TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some yrs ago, as he would constantly swap his Church’s dress shoes for the much more comfortable kind of Converse All-Stars during the entire workday, according to whether he was leading a vital meeting or overseeing a fairly laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he said.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first set of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and inventive director of the latest York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house within a footwear 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 more like a shoe but is comfortable similar to 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 finding that high-end, Retro 13 Mens Sneakers can constitute a significant portion 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 once-beloved wingtips are gathering dust, forsaken for a set 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 shop Barneys The Big Apple. Within a telling move, the second recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its The Big Apple and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we really need to separate the John Lobb guy along with the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive vice president of men’s, talking about 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 a way 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 receive here from there? A confluence of things have reached play. First, dress codes have become increasingly relaxed in the last 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 and also the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the cost, more designers have begun focusing on the industry.
Though luxury brands have been making sneakers ever since the advent 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 within the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it because it was wearable. It didn’t look like you had been wearing running sneakers 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 with the very idea 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 $1,000, some in suede and others in its signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker from the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running sneakers for $925. “If I went back five years with time and believed to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five-years, you’ll have a suede running footwear,’ they might have laughed me out of your showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every single man-irrespective of his aesthetic. “You don’t should be wearing a couple of drop-crotch sweatpants to get wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can wear them by using a gorgeous suit and check like a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair all of them with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no longer wears dress shoes whatsoever, donned sneakers for this year’s Costume Institute Gala on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. When in formal clothes, he explained, “wearing sneakers is really 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 have a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a pair of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he stated. However, he added, “certain people can pull it off, others can’t. It’s not for everybody.”
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 decent amount like Adidas’s classic Stan Smiths that cost around $75. But a majority of designer sneakers are produced with Italian leather comparable to that utilized for dress shoes, hide that has a tendency to look more refined and go longer than the leather of mass-market versions. And while they will often take cues from less expensive styles by Nike or Adidas, their upgraded air gives them entree where cheaper sneakers wouldn’t dare tread.
Athletic brand “sneakers look so ragged after a few weeks,” said King & Partners’ Mr. King. Designer versions feel nicer for prolonged, he added. “And they are me look a little bit more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a set of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon exhaust steam? Perhaps. However if there’s a single factor cementing its area in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what occurs 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 measure 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 a location in the store created from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple for the category,” he stated. And also the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for some Yeezy Boosts, the sneakers through the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he said. “Every restaurant, every event.”