In the past year the iconic London boutique Browns has introduced over 15 new sneaker brands into its inventory, which now sit cheek-by-jowl with its luxury shoe marques. “The luxury sneaker is one of our fastest growing categories,” says Lee Goldup, menswear buyer at Browns. “From entry-price-point Vans, through to Gucci and Valentino, the demand has increased dramatically for us.
“The tennis shoe silhouette is really what started this trend with the return of the Adidas Stan Smith,” he continues. “Our customers are now choosing a more casual approach to dressing, opting to wear a pair of sneakers with tailored trousers or smart jeans.”
Highlights channelling the Stan Smith theme at Browns include Gucci’s Ace low-top sneakers (£450) emblazoned with a band of the fashion house’s green and red stripe; an attention-grabbing black and white striped shoe by Off-White (£355); Dolce & Gabbana’s butter-soft leather London sneakers with a black suede heel (£525); and, bringing a bit of American nostalgia, Golden Goose’s Deluxe Brand Superstar leather distressed sneakers with a silver star motif (£290).
Browns is not alone in endorsing the classic tennis pump shoe shape – There are also styles aimed at the more classically inclined. Jimmy Choo has new Argyle high-top models (£475), whose DNA owes much to old-style baseball boots, yet with a cushioned rubber soul and hiking-style D-rings; even in embossed velvet they manage to seem a bit knock-about, like a rock-climbing boot. A waxed-leather version (£550) is simpler, with shearling lining peeking out from the binding and tongue. (Indeed, fur appears to be a luxe sneaker thing, with Harrys of London doing a cool suede and chinchilla high-top number, £1,200, and Tod’s All Dots runner style, £440, featuring a deft bit of suede shearling trimming.) Similarly restrained style is embodied in suede high-tops (£610) from Brunello Cucinelli, which have sneaker credentials thanks to their all-around rubber sole, but also draw on desert-boot detailing. Berluti’s black alligator retro tennis pumps (£5,750), carry the marque’s “scarification” motif in the form of a cut running parallel to the laces. At a glance they pass for a pair of black Stan Smiths that have acquired an unusual patina, great stealth profile and colour and super-fly fabrication.
Former DJ Giuseppe Zanotti marries statement luxury and street culture in his higher-octane high-tops. Unfinished (£715), from the Backstage Collection, catches the eye with its thick zip-and-laces combo; I favour the grey suede, but there’s also navy, purple and electric blue for look‑at-me brightness. If the New York Dolls were still wearing sneakers, they’d wear these.
And so to one sneaker style I can unreservedly endorse for all: the classic tennis pump shape – effectively a Derby with open-end lace panels, the shoe we used to call a “cream slice”. Compelling new versions include JM Weston’s limited edition Bleu Klein design (£430), featuring white calfskin trimmed in International Klein Blue, the hue the artist Yves Klein patented in 1957; while the heel trim and tongue of Maison Corthay’s 1990 sneaker (£710) can be customised with a number of patinated contrast leathers in blue, black, purple, bronze or ochre tones – all look great as foils to white, but there are more ornate leathers available too. With its double-stitched, striped sides, this shoe remains understated even in strong colours.
The purist designs at Santoni win me over as well. The Clean IC (£300), in super-light tumbled calfskin, is unlined, unstructured and extraordinarily flexible. The DIP (£350) has more volume, a beefier sole and comes in all-black, all-white, green or burgundy. Fresh out this month, however, is a special edition sneaker (£420) featuring snakes imagined from the Garden of Eden, printed in colour on white calfskin. At Dior imagery lifted from the mosh pit is instead printed onto a slip-on, skate-style (£640); these can function as a sort of dressed-down tuxedo pump, a shoe that goes equally well with jeans, shorts or simple evening wear. More traditional Dior sneakers (£700) feature stripes, but made with a technical fabric. The lace-less Bolt sneaker (£395) from Harrys of London is a sort of boat shoe/runner hybrid, named for the solid stripe of colour that is its only embellishment; the best combination is navy and cobalt. And Tod’s Scuba (£390) in neoprene and leather is in effect a soft, slip-on sneaker – an update to go with the All Dots sneaker (£385) in high-shine leather, but which follows a more robust trail shoe form. It’s ideal with sportswear.
The point about this season’s sneakers is that it’s a wide-open field, ranging from low-key but highly crafted classics right through to look-at-me statement styles, which means even a sneaker neophyte can jump into the arena and do a little self-expressing.