TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some in the past, as he would constantly swap his Brand Shoes for any convenient pair of Converse All-Stars during the entire workday, according to whether he was leading a significant meeting or overseeing a somewhat laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he said.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first set of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and inventive director of New York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could go out in a single footwear suitable for pitching new company or heading out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was actually a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker seems a lot 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 a variety of styles, materials, colors and states of wear.
Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute an essential section 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 own, personal once-beloved wingtips are gathering dust, 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 New York City. In the 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 the Louboutin guy?” asked Tom Kalenderian, the store’s executive v . p . of men’s, discussing consumers of traditional dress shoes and the ones seeking designer Christian Louboutin’s studded sneaks.)
How did we obtain here following that? A confluence of things tend to be at play. First, dress codes are becoming increasingly relaxed in 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 and the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the purchase price, more designers have begun watching the industry.
Though luxury brands have already been making sneakers ever since the development 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 course. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker with a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle within the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it because it was wearable. It didn’t look like that you were wearing running sneakers along with your suit or smart trousers. That led to numerous others entering the arena.”
That features folks you’d assume would sniff at the very concept of Brand Shoes. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several types of sneakers, including $790 to $1,090. This spring, venerable footwear brand Berluti also launched sneakers, all priced over $one thousand, some in suede among others in their signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker in the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running sneakers for $925. “If I went back five years with time and believed to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in 5 years, you’ll possess a suede athletic shoes,’ they will have laughed me from the showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every single man-despite his aesthetic. “You don’t should be wearing a pair of drop-crotch sweatpants to get wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can wear them 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 at all, donned sneakers with this year’s Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. While in formal clothes, he was quoted saying, “wearing sneakers is actually a way of dressing 08dexspky down slightly.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers using a tux. “I use a black-tie event next week and I’ll probably wear a pair of 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 invariably reason that it’s ridiculous to pay, 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 many designer sneakers are manufactured with Italian leather comparable to that utilized for dress shoes, hide that has a tendency to look more refined and stay longer in comparison to the leather of mass-market versions. And while they will often take cues from cheaper 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 couple of weeks,” said King & Partners’ Mr. King. Designer versions feel nicer for extended, he added. “And they create me look a little more dressed up, 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 when there’s just one 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 shopping area in Manhasset, N.Y., “when a man wears sneakers and gets that measure of style and comfort, it’s very hard to get him back into shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling a place in the store created from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s focused on sneakers – “a temple on the category,” he explained. And the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a set of Yeezy Boosts, the Designer Shoes from the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can wear them everywhere,” he explained. “Every restaurant, every event.”