every event.”