TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years back, when he would constantly swap his Church’s dress shoes for the much more comfortable kind of Converse All-Stars through the entire workday, according to whether he was leading an essential meeting or overseeing a relatively 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 really a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker seems a lot more like a shoe but is comfortable similar to 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 different styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, Retro 13 Mens Sneakers can constitute a crucial portion 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 mall Barneys The Big Apple. Inside a telling move, the latter recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its New York and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we need to separate the John Lobb guy and the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive vice president of men’s, making reference to consumers of traditional dress shoes and people 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 several men-of more than-designed, gallingly expensive footwear, littered with logos in ways 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 are at play. First, dress codes are getting to be increasingly relaxed within 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 retail price, more designers have started focusing on the current market.
Though luxury brands are already making sneakers ever 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 within the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it as it was wearable. It didn’t appear like you were wearing running sneakers along with your suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of other people entering the arena.”
Which includes 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 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 their signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running sneakers for $925. “If I went back 5 years with time and thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five-years, you’ll use 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 man-irrespective of his aesthetic. “You don’t need to be wearing a set of drop-crotch sweatpants being wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can put them on by using a gorgeous suit and appear such as a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair them with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no longer wears dress shoes by any means, donned sneakers with this year’s Costume Institute Gala on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. If in formal clothes, he explained, “wearing sneakers is really a means of dressing it down slightly.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, 56dexppky advocates sneakers with a tux. “I have a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear some Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he was quoted saying. However, he added, “certain people can pull it away, others can’t. It’s not for all.”
To return to those galling prices, some men will invariably debate that it’s ridiculous to pay for, say, $545, for Saint Laurent’s SL/01 Court Classic sneakers, which look a decent amount like Adidas’s classic Stan Smiths that cost around $75. But the majority designer sneakers are manufactured with Italian leather on par with that utilized for dress shoes, hide that is likely to look more refined and go longer than the leather of mass-market versions. And while they may take cues from less expensive styles by Nike or Adidas, their upgraded air gives 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 prolonged, he added. “And they can make me look much more decked out, 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 a single factor cementing its spot in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what goes on with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s department store in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a guy wears sneakers and gets that level of comfort and style, it’s very difficult to get him directly into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a place inside the store made from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s dedicated to sneakers – “a temple towards the category,” he explained. And also the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a pair of Yeezy Boosts, the sneakers from your high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he said. “Every restaurant, every event.”