TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some yrs ago, as he would constantly swap his Designer Shoes for the much more comfortable couple of Converse All-Stars throughout the workday, depending on whether he was leading a significant meeting or overseeing a somewhat laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he explained.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first set of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and inventive director newest York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could go out in one set of footwear suitable for pitching business or going out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was actually a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker that appears more like a shoe but is comfortable just 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 important 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 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 Ny. Inside 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 should separate the John Lobb guy as well as the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive v . p . of men’s, referring to consumers of traditional dress shoes and those seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we receive here from that point? A confluence of factors tend to be at play. First, dress codes have grown to be 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 and also the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the retail price, more designers have started focusing on the market.
Though luxury brands are already making sneakers because 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 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 along with your suit or smart trousers. That led to many other individuals entering the arena.”
That features folks you’d assume would sniff at the very thought of Designer Shoes. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several varieties 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 as well as others in their 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 with time and believed to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5yrs, you’ll use a suede running shoe,’ they could have laughed me out of your showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every man-no matter his aesthetic. “You don’t must be wearing a couple of drop-crotch sweatpants to become wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can put them on having a gorgeous suit and search like 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 for this particular year’s Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. During times of formal clothes, he explained, “wearing sneakers can be a way 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 have got a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a couple of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he explained. However, he added, “certain people can pull it well, others can’t. It’s not for all.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will invariably argue 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 many designer sneakers are created with Italian leather comparable to that useful for dress shoes, hide that will look more refined and keep going longer than the leather of mass-market versions. And even though they could take cues from more affordable 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 couple of weeks,” said King & Partners’ Mr. King. Designer versions feel nicer for prolonged, he added. “And they can make me look much more dressed up, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a couple of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon exhaust your steam? Perhaps. But when there’s an individual 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 man wears sneakers and gets that measure of style and comfort, it’s very difficult to get him back into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling an area inside the store made of Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple to the category,” he was quoted saying. As well as the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a pair of Yeezy Boosts, the Designer Shoes from your high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can use them everywhere,” he stated. “Every restaurant, every event.”