TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some in the past, when he would constantly swap his Church’s dress shoes for the more at ease couple of Converse All-Stars during the entire workday, according to whether he was leading an important meeting or overseeing a fairly 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 creative director of New York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house in one pair of shoes suitable for pitching new business or heading out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was really a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker seems much more like a shoe but is comfortable just 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 several styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, Retro 13 Mens Sneakers can constitute an important part 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 nearly as formal routinely pad around in upscale rubber-soled shoes. My very own once-beloved wingtips are getting dusty, forsaken for a couple 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 shop Barneys New York City. In a 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 and also the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive v . p . of men’s, making reference to consumers of traditional dress shoes and people 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 many men-of over-designed, gallingly expensive footwear, littered with logos in ways that evoked a duty free shop. The sort 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 after that? A confluence of factors are at play. First, dress codes have become increasingly relaxed within the last decade-remember when sneakers weren’t allowed in night clubs?-enabling more creativity and freedom. Second, as designer-sneaker sales have ticked up and also the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the price, more designers have begun taking note of the market.
Though luxury brands happen to be making sneakers since 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 from the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it since it was wearable. It didn’t appear like that you were wearing running sneakers with the suit or smart trousers. That led to many others entering the arena.”
That also includes folks you’d assume would sniff at the very notion 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 among others in their signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running shoes for $925. “If I went back five-years soon enough and thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5 years, you’ll use 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-despite his aesthetic. “You don’t must be wearing a couple of drop-crotch sweatpants to become wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can put them on having a gorgeous suit and search such as a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair them a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he will no longer wears dress shoes at all, donned sneakers with this year’s Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. When in formal clothes, he was quoted saying, “wearing sneakers can be a way of dressing it down somewhat.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, 56dexppky advocates sneakers using a tux. “I use a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear some Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he stated. However, he added, “certain people can pull them back, certain people can’t. It’s not for all.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will invariably believe that it’s ridiculous to pay for, 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 created with Italian leather comparable to that utilized for dress shoes, hide that is likely to look more refined and stay longer compared to leather of mass-market versions. And even though they might take cues from more cost-effective styles by Nike or Adidas, their upgraded air offers 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 longer, he added. “And they are me look a little more decked out, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] some Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon exhaust steam? Perhaps. However if there’s just one factor cementing its place in 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 man wears sneakers and gets that measure of style and comfort, it’s very difficult to get him back into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a region from the store made of Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple to the category,” he was quoted saying. And also the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for some Yeezy Boosts, the sneakers from your high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can use them everywhere,” he said. “Every restaurant, every event.”