Black and white trainers

The new class of monochrome sneakers is driven by premium materials and construction – and has never looked better, says Mark C O’Flaherty. Photography by Omer Knaz

Clockwise from top left: Issey Miyake leather Fly Front Metals, £515. Wings + Horns leather trainers, $490. Adidas x Raf Simons leather Stan Smiths, £225. Christian Louboutin calfskin Bip Bips, £545
Clockwise from top left: Issey Miyake leather Fly Front Metals, £515. Wings + Horns leather trainers, $490. Adidas x Raf Simons leather Stan Smiths, £225. Christian Louboutin calfskin Bip Bips, £545 | Image: Omer Knaz

While the shelves of sports-shoe brands are stocked with lurid, fever-dream patterned trainers that seem to have danced straight from the pages of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, the sneaker-shoe hybrid that comes flourish-free, in black and white, continues to make an impact on sophisticated men’s style. It isn’t for the jogging track – it’s something to wear not only with chinos and jeans, but also with the unstructured suit, a honing of the iconic monochrome all-leather Converse Chuck Taylor for the next generation. “The rise of the monochrome trainer stems from how men are changing the way they dress,” confirms head of menswear at Matchesfashion.com, Damien Paul. “Increasingly, they aren’t required to dress as formally for the office, so we’ve seen a blurring of the lines between workwear and off-duty clothes. Common Projects and Eytys, with its signature Mother sneakers in black canvas [£90, pictured], are our go-to brands for sophisticated trainers. They are fuss-free and feel really modern.”

Indeed, the luxe monochrome trainer found its feet when designers Flavio Girolami and Prathan Poopat launched their Common Projects brand 12 years ago. Their prosaic black and white sneakers found immediate favour with men who were unimpressed by sportswear’s perennial youth fixation and wore them with everything from Alexander McQueen to Zegna and appreciated not only the style, but the quality. “We use an Italian dress-shoe factory for construction and source the finest materials,” says Poopat. “Our first offerings were black, white and grey and worked with everything. Our new spring collection is in homage to that idea – we have produced the Original Achilles [£329, pictured], the first shoe we ever made, with a gold-foil 10-year mark on the inside tongue.”

Another pioneering brand in this field is Feit, which specialises in limited edition designs. It hails from Sydney, but is now stocked at Dover Street Market and has two standalone stores in downtown New York. You’d be unlikely to wear Feit to the gym, but co-founder Tull Price was behind the innovative Velcro- and elastic-fastening Royal Elastics trainer line, and knows a thing or two about how to cut comfortable athletic-inspired footwear. His high-end Feit designs are the ultimate hybrid of court sneaker and formal shoe. “We make use of horsehide and our shoes are made more like a dress shoe than a sneaker,” says Price. “We are driven by construction, not embellishment – the designs are minimal.” The Hand Sewn Low semi-cordovan ($600) in white is pleasingly modernist. As is the new season Biotrainer ($600) in black, using slow-tanned horsehide.

Clockwise from top left: Common Projects leather Original Achilles, £329. Eytys canvas Mother trainers, £90. Valentino Garavani calfskin trainers, £400. Rick Owens calfskin Cyclops Island Dunk pull-ons, £616. Cos leather sneakers, £79
Clockwise from top left: Common Projects leather Original Achilles, £329. Eytys canvas Mother trainers, £90. Valentino Garavani calfskin trainers, £400. Rick Owens calfskin Cyclops Island Dunk pull-ons, £616. Cos leather sneakers, £79 | Image: Omer Knaz

The more directional menswear brands have also embraced the monochrome trainer, which acts as a pared-back counterpoint to unconventional proportions and loose cuts – working better than a traditional dress shoe. You’ll often find the simplest, most appealing black or white trainer at Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto, while Issey Miyake has had a plain black or white Fly Front sneaker, featuring side panels that mask the lacing, for several seasons. This spring’s all-black Fly Front Metal (£515, pictured) with a cowhide upper is especially smart. Ditto the chunkier offerings at Rick Owens – his now-classic Cyclops Geobasket high-top (£656) comes in all-white with a black outline on the tongue, while the all-black Cyclops Island Dunk pull-on (£616, pictured) has a tough shark-tooth rubber sole and two large eyelet details, combining comfort with statement looks.

The monochrome sneaker has also been refined to work with more tailored offerings. Wings + Horns is a Canadian menswear label known for the clean look of its footwear – its leather trainer ($490, pictured) is perfection. “A classic white sneaker is the foundation of our footwear,” says creative director Tung Vo. “A new class of sneaker has emerged in the past few years, driven by premium materials and construction.” Likewise, Cos features a simple white leather sneaker (£79, pictured) in its spring line that goes with pretty much everything. “It’s an effortless, striking and modern way to dress,” says Martin Anderson, head of Cos menswear design. “It transcends barriers of sport and elegance – it’s super-versatile.”

Some of the best black and white sneakers come from the big-name designers who seasonally retread the style – there’s always a simple white sneaker at Maison Margiela, for instance, while the Valentino Garavani calfskin trainers (£400, pictured) have rapidly become an iconic element of the brand – a white shoe with a white sole and bold stripe over the bridge that has the feeling of a piece of 1960s minimalist American art.

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Even Christian Louboutin, the king of glamorously outré footwear, has introduced something more restrained and reductionist for spring: the all-white high-top Bip Bip (£545, pictured) is pure and wonderful, with lines around the panelling that feel almost architectural. Meanwhile, on the high street, Adidas continues to collaborate with fashion’s visionaries to create some of the most modern sporting shoes on the market; most recently Raf Simons has refreshed the classic, stark Stan Smith – so familiar to generations of schoolboys – with a subtle perforated “R” detail (£225, pictured), while the original Stan Smith has just been reissued in pure white on white (£67).

This new black and white mood for the sports-inspired shoe falls in line with what men actually want in their wardrobe right now, and what they can credibly wear when they aren’t in a band or under 25. Rick Owens believes that we’re all exhausted by the fuss and fanfare of busy design. “I love extravagance,” says the designer, renowned for wearing head-to-toe black, “but like all things in fashion, the eye tires of so much effort, and goes back to clean logic and ease.”

 

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