TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some yrs ago, when he would constantly swap his Designer Shoes for any more at ease pair of Converse All-Stars through the entire workday, depending on 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 pair 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 go out in just one pair of shoes suitable for pitching 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 appears more like a shoe but is comfortable just like 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 various styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute a crucial part of the modern menswear wardrobe. While Masters in 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, personal 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 store Barneys The Big Apple. Within a telling move, the latter 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 and also the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive v . p . of men’s, referring to consumers of traditional dress shoes and others seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we obtain here following that? A confluence of factors have reached play. First, dress codes are becoming increasingly relaxed during the last decade-remember when sneakers weren’t allowed in night clubs?-allowing for 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 taking note of the market.
Though luxury brands are already making sneakers because the introduction of Gucci’s tennis shoes in 1984, Mr Porter buying-and-sales director Toby Bateman credits both Common Projects, which launched in Ny in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the course. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker with a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle in the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it because it was wearable. It didn’t look like you were wearing running sneakers with your suit or smart trousers. That led to numerous other individuals entering the arena.”
That features folks you’d assume would sniff with the very idea of Brand Shoes. 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 and others within its signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running sneakers for $925. “If I went back five-years in time and said to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5yrs, you’ll have a suede athletic shoes,’ they would have laughed me from the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for each man-regardless of his aesthetic. “You don’t must be wearing some drop-crotch sweatpants to be wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can use them with a gorgeous suit and appear similar to a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair all of them with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no more wears dress shoes in any way, donned sneakers just for this year’s Costume Institute Gala in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. While in formal clothes, he was quoted saying, “wearing sneakers can be a method of dressing 08dexspky down somewhat.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers with 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 was quoted saying. However, he added, “certain people can pull it away, certain people can’t. It’s not for everybody.”
To return to those galling prices, some men will invariably reason that it’s ridiculous to cover, say, $545, for Saint Laurent’s SL/01 Court Classic sneakers, which look a reasonable amount like Adidas’s classic Stan Smiths that cost around $75. But most designer sneakers are made with Italian leather on par with that useful for dress shoes, hide that tends to look more refined and go longer in comparison to the leather of mass-market versions. And even though they could take cues from more affordable 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 make me look a little bit more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a pair of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon exhaust your steam? Perhaps. But if there’s just one factor cementing its place in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what happens with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s department shop in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a man wears sneakers and gets that level of comfort and style, it’s very difficult to get him back to shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a region from the store created from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s devoted to sneakers – “a temple on the category,” he was quoted saying. Along with the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a pair of Yeezy Boosts, the Brand Shoes through the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he stated. “Every restaurant, every event.”