Listen to this article
Strappy, pedicure-revealing sandals may be making news on the spring/summer 2014 runways and Sarah Jessica Parker may be teaming up with Manolo Blahnik to create a line of emphatically feminine footwear but this season’s trendiest shoes haven’t been designed around a delicate last or spindly heel height.
On store floors right now – and selling fast – are a new breed of deliberately chunky, bulky shoes, inspired by men’s footwear but made for designer-label-buying women, typically in luxurious skins with exaggerated, extra-thick soles.
“They’re definitely not feminine. It’s something I was a little nervous about but we’ve had a fantastic reaction,” says Jasmin Sanya, shoe buyer at Harvey Nichols, which carries styles by brands such as Toga and Maison Martin Margiela MM6. “It’s a bit of a change in trends. There’s a nod to menswear and comfort.”
There is also the seasonal shift; it’s no coincidence that these shoes are resonating now. “The big shoe really goes along with the bulkiness that fall has to offer,” says stylist June Ambrose, who also creates a shoe collection for HSN in America. “Now is when you wear your blanket coats and your cable-knit sweaters. A big, chunky shoe creates balance.”
These new shoes – in effect fashion’s latest take on functional options such as Uggs, Doc Martens and Birkenstocks – are more about wearability than femininity. Indeed, many are essentially designer “brothel creepers”, such as the black suede versions by Karl Lagerfeld (£289) and Robert Clergerie’s black leather with mod white stitching (£365). Prada has mounted leopard-print loafers on to a flat platform surrounded by studs (from Barneys NY, $690) and its sister line MiuMiu has black and zebra print with an exaggerated black lug sole (£420). Isabel Marant, whose wedge sneakers helped inspire the trend, has created boots that resemble a cross between Uggs and Timberlands (£440).
Arguably this season’s most ubiquitous clunky style is a boxy skate sneaker inspired by the Vans canvas slip-ons often associated with surfers. Céline added a twist to these a few seasons ago, topping their bouncy white soles with exotic skins, and a trend was born. “A shoe like Céline’s gives you height but it’s still very comfortable,” says Ambrose. “But with an edge.”
And that edge is now available in a range of price points. Givenchy is offering trainers in black leather embellished with crystals (£455); Marc by Marc Jacobs has them in lace-covered leather (£230) and two-tone calf hair (£275); while stylist Katie Grand included white-soled trainers topped in black patent leather (£235) in her collaboration with Hogan. Kurt Geiger also has an option, the Londres, available in several finishes including a black leather crocodile-print (£85). The American web retailer Shopbop has been doing well with such styles, reordering upscale sneakers from brands such as Vince (whose Blair slip-on, £197, is covered in calf hair) multiple times.
“It’s this comfort element, and it’s a little bit more casual,” says Stephanie Nelson, the site’s accessories buyer. “Everything goes in waves and we’re on one of casual comfort right now.”
Yet, insists marketing consultant Nancy Carlson, these shoes “are fashion – they’re definitely not athletic shoes. They make you feel polished, that you have something special on. If I were meeting a friend for cocktails, I wouldn’t feel out of place at all.”
Julie Macklowe, founder and chief executive of the brand Vbeauté, has been wearing luxe sneakers, even with evening wear – she wore a pair of gold Louis Vuitton trainers with a Prada dress to the Style Awards gala last week. She says: “It makes my life so much more pleasurable – I’m not soaking my feet in ice buckets at the end of the day. If you can look cool and also be comfortable, it is a win-win trend.”
Brooke Jaffe, Bloomingdale’s fashion director, says: “Relaxed comfort is king. It is really interesting how this has been embraced by customers. They love these shoes.”