TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years back, as he would constantly swap his Designer Shoes for a more comfortable pair of Converse All-Stars throughout the 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 set 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 a single pair of shoes ideal for pitching new company 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 appears more like a shoe but is comfortable such as 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 several styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in finding that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute an important 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 nearly as formal routinely pad around in upscale rubber-soled shoes. My once-beloved wingtips are gathering dust, forsaken for some 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 The Big Apple. In a telling move, the second recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its New York City 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, making reference to consumers of traditional dress shoes and the ones seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we obtain here following that? 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?-permitting more creativity and freedom. Second, as designer-sneaker sales have ticked up along with the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the retail price, more designers have started focusing on 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 in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the course. 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 appear to be you were wearing running sneakers along with your suit or smart trousers. That led to numerous other people entering the arena.”
That includes folks you’d assume would sniff with 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 yet others in their signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker from the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running sneakers for $925. “If I went back five years in time and said to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five years, you’ll have a suede running footwear,’ they will have laughed me out from the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for each man-irrespective of his aesthetic. “You don’t have to be wearing a set of drop-crotch sweatpants to be wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can put them on having a gorgeous suit and check such as a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair these with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he will no longer wears dress shoes whatsoever, donned sneakers for this particular year’s Costume Institute Gala on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. While in formal clothes, he explained, “wearing sneakers can be a strategy for dressing 08dexspky down a bit.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers having 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 everyone.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will invariably debate that it’s ridiculous to spend, 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 a majority of designer sneakers are created with Italian leather comparable to that used for dress shoes, hide that has a tendency to look more refined and go longer compared to leather of mass-market versions. And even though they could take cues from more affordable 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 couple of weeks,” said King & Partners’ Mr. King. Designer versions feel nicer for much longer, he added. “And they create me look a little more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a pair of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon use up all your steam? Perhaps. But when there’s just one factor cementing its area in 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 man wears sneakers and gets that degree of comfort and style, it’s very difficult to get him back to shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a location within the store created from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple for the category,” he was quoted saying. As well as the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for some Yeezy Boosts, the Sexy Shoes Women in the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can wear them everywhere,” he explained. “Every restaurant, every event.”