TONY KING CAN recall an irksome time, some years ago, as he would constantly swap his Designer Shoes for a convenient set of Converse All-Stars through the entire workday, according to whether he was leading an important meeting or overseeing a comparatively laid-back photo shoot. “I was always changing,” he said.
That stopped around 2008, when Mr. King, 43, bought his first kind of Common Projects leather sneakers. Suddenly, the CEO and inventive director of the latest York-based digital agency King & Partners, whose clients include 3.1 Phillip Lim, could go out in one footwear suitable for pitching business or going out for Peronis. Bonus: They encased his feet so painlessly he could walk anywhere.
“It was really a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker that appears a lot more like a shoe but is comfortable such as 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 a crucial 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 own once-beloved wingtips are getting dusty, forsaken for some 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 New York. Inside a 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 and also 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 things are at play. First, dress codes have grown to be increasingly relaxed over the past decade-remember when sneakers weren’t allowed in night clubs?-enabling more creativity and freedom. Second, as designer-sneaker sales have ticked up along with the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the cost, more designers have begun paying attention to the industry.
Though luxury brands have already been making sneakers because the advent 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 having a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle in the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it since it was wearable. It didn’t seem like you have been 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 in the very thought of Sexy Shoes Women. Tom Ford-who launched his menswear label with stores staffed by butlers and uniformed maids-now makes several kinds of sneakers, which range from $790 to $1,090. This spring, venerable footwear brand Berluti also launched sneakers, all priced over $one thousand, some in suede yet others within its signature burnished patina leather.
Italian maker in the ne plus ultra in cashmere, Loro Piana, has low-key velvety suede running footwear for $925. “If I went back five years soon enough and believed to the guys at Loro Piana, ‘I predict in five years, you’ll have a suede running footwear,’ they would have laughed me out of your showroom,” said Mr Porter’s Mr. Bateman.
Now there’s a sneaker for every man-regardless of his aesthetic. “You don’t need to be wearing a set of drop-crotch sweatpants to be wearing [designer] sneakers,” said Barneys’ Mr. Kalenderian. “You can use them using a gorgeous suit and appear similar to a million bucks.”
Some, more controversially, even pair these with a tuxedo. Bally design director Pablo Coppola, who said he no longer wears dress shoes by any means, donned sneakers just for this year’s Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably Manhattan’s most prominent social event. When in formal clothes, he was quoted saying, “wearing sneakers can be a means of dressing 08dexspky down somewhat.” Michael Schulson, Philadelphia-based chef and owner of restaurants Sampan and Graffiti Bar, also advocates sneakers having a tux. “I possess 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, others can’t. It’s not for everyone.”
To go back to those galling prices, some men will invariably argue that it’s ridiculous to spend, 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 on par with that useful for dress shoes, hide that is likely to look more refined and stay longer compared to the leather of mass-market versions. And while they may take cues from more affordable 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 much longer, he added. “And they create me look a little more decked out, like I put more effort in than [just lacing on] a pair of Converse.”
Will the designer sneaker trend soon exhaust your steam? Perhaps. However, if there’s one particular factor cementing its devote menswear, it’s comfort. “No matter what occurs 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 measure of style and comfort, it’s tough to get him back in shoes.”
Mr. Sills has put his money where his mouth is, recently unveiling an area within the store created from Carrera marble, steel and glass that’s committed to sneakers – “a temple on the category,” he was quoted saying. As well as the retailer himself has swapped his stiff-soled Aldens for a set of Yeezy Boosts, the Brand Shoes through the high-end collaboration between Adidas and Kanye West. “You can put them on everywhere,” he explained. “Every restaurant, every event.”