TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some yrs ago, as he would constantly swap his Designer Shoes for a more comfortable couple of Converse All-Stars throughout the workday, based on whether he was leading a significant 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 artistic director of brand new York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house in a single pair of shoes ideal for pitching business or heading out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It had been a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker that looks much more like a shoe but is comfortable like a sneaker,” he explained. Put 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 several styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute an important area 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 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 Ny. Within a telling move, the second recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its New York and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we need to separate the John Lobb guy and 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 obtain here from there? A confluence of things are at play. First, dress codes have become increasingly relaxed over the past decade-remember when sneakers weren’t allowed in night clubs?-making it possible for more creativity and freedom. Second, as designer-sneaker sales have ticked up as well as the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the retail price, more designers have started paying attention to the industry.
Though luxury brands are already making sneakers considering that the advent of Gucci’s tennis shoes in 1984, Mr Porter buying-and-sales director Toby Bateman credits both Common Projects, which launched in New York in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the course. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker having a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle in the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it since it was wearable. It didn’t appear like you had been wearing running sneakers with your suit or smart trousers. That led to many other folks entering the arena.”
Which includes folks you’d assume would sniff on the very idea 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, which range from $790 to $1,090. This spring, venerable footwear brand Berluti also launched sneakers, all priced over $one thousand, some in suede among others in their signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker from the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running shoes for $925. “If I went back five-years over time and believed to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five years, you’ll possess a suede running shoe,’ they would have laughed me out of the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every man-regardless of his aesthetic. “You don’t have to be wearing a pair of drop-crotch sweatpants to be wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can put them on with a gorgeous suit and search such as a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair these with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he will no longer wears dress shoes whatsoever, donned sneakers for this particular year’s Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. During times of formal clothes, he stated, “wearing sneakers is actually a method of dressing 08dexspky down slightly.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers having a tux. “I have got a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear some Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he explained. However, he added, “certain people can pull it away, certain people can’t. It’s not for all.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will argue that it’s ridiculous to spend, 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 created with Italian leather on par with that utilized for dress shoes, hide that has a tendency to look more refined and last longer compared to leather of mass-market versions. And although 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 couple of weeks,” said King & Partners’ Mr. King. Designer versions feel nicer for prolonged, he added. “And they can make me look a bit more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a pair of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon use up all your steam? Perhaps. However if there’s one particular factor cementing its devote 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 level of style and comfort, it’s hard to get him back in shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling an area inside the store created from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s dedicated to sneakers – “a temple on the category,” he explained. As well as the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a set of Yeezy Boosts, the Designer Shoes from your high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he explained. “Every restaurant, every event.”