TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years ago, as he would constantly swap his Designer Shoes for any much more comfortable kind of Converse All-Stars through the workday, according to whether he was leading an essential meeting or overseeing a somewhat laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he said.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first couple 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 go out in one footwear appropriate for pitching new company or heading out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It had been a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker seems more like a shoe but is comfortable like 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 various styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute an essential portion 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 nearly as formal routinely pad around in upscale rubber-soled shoes. My 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 shopping area 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 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, discussing consumers of traditional dress shoes and people seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we obtain here from there? A confluence of things have reached play. First, dress codes are getting to be 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 and also the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the purchase price, more designers have started focusing on the current market.
Though luxury brands are already making sneakers since the introduction 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 category. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker with a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle from the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it because it was wearable. It didn’t seem like that you were wearing running sneakers together with your suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of other folks entering the arena.”
Which includes folks you’d assume would sniff at the very concept of Designer Shoes. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several styles of sneakers, including $790 to $1,090. This spring, venerable footwear brand Berluti also launched sneakers, all priced over $one thousand, some in suede as well as others in its signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of your ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running sneakers for $925. “If I went back 5yrs over time and thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five-years, you’ll have got a suede athletic shoes,’ they might have laughed me from 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 some drop-crotch sweatpants being wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can put them on by using a gorgeous suit and check similar to a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair all of them with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no longer wears dress shoes at all, donned sneakers with this year’s Costume Institute Gala on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. While in formal clothes, he stated, “wearing sneakers is actually a method of dressing 08dexspky down slightly.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers with a tux. “I possess a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a couple of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he said. However, he added, “certain people can pull them back, others can’t. It’s not for all.”
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 fair amount like Adidas’s classic Stan Smiths that cost around $75. But most designer sneakers are produced with Italian leather comparable to that used for dress shoes, hide that is likely to look more refined and keep going longer in comparison to the leather of mass-market versions. And even though they may take cues from less expensive styles by Nike or Adidas, their upgraded air presents 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 make me look much more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] some Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon run out of steam? Perhaps. But if there’s an individual factor cementing its spot in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what will happen with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s department store in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a man wears sneakers and gets that amount of style and comfort, it’s hard to get him back to shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a place in the store made from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple on the category,” he said. And also the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a set of Yeezy Boosts, the Designer Shoes through the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can use them everywhere,” he stated. “Every restaurant, every event.”