TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some in the past, when he would constantly swap his Sexy Shoes Women for any much more comfortable 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 was quoted saying.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first set of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and inventive director of brand new York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house within a pair of shoes ideal 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 that looks similar to 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 various styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in finding that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute an essential area 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 own, personal once-beloved wingtips are getting dusty, forsaken for some 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. Inside a telling move, the latter recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its Ny 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, making reference to consumers of traditional dress shoes and the ones seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we get here after that? A confluence of factors tend to be at play. First, dress codes are becoming increasingly relaxed in 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 along with the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the price, more designers have begun paying attention to the market.
Though luxury brands have already been making sneakers considering that 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 category. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker having 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 seem like that you were wearing running sneakers with your suit or smart trousers. That led to numerous other individuals entering the arena.”
That also includes folks you’d assume would sniff at the very notion of Sexy Shoes Women. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several kinds of sneakers, including $790 to $1,090. This spring, venerable footwear brand Berluti also launched sneakers, all priced over $1,000, some in suede among others in their 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 thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5yrs, you’ll have got a suede running shoe,’ they will have laughed me out of the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for each and every man-irrespective of his aesthetic. “You don’t must be wearing a set of drop-crotch sweatpants to get wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can wear them using a gorgeous suit and check such as a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair all of them with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he not any 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. While in formal clothes, he was quoted saying, “wearing sneakers is really a method of dressing 08dexspky down somewhat.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers having a tux. “I have got a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a pair of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he explained. However, he added, “certain people can pull it well, certain people can’t. It’s not for everybody.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will debate 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 most designer sneakers are manufactured with Italian leather comparable to that utilized for dress shoes, hide that is likely to look more refined and go longer than the leather of mass-market versions. And even though they may take cues from less expensive styles by Nike or Adidas, their upgraded air provides 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 bit more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a set of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon use up all your steam? Perhaps. But if there’s one particular factor cementing its place in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what goes on with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s shopping area in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a man wears sneakers and gets that degree of comfort and style, it’s tough to get him back to shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a location from the store made from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s focused on sneakers – “a temple on the category,” he said. And the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a couple of Yeezy Boosts, the Brand Shoes in the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can wear them everywhere,” he was quoted saying. “Every restaurant, every event.”