Tennis shoes

New takes on the tennis shoe are acing it in the style stakes, says Tom Stubbs

John Lobb suede and calfskin Levah trainers
John Lobb suede and calfskin Levah trainers

Certain shoe designs resonate across the decades and the Adidas Stan Smith is one such classic. The first leather tennis shoe, it was designed in the 1960s to conform to the Lawn Tennis Association’s “all-white” regulations and renamed in 1971 following its endorsement by the then Wimbledon Champion Stan Smith. Although it went out of production, it was relaunched last year alongside a number of collaborative editions, the best of which was by Raf Simons. Take a look at the white model (£240) with forest-green trim featuring an “R” in punched perforations, or the limited-edition versions (£240) in red, blue or grey, which have just launched at Dover Street Market. Since then, a handful of brands have come up with their reinterpretation of the Derby-style tennis shoe – and not before time, as the format is ripe for reinvention.

Santoni calfskin sneakers, £250.
Santoni calfskin sneakers, £250.
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John Lobb’s new creative director Paula Gerbase chose the style to take her bold first step with the brand. The Levah (£400), new this month, is an exercise in pared-back elegance that comes in chalk, grey and navy suede and velveteen calfskin. “I wanted to create a quality non-welted shoe that brought modernity to the collection,” she says. It is beautifully made and works well with crisp chinos or jeans and a soft blazer.

Valentino Garavani calfskin trainers, £410.
Valentino Garavani calfskin trainers, £410.
Raf Simons for Adidas limited-edition leather RAF sneakers, £240.
Raf Simons for Adidas limited-edition leather RAF sneakers, £240.

Simple restraint can also be found at APC. The Jaden tennis shoe (£245), in off-white or navy calfskin with a soft calfskin lining, is based on early tennis sneakers and has APC’s signature minimalist look. Sharing this subtle sophistication is Santoni’s unlined suede Derby sneaker (£250) in mink or black. At the other end of the colour spectrum are tumbled, grained calfskin versions (£250) in sky blue or emerald green, with the sole the same colour as the upper.

 APC calfskin Jaden tennis shoes, £245.
APC calfskin Jaden tennis shoes, £245.
Bally leather sneakers, £270. 
Bally leather sneakers, £270. 

There’s more vibrancy at Car Shoe. I love what this playful Italian brand has been up to recently – taking men’s knockabout classics and injecting them with new vigour – and its sneaker (£195) mixes nylon sides, suede toes and calfskin facings in dark blue, red, cobalt blue or off-white.

Car Shoe suede, nylon and calfskin sneakers, £195.
Car Shoe suede, nylon and calfskin sneakers, £195.
Alberto Moretti calfskin and karungskin sneakers, £370.
Alberto Moretti calfskin and karungskin sneakers, £370.

Even brands better known for lavish loafers and fancy evening slippers have turned their attention to tennis shoes, interpreting them with a flourish, mostly through strong colour play or luxe embellishments. Alberto Moretti has applied a line of bright red or green karungskin to its sneaker (£370), running down the facing of the laces. A more outré version (£350) has python side panels in vivid yellow or purple. Christian Louboutin’s Gondolier (£495, pictured above) is based on its Louis Junior (but with a thinner, more flexible sole) and looks great in red canvas with a black heel and tan leather toe. Colour blocking – chocolate leather with a tan leather toe – can also be seen on Bally’s sneaker (£270, pictured bottom second from left), though the brand also has versions (£290) with three leather stripes in dark cherry or olive green, tan toecaps and hip-hop-inspired fat laces. Other key styles from fashion houses include the Valentino Garavani calfskin trainer (£410, pictured near left) with a single black stripe and studded heels, and Lanvin’s suede number (£290, pictured top second from right) with patent toe caps.

Common Projects leather Original Achilles sneakers, £265
Common Projects leather Original Achilles sneakers, £265
Christian Louboutin leather and canvas Gondolier sneakers, £495
Christian Louboutin leather and canvas Gondolier sneakers, £495

“Tennis sneakers are a design classic and updated versions using premium construction and leather are proving popular,” says Sam Lobban, senior buyer at Mr Porter. Hip under-the-radar versions to mainline include those by Common Projects (£265, pictured far left), with their almond-shaped toe, and Ann Demeulemeester’s white suede pair (£385, pictured top far left) – the additional sole-to-upper seam changes the toe, but they’re still a gorgeous Derby.

Lanvin suede and patent leather sneakers, £290.
Lanvin suede and patent leather sneakers, £290.
Mr Hare calfskin Cunningham sneakers, £320.
Mr Hare calfskin Cunningham sneakers, £320.

Marc Hare, creative director of Mr Hare, is a trainer connoisseur committed to refining the classic styles he loves while staying true to their spirit. “I have built a foam structure to support the heel cup, lace plackets and toe cage and used soft Italian calfskin, which doesn’t crack,” he says of his Cunningham (£320, pictured centre third from top). “I wanted them to look distinctive and played with Bauhaus-inspired shapes: triangles on the side, circles round the toe and a square tab on the heel collar. Boom!” Such flourishes are faithful to what tennis shoe style represents, he asserts: “These shoes have long been blank canvases for youth and street culture. Look at late-1970s New York, when hip-hop expressed its larger-than-life attitude through fat laces and graffiti embellishments. There wasn’t a lot of tennis happening in the Bronx in ’79.”

Ann Demeulemeester suede sneakers, £385.
Ann Demeulemeester suede sneakers, £385.
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Indeed, there may not be a racquet in sight, but you’ll see plenty of these shoes in the coming months.

Hotfoot it to Melbourne’s futuristic trainer gallery, Sneakerboy, for an unmatched selection of designer styles, or check outpremium kitthat bridges the gap between sport and style.

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