TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years back, as he would constantly swap his Church’s dress shoes for the more comfortable couple of Converse All-Stars during the entire workday, according to whether he was leading an important meeting or overseeing a comparatively laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he was quoted saying.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first set of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and creative director of the latest York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house in a single set of footwear appropriate for pitching new business or heading out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker that appears much 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, Retro 13 Mens Sneakers can constitute a significant 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 as formal routinely pad around in upscale rubber-soled shoes. My very own once-beloved wingtips are gathering dust, forsaken for a pair 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 shop Barneys New York. In 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 and also the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive v . p . of men’s, referring to consumers of traditional dress shoes and the ones seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
Still. Designer. Sneakers. As recently as five or six in the past, those words together still conjured an off-putting image for many men-of more than-designed, gallingly expensive footwear, littered with logos in a fashion that evoked a duty free shop. The sort 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 have here following that? A confluence of things have reached play. First, dress codes are getting to be increasingly relaxed during 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 the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the purchase price, more designers have started watching the market.
Though luxury brands have already been making sneakers ever 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 Ny 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 from the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it mainly because it was wearable. It didn’t appear to be you have been wearing running sneakers along with your suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of other people entering the arena.”
That features folks you’d assume would sniff with the very idea of sneakers. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several types 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 and others in the signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running footwear for $925. “If I went back five years in time and believed to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five years, you’ll use a suede athletic shoes,’ they will have laughed me out of your showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every single man-regardless of his aesthetic. “You don’t have to be wearing a set of drop-crotch sweatpants to get wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can use them with a gorgeous suit and search like a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair them with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no more wears dress shoes at all, donned sneakers for this year’s Costume Institute Gala in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. When in formal clothes, he explained, “wearing sneakers is actually a method of dressing it down somewhat.” 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 explained. However, he added, “certain people can pull it well, certain people can’t. It’s not for all.”
To return to those galling prices, some men will argue 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 the majority designer sneakers are produced with Italian leather comparable to that utilized for dress shoes, hide that has a tendency to look more refined and keep going longer compared to leather of mass-market versions. And while they could 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 prolonged, he added. “And they can make me look much 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. However if there’s an individual 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 department store in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a man wears sneakers and gets that measure of comfort and style, it’s very hard to get him back to shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling an area from the store made of Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s dedicated to sneakers – “a temple towards the category,” he was quoted saying. And also the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for some Yeezy Boosts, the sneakers from your high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can wear them everywhere,” he was quoted saying. “Every restaurant, every event.”