Luxury ready meals. Luxury water. Luxury bleach. The human race has transformed plenty of everyday products into fancy, pointless abominations. But one thing it did get right was turning the humble athletic trainer into a piece of art worthy of a streetwear king (AKA someone with a six figure Insta following).
The high street may be failing, but high-end brands are continuing to flourish – especially those that make luxury sneakers. Brand sales by the likes of Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga are continuing to soar, proving that today’s generation of stunting, brand-conscious consumers is investing in premium, well-made fashion rather than wear-once-and-throw-away pieces. And the luxury sneaker is at the heart of it all.
Every brand worth its salt has created one – from traditional Northampton shoemakers to century-old Parisian fashion houses, and it’s been a key contributor to the casual direction menswear is firmly committed to. In short, you need a pair. But if you don’t know your Jordans from your John Lobbs, you might want to get your feet stuck into our guide to the slickest luxury sneaker brands you can invest in right now.
Credit cards/second mortgage at the ready.
The world’s biggest trendsetters kicked off the embroidery revolution about four years ago, and it hasn’t slowed down since. Made in Italy, its most popular low-top white Ace sneakers feature either the brand’s iconic bee emblem – introduced in the 1970s – or a snake in the red, green and gold Gucci colourway.
These much-imitated shoes are the eternally on-trend sneakers that go with virtually everything in your wardrobe, from raw selvedge denim jeans and a plain white tee, to dressing down your summer suits.
Nice shoes from Stockholm. Surprise surprise. CQP’s (Conversations & Quintessential Products) premium kicks are designed in Sweden, and handmade in Portugal, and certainly fit the bill. You’ll most likely spot its Racquet collection, low tops commonly featuring a canvas side panel, 100% Italian suede toe and tongue, and waxed cotton laces.
Alternatively, there’s the Tarmac line, a smarter quarter-top style made with the same quality suede but with a 100% calf leather lining and arch support with several layers of cushioning. The next best thing to wearing pillows on your feet.
Some brands stick to one shape and that’s that. Not Axel Arigato. To this Swedish brand, variety is everything.
From the uber casual basketball-inspired Court hi-top, the signature Clean coming in zip-up and laceless options, to the futuristically functional Tech Runner, Axel’s lavish leather-infused lineup is a one-stop shop for all sneaker lovers, bringing art students and sports nuts together in perfect harmony. They did it. World peace at last.
A brand immersed in history, with trainers from the future. It’s an unusual combination, and for a company nearly a century old Balenciaga is continuing to shock the world with its innovative designs.
The oversized Triple S sneakers are the most iconic of the Spanish fashion house’s footwear styles, manufactured with superior nubuck and mesh, proudly boasting the brand logo towards the back, with that divisive triple-stacked sole jutting out. They are kings of the chunky trainer trend.
This isn’t the only avant-garde style the brand has though, as they’ve also jumped on the sock-meets-shoe hype with the Speed trainer. This alternative silhouette showcases more practical properties, with a memory sole and comfortable shock-absorbing technology.
One of the most instantly recognisable silhouettes on the market today, mainly because they’re so clean you could eat your dinner off them. But there’s another reason why Common Projects are so noticeable: the gold foil style code stamped on the heel, each unique one signifying the colour, code and size of the shoe.
It’s this little detail that makes the American-Italian label such a cult purchase; the fact that they’re expertly crafted in Italy, come in on-trend pastel colour ways like blush pink and nude, and are worn by the likes of Drake and Alexander Skarsgard is just a plus.
Another footwear industry shocker: Grenson doesn’t just make brogue boots for bearded selvedge denim enthusiasts; it also makes killer sneakers in its own distinct style. You might not have even known it made its own sneakers, which is an easy mistake to make as it hasn’t been in the casual footwear game for long. This doesn’t mean the British brand is inexperienced, however.
Producing three styles, each is simply named ‘Sneaker’ followed by a number, Grenson’s takes on the casual footwear staple look extremely polished and smooth. Sneaker 1, for example, is an homage to the ‘70s tennis shoe with its simple silhouette, but it’s made premium by hand-painted calf leather, giving it an opulent feel. Sneaker 3 on the other hand fits more in-line with the brand’s traditional aesthetic, giving a low-top trainer shape brogue detailing in regal colourways.
Think Saint Laurent and you automatically envision tight leather jackets and black boots. But that’s not always the case with the French fashion house, as rock stars also have to worry about foot cramp. For those laid back days, Saint Laurent produces equally edgy and decadent trainers, with scrawled branding across its court classic low-top trainers which are crafted in canvas and available in a variety of shades.
Looking for more of a statement? Then try out its hi-tops adorned with block panelling, born to be paired with your favourite leather jacket and black jeans.
Did you ever want to leave your regular shoes behind at the bowling alley when you were a child so you could take home those vintage looking rentals? Well now you can get a pair – albeit of previously unattainable quality – without hundreds of people having worn them first. John Lobb makes seriously exquisite and spotless retro sneakers in Italy, featuring a stitched cup sole construction for durability and lightness – two qualities perfect for both the bowling alley and the sidewalk.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling (extra) flush, you can use Lobb’s By Request service and create your own bespoke trainers.
A proper heritage footwear brand, Church’s was established in 1873, yet in the 1990s the company was taken over by Prada, injecting it a fresher and more contemporary direction. Many of its sophisticated designs (the Willenhall loafer, the Walthum brogue) remained for its loyal sartorial customer base, but the brand also attracted a younger, casual consumer who wanted well-made trainers steeped in masterful craftsmanship.
You’ll find the renowned Church’s logo on the tongue of its luxury sneakers like the Mirfield, with its silhouette resembling a Derby shoe. It also features a refined Nevada leather like the company’s formal styles, showing that Church’s has shifted with the times while maintaining its roots.
Italian man-behind-the-brand, Mr Brunello Cucinelli describes himself as “part businessman, part philosopher and park monk”. Although best known for its cashmere and exemplary tailoring, the brand’s retro trainers are pristine to say the least (but please don’t run in them; nurse them as if they were your own child).
Hand-milled, made in Italy, 100% leather, and with each style featuring intricate detailing, these shoes have it all. You’ll feel even better about purchasing such extravagant footwear too, as Brunello donates 20% of his profits to charity.
Founder of AMI Alexandre Matiussi has worked at Marc Jacobs, Dior and Givenchy, before starting his own streetwear-worshipped brand in Paris in 2011. Just that small sentence there would be enough for most to gain trust in AMI’s sneakers without actually seeing them. And your trust would’ve paid off, because these kicks are special indeed.
AMI’s most identifiable trainers are the Lucky 9s, a neoprene inner sock runner with a leather insole, sporting major Back To The Future vibes with its ‘80s colourways and ridged shape. But if you’re looking for something quieter to go with your everyday staples, the equally throwback three-strap sneakers with embroidered AMI at the heel will do.
Berluti’s ethos is that ‘you cannot be elegant if you are not comfortable and well-shod.’ This message is clearly evident by looking at the Parisian brand’s shoes.
The hi-top Fast Track is like a runner/hiking boot hybrid, but instead of being chased out like a Frankenstein monstrosity it has been heralded as a modern masterpiece. The mashup consists of a glazed calf leather upper and Vanezia leather detailing, but it’s the technical qualities like memory-foam insoles and anti-slip notched soles that gives the shoe substance as well as style.
But if it’s more substance you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Lizard and alligator leather are just some of the exotic materials produced by the brand, with extra detailing coming from fine line engraving.
Expensive sneakers don’t just have to be for self-entitled teenagers using daddy’s credit card; they can also be for the sophisticated gentleman who has a drinks trolley full of rare bourbons in his study. Jigsaw, founded in Brighton in 1970, doesn’t lend itself to trends or fads. Instead it makes luxury sneakers you could’ve worn last season, this season, and next season. Simple and timeless, the brand’s signature low-tops are made of 100% leather in Portugal, boast gunmetal eyelets as well as durable rubber soles.
If you’re of the smart casual persuasion (T-shirt and trainers with a coloured suit), these luxe but inexpensive kicks are for you. High street prices with an upmarket design – what more could you want?