TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some yrs ago, when he would constantly swap his Church’s dress shoes for the convenient pair of Converse All-Stars through the workday, according to whether he was leading a significant 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 kind of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and artistic director of the latest York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house in one footwear suitable for pitching new clients 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. Put 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 an essential 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 as formal routinely pad around in upscale rubber-soled shoes. My 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 The Big Apple. Within a telling move, the latter recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its New York City and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we really should 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 the ones seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
Still. Designer. Sneakers. As recently as five or six years back, those words together still conjured an off-putting image for several men-in excess of-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 following that? A confluence of things are in play. First, dress codes are getting to be increasingly relaxed within 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 also the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the retail price, more designers have begun taking note of the marketplace.
Though luxury brands happen to be 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 Ny in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the category. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker by using 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 have been wearing running sneakers with your suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of other people entering the arena.”
Which includes folks you’d assume would sniff on the very idea of sneakers. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several types of sneakers, which range from $790 to $1,090. This spring, venerable footwear brand Berluti also launched sneakers, all priced over $1,000, some in suede yet others in the 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 soon enough and thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5yrs, you’ll use a suede athletic shoes,’ they would 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 need to be wearing a couple of drop-crotch sweatpants to be wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can put them on by using a gorgeous suit and appear like a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair these with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no more wears dress shoes whatsoever, donned sneakers just 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 was quoted saying, “wearing sneakers is a means 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 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 off, others can’t. It’s not for everybody.”
To return to those galling prices, some men will invariably reason that it’s ridiculous to pay, 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 made with Italian leather on par with that used for dress shoes, hide that has a tendency to look more refined and last longer than the leather of mass-market versions. 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 few weeks,” said King & Partners’ Mr. King. Designer versions feel nicer for extended, he added. “And they can make me look a little more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a couple of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon run out of steam? Perhaps. But if there’s a single factor cementing its area in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what happens 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 measure of style and comfort, it’s very hard to get him back into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a place within the store made of Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s dedicated to sneakers – “a temple for the category,” he explained. And 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 wear them everywhere,” he explained. “Every restaurant, every event.”