TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some in the past, when he would constantly swap his Brand Shoes to get a convenient kind of Converse All-Stars during 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 explained.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first couple of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and creative director of brand new York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house in a single set of footwear right for pitching 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 a lot more like a shoe but is comfortable 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 an essential portion 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 getting dusty, forsaken for a pair 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 mall Barneys The Big Apple. 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 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 the ones seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we have here following that? A confluence of factors are in play. First, dress codes are becoming increasingly relaxed in 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 as well as the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the retail price, more designers have begun watching the industry.
Though luxury brands have already been making sneakers ever 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 Ny in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the course. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker by using a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle inside the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it mainly because it was wearable. It didn’t look like you had been wearing running sneakers along with your suit or smart trousers. That led to numerous other people entering the arena.”
That includes folks you’d assume would sniff on the very concept of Designer Shoes. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several varieties of sneakers, starting 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 the signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of your ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running footwear for $925. “If I went back five years over time and said to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five-years, you’ll possess a suede athletic shoes,’ they would have laughed me from the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every single man-no matter his aesthetic. “You don’t should be wearing a couple of drop-crotch sweatpants being 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 these with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no longer 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 said, “wearing sneakers can be a strategy for dressing 08dexspky down somewhat.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers having a tux. “I possess a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear some Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he said. However, he added, “certain people can pull them back, certain people can’t. It’s not for everybody.”
To return to those galling prices, some men will reason 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 created with Italian leather comparable to that used for dress shoes, hide that has a tendency to look more refined and keep going longer compared to leather of mass-market versions. And although they might take cues from more affordable 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 much longer, he added. “And they create me look much more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a set of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon exhaust your steam? Perhaps. But if there’s one particular factor cementing its place 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 guy wears sneakers and gets that level of style and comfort, it’s tough to get him back in shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a place in the store manufactured from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s devoted to sneakers – “a temple towards the category,” he explained. And the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for some Yeezy Boosts, the Designer Shoes through the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he stated. “Every restaurant, every event.”