Luxe sneakers step it up

Compelling new variations of sneakers are making a statement-luxury stand, says Tom Stubbs

Harrys of London leather Bolt sneakers, £395
Harrys of London leather Bolt sneakers, £395

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.

Gucci leather Ace sneakers, £450
Gucci leather Ace sneakers, £450

“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.”

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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).

Tod’s neoprene/leather Scuba sneakers, £390
Tod’s neoprene/leather Scuba sneakers, £390

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.

From left: Giuseppe Zanotti suede/leather Unfinished sneakers, £715. Brunello Cucinelli suede sneakers, £610
From left: Giuseppe Zanotti suede/leather Unfinished sneakers, £715. Brunello Cucinelli suede sneakers, £610

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.

Berluti alligator leather Playtime Palermo sneakers, £5,750
Berluti alligator leather Playtime Palermo sneakers, £5,750

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. 

JM Weston calfskin Bleu Klein sneakers, £430
JM Weston calfskin Bleu Klein sneakers, £430

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. 

Clockwise from top: Santoni calfskin Garden of Eden sneakers, £420. Jimmy Choo waxed-leather Argyle sneakers, £550. Dior Homme calfskin sneakers, £640
Clockwise from top: Santoni calfskin Garden of Eden sneakers, £420. Jimmy Choo waxed-leather Argyle sneakers, £550. Dior Homme calfskin sneakers, £640

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.

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