TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years ago, as he would constantly swap his Brand Shoes for a more at ease set of Converse All-Stars during the entire workday, based on whether he was leading an essential 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 newest York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could leave the house in a single set of footwear suitable 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 that looks a lot more like a shoe but is comfortable such as 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 a variety of styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in finding that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute a significant portion 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 own, personal 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 shopping area Barneys New York. In the telling move, the latter recently combined the formal and casual shoe departments at its New York City and Beverly Hills locations. (“Did we really should separate the John Lobb guy along with 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 have here following that? A confluence of factors are in play. First, dress codes have grown to be increasingly relaxed within 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 as well as the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the retail price, more designers have begun taking note of the market.
Though luxury brands are already 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 The Big Apple in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the course. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker having 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 look like you were wearing running sneakers along with your suit or smart trousers. That led to numerous others entering the arena.”
That includes folks you’d assume would sniff in the very idea of Designer Shoes. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several styles of sneakers, ranging from $790 to $1,090. This spring, venerable footwear brand Berluti also launched sneakers, all priced over $one thousand, some in suede among others within its signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running shoes for $925. “If I went back five years soon enough and thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5 years, you’ll possess a suede running shoe,’ they will have laughed me out from the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every single man-no matter his aesthetic. “You don’t need to be wearing a couple of drop-crotch sweatpants being wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can use them by using a gorgeous suit and appear such as a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair them a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no longer wears dress shoes in any way, donned sneakers with 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 really a way of 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 have got a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a set of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he stated. However, he added, “certain people can pull it off, certain people can’t. It’s not for everybody.”
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 created with Italian leather on par with that useful for dress shoes, hide that tends to look more refined and go longer compared to leather of mass-market versions. Even though they could take cues from more cost-effective 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 couple of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon exhaust steam? Perhaps. But when there’s a single factor cementing its spot in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what happens 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 level of style and comfort, it’s very hard to get him directly into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling an area inside the store manufactured from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple on the category,” he said. And the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a pair of Yeezy Boosts, the Sexy Shoes Women in the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he was quoted saying. “Every restaurant, every event.”