From low-key creations by the New York sneaker label Common Projects to more eccentric statement trainers by shoe designers Giuseppe Zanotti, Christian Louboutin and Louis Leeman, luxury sports-inspired styles are where footwear’s fashion interest is currently focused. The appetite is global and the choice extensive, ranging from high-tops, tennis shoes and running-influenced silhouettes to this season’s favourite: the skate-inspired trainer.
“Fashion sneakers are the statement piece of the moment, and the growth is explosive,” says Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. “Guys are starting their look with them and then working their way up.” In February, Saks launched a men’s in-store concept called SneAKS at its New York flagship and 15 other US locations. This homage to the elevated trainer includes a number of labels, in particular Lanvin and Pierre Hardy, Adidas’s collaborations with Raf Simons and Opening Ceremony, and special sneakers created for Saks by brands such as Bally and DSquared2. “We are the only US department store going after the luxe-sneaker business with a specially designed concept.”
Although Jennings himself owns many pairs of trainers, the Lanvin model with a signature patent toecap remains one of his favourites. This style has come to be considered a classic for the Paris house, present in its footwear collection ever since Lucas Ossendrijver arrived as creative director of Lanvin Homme in 2005 and introduced them. Today, the Lanvin collection has grown to 20 styles, including the cross trainer, added for autumn/winter 2013, while the latest incarnation of the classic features large circular perforations on the upper (€370). “I have always had a soft spot for trainers,” explains Ossendrijver. “They are items you can relate to whether you are young or old. They are easy to mix with clothes, never too serious. Attention to detail always pushes me to innovate and find new solutions, such as using noble materials or broadening the range of colours without overshadowing the personality of the wearer. Feeling comfortable in what you have on is what matters to me.”
Sam Lobban, senior buyer for Mr Porter, which carries more than 20 men’s sneaker brands, considers Lanvin, Balenciaga and, more recently, Valentino to be among the drivers of the trainer boom. He says that five years ago sneakers were “a younger man’s thing”, but are no longer considered age‑specific. “This shows the depth and breadth of the sneaker as a key element of modern menswear,” he says. “Anyone can wear them, as the huge variety of shapes and styles means there is a sneaker to work with every aesthetic. For us, this really is a global trend and a growing one, and from a commercial perspective it is the most important aspect of our footwear business. “I also don’t think that you can talk about the broader sneaker trend without referencing some of the amazing products Nike has been putting out over the past few years,” he concludes, adding that Mr Porter is a Nike Tier Zero account, which means it carries super-limited-edition shoes.
Sneakerboy may sound like the moniker of a young hipster blogger, but Chris Kyvetos’s creation is in fact an innovative retail concept dedicated to trainers. Kyvetos, previously a creative director and buyer at the Australian department store Harrolds, launched a website in July 2013, and his first store on Melbourne’s Little Bourke Street opened two months later. This citadel for sneakers, with an average price of £300, offers special lines, limited-edition collections and pre-releases by Adidas, Nike and Reebok and creations by Balenciaga, Common Projects, Giuseppe Zanotti and Rick Owens. Its current bestseller comes from the latter. However, Kyvetos says he’s also betting on a new US-based brand, Buscemi. “You come in, browse, purchase on a mobile or handheld device, like in an Apple store, and then the order gets delivered within three to five days using the logistics of online retail,” he says. It’s all happened very quickly for Kyvetos. After Melbourne, Sneakerboy launched in Sydney in December, followed by a pop-up at Westfield Sydney six days later. However, he says that it is the online sales in Asia and interest from the US and UK via the website that have really caught him by surprise.
The global growth of luxury trainers for men has impacted the Middle East as much as Australia. According to Graham Cassidy, trend manager at Dubai’s Level Shoe District, the Adidas/Rick Owens, Adidas/Raf Simons and Puma/McQ collaborations – as well as intriguing styles by Valentino Garavani, Alejandro Ingelmo, Giuseppe Zanotti and Louis Leeman – are all “leading the way for men’s luxury sneakers” and can be found at the store this season.
At Selfridges, buying manager for men’s shoes Luke Mountain says there’s been unprecedented demand for luxury trainers, with £350-plus Balenciaga sneakers, for example, selling at an average of 50 pairs a week. He also tips more streamlined shapes, such as Raf Simons’ Adidas runners (£230), as hot tickets. As a result, Selfridges plans to expand its offering in this category by over 300 per cent, with more brands and an emphasis on niche product. There’s the introduction of LA-based Creative Recreation and ETQ Amsterdam (the latter exclusive to Selfridges in the UK), together with increased investment in some of the department store’s best-performing trainer labels: Giuseppe Zanotti, Givenchy and Balenciaga. “Simply put,” he says, “the trainer was the undisputed star of 2013 and that shows no signs of abating – we’re seeing demand increase by the week. The beauty of the trainer is its versatility, and there’s almost no aesthetic that doesn’t look good with a sports shoe right now.” In March, Selfridges concentrated on a store-wide skate-and-surf theme entitled Board Games that included special bespoke shoes for both men and women, some of which had skate-inspired silhouettes.
Over at Mr Porter, Lobban is also betting that the slip-on skate shoe will be “the big new style of sneaker for summer 2014”. This is reflected in the number of brands on the site offering takes on the design: Lanvin, Saint Laurent and Common Projects, with exclusive Maison Martin Margiela skate shoes recently released. It isn’t the only UK-based retailer offering special editions this season. While Lanvin, Valentino and Balenciaga are all key in the line-up at Matchesfashion.com, alongside the new addition of Miami-based Alejandro Ingelmo (£493), it also stocks a special collaboration between Common Projects and emerging US designer Tim Coppens comprising high-tops (£526) and skate shoes. Dover Street Market has plumped for the original when it comes to the skate culture and has a special Vans/Gosha style (£170), as well as its own collaboration with Common Projects (£285).
Clearly, Common Projects is enjoying widespread international popularity. The brainchild of Flavio Girolami and Prathan Poopat, the brand launched in 2004 with its first low-top sneaker, the Achilles, Article 1528. Renamed the Original Achilles, it is still the company’s bestseller, available at around 300 stores worldwide. “I think in a market where we’re constantly being bombarded by products that are screaming for attention, Common Projects is subtle,” says Poopat. “There’s a power to that. Everything in the market is about what’s new. We concentrate on making things feel like they’ve always been there, and I reckon that resonates with our audience. The sneakers themselves are designed to be timeless and are made with the finest materials in Italy, and that also helps.”
Former Office managing director-turned-footwear consultant Richard Wharton is a fan. “I’m a 52-year-old man and if I had to wear any trainers, they would be by Common Projects – what I consider to be street couture.” He says that this more discreet aesthetic is also the appeal behind other labels, such as the Swedish Eytys, Dutch ETQ Amsterdam, French National Standard or indeed Feit, designed by Australian-born Tull Price. Based in New York, he set up the sneaker brand Royal Elastics aged 20, sold it in 2003 and now divides his time between working on Feit and on Rag & Bone’s footwear collection.
Trainers also feature as a key component in some lesser-known men’s ready-to-wear collections. Take Alexandre Mattiussi, creator of French firm Ami, which launched in 2011. He has included trainers – both high- (from £365) and low-tops (£295) – since the label’s first collection, and trainers now sell to many of his brand’s international stockists, as well as in the Ami flagship on Paris’s Boulevard Beaumarchais. “We all wear trainers. They’re a cool and elegant classic, and white is the most popular colour,” says the designer, who last year won the prestigious Andam prize, awarded by the Association Nationale de Développement des Arts de la Mode to recognise outstanding fashion designers.
Then, there are shoe labels such as Giuseppe Zanotti, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo (£475), first known for their creations for women, which now have men’s collections and trainer lines. Zanotti’s very first men’s offering came in 2010: a high-top sneaker with double-sided zips offered in two colour combinations, with or without a smattering of studs. Such is the success of Zanotti’s sneakers that they now sell in 350 shops around the world.
Alexis Murot, Christian Louboutin’s group COO and general manager, reveals that the brand’s sneakers, which were launched three years ago, now account for 50 per cent of sales of the men’s collection, and the selection is available in 52 of the 87 Christian Louboutin stores worldwide. He says there’s as much of an appetite for trainers that are classic and understated, such as those that walked E Tautz’s London catwalk show in January, as there is for more elaborate styles such as the Rantus Orlato Python Faience at £1,345.
Louboutin and E Tautz weren’t the only ones to showcase sneakers at London Collections: Men. Newcomer Louis Leeman chose London to launch his autumn/winter 2014 collection, including an update of his bestselling high-top with the metal toecap (£566), while running-inspired sneakers in Quality Street wrapper metallics (£170) featured on the runway at Richard Nicoll. Together, they put out a strong signal that designer sneakers will be central to menswear for many months to come.