TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years ago, when he would constantly swap his Brand Shoes for any more comfortable kind of Converse All-Stars throughout the workday, depending on whether he was leading a significant meeting or overseeing a fairly 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 in just one pair of shoes appropriate for pitching business or heading out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was actually a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker that appears much more like a shoe but is comfortable just like 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 discovering that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute an essential part of the modern menswear wardrobe. While Masters of 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 some 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. Within a 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 as well as 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 following that? A confluence of things are at play. First, dress codes are getting to be increasingly relaxed during the last decade-remember when sneakers weren’t allowed in night clubs?-making it possible for more creativity and freedom. Second, as designer-sneaker sales have ticked up and also the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the purchase price, more designers have started paying attention to the current market.
Though luxury brands have already been making sneakers because the development of Gucci’s tennis shoes in 1984, Mr Porter buying-and-sales director Toby Bateman credits both Common Projects, which launched in New York City 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 from the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it as it was wearable. It didn’t seem like you had been wearing running sneakers with your suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of other people entering the arena.”
That includes folks you’d assume would sniff in 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 styles 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 and others in the signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker from the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running shoes for $925. “If I went back 5 years in time and believed to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5yrs, you’ll have got 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-irrespective of his aesthetic. “You don’t should be wearing a pair of drop-crotch sweatpants to be wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can put them on with a gorgeous suit and check like 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 with this year’s Costume Institute Gala with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. If in formal clothes, he was quoted saying, “wearing sneakers is a way of dressing 08dexspky down somewhat.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers with a tux. “I use a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a pair of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he said. However, he added, “certain people can pull it off, certain people can’t. It’s not for all.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will invariably argue that it’s ridiculous to pay, 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 the majority designer sneakers are created with Italian leather on par with that used for dress shoes, hide that is likely to look more refined and last longer than the leather of mass-market versions. And even though they may take cues from more cost-effective 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 much longer, he added. “And they create 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 exhaust steam? Perhaps. But when 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 degree of comfort and style, it’s very hard to get him directly into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a location within the store made of Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s focused on sneakers – “a temple for the category,” he explained. Along with the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a set of Yeezy Boosts, the Sexy Shoes Women from your high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he was quoted saying. “Every restaurant, every event.”