It’s no secret that trainers have stepped away from their casual-only purpose towards high-end style territories in recent years. From high-impact hi-tops to minimal low-tops, men everywhere have been exploring new ground, even teaming footwear intended for the street or track with their finest tailoring.
But it’s not just styling habits that have changed; trainers themselves have upped their game, with handcrafted sneakers made using premium materials increasingly dominating the men’s footwear market.
So, how did it happen? When did we start seeing trainers as smart rather than just sports-appropriate?
The Luxury Trainer: Then & Now
There was a time, not too long ago, when no self-respecting gentleman would be caught dead in a pair of trainers unless at the gym or on his downtime. Or at the very least, he certainly wouldn’t have paired bright white hi-tops with a slim-fitting navy suit.
“[It’s partly] a conscious lifestyle change towards healthier living, and a cultural shift in attitude towards what is considered acceptable in terms of casual attire,” says Dawn C L Pedersen, fashion trend forecaster at TRENDZOOM.
“Outward signs of being relaxed, confident and in control have manifested into leisure-related clothing and comfort-centric footwear. Quality trainers have become the smarter option; they are comfortable, effortless, easy to style and relatively ageless.”
Designers, too, have played their part in helping trainers take centre stage (court?). With luxury labels such as Lanvin, Valentino and even Tom Ford each trying their hand at creating the ‘it’ style – often in a majority-pleasing neutral hue such as white or grey with minimal detailing – it’s little surprise that traditional sports brands such as Nike and adidas have had to step up their efforts.
“The new breed of luxury trainers aren’t glued,” explains Pedersen. “They’re hand-stitched and fabrics are of premium quality. So, in effect, what started as a low-key footwear option has ended up as the current status symbol for men, with a price tag to match.”
But what’s got us shelling out – in some cases – thousands for styles of footwear that traditionally belong in a kit bag rather than on a runway?
“Trainer fetishism has been around for a long time,” says Pedersen. “It began with the ‘limited edition’ and sports star-endorsed trainers, continuing through to designer collaborations and – over the past few years – the luxury designer trainer, [owing to] innovative designers like Jeremy Scott, Bernhard Willhelm, Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens.”
These designers blazed the trail, lifting trainers from their humble origins to a much higher platform:
“They designed extreme footwear that deconstructed the look and feel of traditional models, and ultimately made us question what we could expect from trainers. It moved the conversation as far away from sportswear as you can get, and elevated the trainer into the high-end product that’s around today.”
adidas x Rick Owens
But not everyone is entirely sold on the trend:
“I don’t like the feeling of having to break in my trainers as I would my British chunky lace-ups,” says Karlmond Tag, blogger and founder of Mr. Boy, referring to luxe trainers’ leather insoles. “I’d say it’s becoming more of a trend because men are more and more willing to spend more on their clothing and accessories, and high-end footwear is a great place to start.”
Despite these reservations, Tang still applauds Lanvin’s suede textured sneakers and Bottega Veneta’s intrecciato-woven leather styles for their smart fusion of low-key and luxury.
And it’s not just top-tier labels and sports giants creating premium kicks; plenty of independent brands are muscling in on the action too. London-based Blood Brother – known for its slick monochrome streetwear – is set to take its first step into the footwear market for autumn/winter 2015.
“Guys are putting a lot of effort into sourcing unique styles, limited editions and new brands,” says Nicholas Biela, Blood Brother’s co-founder and head designer. “With Pitt [Blood Brother’s hotly anticipated debut trainer], we’re not creating a new style but reinforcing the importance of the most essential item in the casual footwear market in our own way.”
Fine Italian leather, thick suede and reinforced neoprene are just some of the premium materials the label is fashioning footwear with this coming season.
Blood Brother AW15
Blood Brother AW15
How To Wear
As visually impressive as high-end trainers are, when it comes to wearing them things can get tricky. Some look too luxe for a thrown-on T-shirt and jeans combo, while many are just too definitively casual to pair with tailoring.
So how should you style your high-end sports shoes in 2015?
Although it’s not a look all men will appreciate, teaming sneakers with your suit is a thing. The key is in keeping your choice of trainer minimal, so steer towards subtly styled leather low tops and slip-ons in neutral hues. It won’t always be appropriate (that important client meeting, for example) but it will lend your tailoring a casual, up-to-the-minute edge.
Once you’ve built up a bit more confidence, you could try switching in a statement style; options range from bold hues to exotic materials (snakeskin, pony hair etc.) to metal hardware. Such styles take no prisoners, so it’s best to make them the focal point of your look by paring everything else back.
“Sometimes premium basics like a white T-shirt and some navy cropped chinos are all you need to show off a pair of luxury trainers,” says Tang. It’s especially true of sportier running-style trainers or models plastered in prints – keep the remainder of your look wallflower by comparison to really let your feet do the talking.
Image: Valentino SS13
As important as savvy styling is, care is also crucial. Luxe trainers will need dedicated TLC just as much as your brogues or monk-straps: “Dirt from your Friday night at the pub should be brushed off the next morning,” advises Tang.
Not only that, but if you’re adding leather, suede or hair styles to your collection, then you’ll need to care for each appropriately. That means regularly wiping and cleaning leather styles with leather cleaner, and remembering to brush suede and pony hair as well as treat with a quality protectant.
- Filling Pieces Leguano Snake-effect Leather And Nubuck Sneakers
- John Lobb Leather Low-top Sneakers
- Saint Laurent Leather Sneakers
- Rick Owens + Adidas Suede Sneakers
- Balenciaga Leather Slip-on Sneakers
- Gucci Suede And Watersnake-trimmed Leather Sneakers
- Common Projects Tournament Low Leather Bordeaux
- Etq. Perforated Panel Runner Microchip
- Y-3 Retro Boost Roundel Blue
- Adidas Adidas X Raf Simons Navy Stan Smith Sneakers
- Maison Margiela Replica Panelled Leather And Suede Sneakers
- Bottega Veneta Dodger 2 Slip-on Sneaker
- Lanvin Low Top Suede Basket Trainers
- Valentino Rockrunner Camouflage-print Trainers
- Ami Panelled Suede Running Trainers
Although luxury trainers are riding a high wave right now, their on-trend appeal has been a long time coming – and it doesn’t look set to sink any time soon.
So what are your thoughts on the neo-casual style of footwear? Will you be donning yours with a well-cut suit, if you haven’t already? Or maybe it’s all blasphemy?
Comment below to let us know.