TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years ago, when he would constantly swap his Brand Shoes for the much more comfortable pair of Converse All-Stars through the entire workday, based on whether he was leading a significant meeting or overseeing a somewhat laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he was quoted saying.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first couple of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and creative director newest York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could go out within a pair of shoes right for pitching new clients 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 much more like a shoe but is comfortable similar to 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 different styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute a crucial portion of the modern menswear wardrobe. While Masters of your 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 once-beloved wingtips are getting dusty, forsaken for a set of Adidas Stan Smiths made together with Belgian designer Raf Simons.
Luxury sneakers now dominate men’s footwear sales for e-commerce site Mr Porter and department shop Barneys New York City. In the telling move, the second recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its New York 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, talking about consumers of traditional dress shoes and the ones seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we have here from that point? A confluence of things are in play. First, dress codes are becoming 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 along with the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the purchase price, more designers have begun focusing on the marketplace.
Though luxury brands have already 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 using a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle in the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it as it was wearable. It didn’t seem like that you were wearing running sneakers with your suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of others entering the arena.”
That includes folks you’d assume would sniff in the very thought of Designer Shoes. 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 yet others in its signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of your ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running shoes for $925. “If I went back 5yrs soon enough and said to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five-years, you’ll have a suede running shoe,’ they could have laughed me out from the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for each and every man-regardless of his aesthetic. “You don’t have to be wearing some drop-crotch sweatpants being wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can wear them with a gorgeous suit and appear just like a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair them a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no more wears dress shoes in any way, donned sneakers for this year’s Costume Institute Gala on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. During times of formal clothes, he said, “wearing sneakers is really a strategy for dressing 08dexspky down slightly.” 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 set of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he said. However, he added, “certain people can pull it well, others can’t. It’s not for everyone.”
To go back 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 good amount like Adidas’s classic Stan Smiths that cost around $75. But many designer sneakers are manufactured with Italian leather on par with that utilized for dress shoes, hide that is likely to look more refined and keep going longer compared to the leather of mass-market versions. And although they will often take cues from more affordable 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 extended, he added. “And they are me look a little more decked out, 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 devote menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what will happen with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s shopping area in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a guy wears sneakers and gets that amount of comfort and style, it’s hard to get him directly into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a region in the store made from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s dedicated to sneakers – “a temple on the category,” he stated. As well as the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a set of Yeezy Boosts, the Sexy Shoes Women in the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he explained. “Every restaurant, every event.”