TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some in the past, when he would constantly swap his Church’s dress shoes to get a convenient kind of Converse All-Stars during the entire workday, dependant upon whether he was leading a significant meeting or overseeing a comparatively laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he stated.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first kind of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and artistic director newest York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house in a single footwear ideal for pitching new company or going out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker seems similar to a shoe but is comfortable just like a sneaker,” he explained. To put it differently: 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 a variety of styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in finding that high-end, Retro 13 Mens Sneakers can constitute an important area 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 very own once-beloved wingtips are gathering dust, 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 New York City. In the telling move, the latter recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its The Big Apple and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we need to separate the John Lobb guy and also the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive v . p . of men’s, discussing 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 ago, those words together still conjured an off-putting image for several men-well over-designed, gallingly expensive footwear, littered with logos in a way that evoked a duty free shop. The type 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 obtain here from there? A confluence of factors tend to be at play. First, dress codes are becoming increasingly relaxed over the past 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 started focusing on the market.
Though luxury brands have been making sneakers since the coming of Gucci’s tennis shoes in 1984, Mr Porter buying-and-sales director Toby Bateman credits both Common Projects, which launched in New York 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 in the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it since it was wearable. It didn’t seem like you were wearing running sneakers with the suit or smart trousers. That led to numerous other folks entering the arena.”
Which includes folks you’d assume would sniff at the very notion of sneakers. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several styles 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 as well as others in the signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede jogging shoes for $925. “If I went back five years over time and thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5 years, you’ll have a suede athletic shoes,’ they might have laughed me from the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every single man-irrespective of his aesthetic. “You don’t need to be wearing some drop-crotch sweatpants to get wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can use them with a gorgeous suit and look similar to a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair them with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he not any longer wears dress shoes in any way, donned sneakers just for this year’s Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. During times of formal clothes, he stated, “wearing sneakers is a way of dressing it down slightly.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, 56dexppky advocates sneakers using a tux. “I use 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 it away, certain people can’t. It’s not for all.”
To return to those galling prices, some men will invariably reason that it’s ridiculous to pay for, 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 many designer sneakers are manufactured with Italian leather comparable to that used for dress shoes, hide that is likely to look more refined and last longer compared to the leather of mass-market versions. Even though they will often 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 number of weeks,” said King & Partners’ Mr. King. Designer versions feel nicer for extended, he added. “And they can make me look a little bit more decked out, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] some Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon exhaust steam? Perhaps. However, if there’s one particular factor cementing its devote menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what goes on 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 degree of style and comfort, it’s very hard to get him directly into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling an area within the store made of Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple to the category,” he stated. And also the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a couple of Yeezy Boosts, the sneakers in the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he explained. “Every restaurant, every event.”