TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some in the past, when he would constantly swap his Designer Shoes for any more at ease kind of Converse All-Stars during the entire workday, depending on whether he was leading an important 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 pair of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and inventive director of brand new York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could go out in just one set of footwear ideal for pitching new clients 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 looks more like a shoe but is comfortable just like a sneaker,” he explained. Quite 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 various styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute an important area of the modern menswear wardrobe. While Masters of your 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 very own once-beloved wingtips are getting dusty, forsaken for a set of 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 department store Barneys The Big Apple. Within 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 as well as the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive vice president of men’s, referring to consumers of traditional dress shoes and people seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we get here after that? A confluence of things are at play. First, dress codes have become increasingly relaxed during 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 the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the retail price, more designers have started watching the market.
Though luxury brands are already making sneakers because the introduction 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 by using a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle within the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it mainly because it was wearable. It didn’t appear to be that you were wearing running sneakers with the 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 concept of Sexy Shoes Women. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several types of sneakers, ranging 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 within its signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker of your ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running footwear for $925. “If I went back 5yrs with time and thought to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five years, you’ll have got 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 each man-no matter his aesthetic. “You don’t have to be wearing a set of drop-crotch sweatpants being wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can wear them by using a gorgeous suit and search such as a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair these with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no more wears dress shoes by any means, donned sneakers just for this year’s Costume Institute Gala in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. If in formal clothes, he explained, “wearing sneakers is actually a strategy for dressing 08dexspky down a bit.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers with a tux. “I use a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a set of Lanvin’s or Cipher’s Parallax [style],” he was quoted saying. However, he added, “certain people can pull it away, certain people can’t. It’s not for all.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will argue that it’s ridiculous to cover, 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 manufactured with Italian leather on par with that used for dress shoes, hide that is likely to look more refined and last longer than the leather of mass-market versions. And while they will often take cues from more cost-effective 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 number of weeks,” said King & Partners’ Mr. King. Designer versions feel nicer for extended, he added. “And they make me look a little bit more decked out, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] some Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon use up all your steam? Perhaps. But if there’s an individual factor cementing its place in menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what will happen with fashion,” said David Sills, men’s creative director at Hirshleifer’s shopping area in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a man wears sneakers and gets that amount of comfort and style, it’s tough to get him directly into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a location within the store made from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple to the category,” he explained. As well as the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a couple of Yeezy Boosts, the Sexy Shoes Women through the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can use them everywhere,” he was quoted saying. “Every restaurant, every event.”