TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years back, when he would constantly swap his Church’s dress shoes for any more at ease pair of Converse All-Stars through the entire workday, dependant upon whether he was leading a vital meeting or overseeing a comparatively laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he said.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first kind of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and artistic director of New York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could go out within a pair of shoes right for pitching new business or going 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 such as 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 a variety of styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in finding that high-end, Retro 13 Mens Sneakers can constitute an essential part 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 nearly as formal routinely pad around in upscale rubber-soled shoes. My own once-beloved wingtips are getting dusty, forsaken for a couple of Adidas Stan Smiths made together with Belgian designer Raf Simons.
Luxury sneakers now dominate men’s footwear sales for e-commerce site Mr Porter and department store Barneys Ny. In the telling move, the second recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its Ny and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we need to separate the John Lobb guy along with the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive vice president of men’s, discussing consumers of traditional dress shoes and those seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
Still. Designer. Sneakers. As recently as five or six in the past, those words together still conjured an off-putting image for a lot of men-of more than-designed, gallingly expensive footwear, littered with logos in a way that evoked a duty free shop. The type 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 get here from that point? A confluence of things are at 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 paying attention to the marketplace.
Though luxury brands happen to be making sneakers ever since the coming of Gucci’s tennis shoes in 1984, Mr Porter buying-and-sales director Toby Bateman credits both Common Projects, which launched in New York City in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the course. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker using a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle within the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it mainly because it was wearable. It didn’t look like you were wearing running sneakers along with your suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of other individuals entering the arena.”
That features folks you’d assume would sniff with the very idea of sneakers. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several styles 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 as well as others in their signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker from the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede jogging shoes for $925. “If I went back five-years over time and thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five-years, you’ll possess a suede running shoe,’ they will 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 should be wearing a set of drop-crotch sweatpants to get wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can use them using a gorgeous suit and appear similar to a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair these with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no longer wears dress shoes at all, donned sneakers with this year’s Costume Institute Gala with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. During times of formal clothes, he explained, “wearing sneakers is a way of dressing it down a little bit.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, 56dexppky 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 stated. However, he added, “certain people can pull them back, others can’t. It’s not for everyone.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will invariably reason that it’s ridiculous to spend, say, $545, for Saint Laurent’s SL/01 Court Classic sneakers, which look a fair amount like Adidas’s classic Stan Smiths that cost around $75. But a majority of designer sneakers are produced with Italian leather on par with that useful for dress shoes, hide that tends to look more refined and go longer compared to the leather of mass-market versions. Even though 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 can make me look a little bit more decked out, 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 goes on with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s mall in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a man wears sneakers and gets that level 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 a location within the store manufactured from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple to the category,” he was quoted saying. As well as the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a pair of Yeezy Boosts, the sneakers through the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he stated. “Every restaurant, every event.”