Sneaker culture is a quick-footed phenomenon at the best of times, but 2020 really has put men’s trainers through their paces. Despite months of lockdown, high summer and early autumn have seen luxury brands and sportswear giants embark on an ambitious stream of tie-ups, from the teasing of Comme des Garçons’ rapid-fire collaborations with Nike and Asics, both coming next spring, to the release of Dior’s much-hyped Air Jordan 1s, which saw five million willing buyers sign up for a chance to purchase one of only 8,000 available pairs. While this collaboration is exceptional in scale, it’s a prime example of the unfailing appetite for designer sneakers – a market segment that is expected to grow substantially this year, despite the economic disruption of a pandemic.

Lanvin calfskin and rubber clay trainers, £465
Lanvin calfskin and rubber clay trainers, £465 © Ana Cuba
Tod’s suede sneakers, £430. Edwin denim ED55 jeans, £120. London Sock Company cotton socks, £12
Tod’s suede sneakers, £430. Edwin denim ED55 jeans, £120. London Sock Company cotton socks, £12 © Ana Cuba
Loewe linen & calfskin Ballet Runners, £495
Loewe linen & calfskin Ballet Runners, £495 © Ana Cuba
Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello leather trainers, £420
Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello leather trainers, £420 © Ana Cuba

“Designer sneakers are the biggest growth area in our business,” says Thom Scherdel, menswear buyer at Browns Fashion. “People have accepted that the Stan Smith classic of old is now a McQueen or Givenchy version, and they buy it with the same regularity, despite the price difference. We have sneakers in our offering ranging from £100 to £1,000. This is the new landscape and customers are buying through all the price points.” Other high-end retailers are approaching their sneaker buys on similar terms. Mr Porter has introduced a monthly designer-sneaker drop, while END Clothing has implemented a draw system online for highly anticipated collaborations.

Louis Vuitton leather trainers, £820
Louis Vuitton leather trainers, £820 © Ana Cuba
Polo Ralph Lauren leather trainers, £105
Polo Ralph Lauren leather trainers, £105 © Ana Cuba
Hermès calfskin Avantage trainers, £640
Hermès calfskin Avantage trainers, £640 © Ana Cuba
Herno Gore-Tex trainers, £230
Herno Gore-Tex trainers, £230 © Ana Cuba

Luxe sneakers are still on the up. For sneaker aficionado and Soleful podcast co-host Jason Coles, there’s more to this year’s trainer renaissance than the phenomena of WFH and the “slob-chic” trend. “It’s important to remember that most of the world’s great fashion designers grew up while sneaker culture was in the ascendant,” Coles says. “Dozens of iconic designer sneakers out there today draw inspiration from 1980s or ’90s sportswear brands – it’s a nostalgia thing.” This makes sense amid the uncertainty of 2020 – we’re all looking for clothes that offer some sense of comfort and normality. Whether Anthony Vaccarello’s latest white sneakers for Saint Laurent, with their green heel patches (a reference to Stan Smiths), or retro side-striped pieces from the likes of Lanvin, Tod’s and Polo Ralph Lauren, designer brands are looking to the past. Even futuristic-looking sneakers such as Prada’s icy blue Techno Stretch recall the familiarity of models gone by.

Dolce & Gabbana knitted wool and leather NS1 sneakers, €595
Dolce & Gabbana knitted wool and leather NS1 sneakers, €595 © Ana Cuba
Dior suede calfskin CD1 trainers, £880. Edwin denim ED45 jeans, £150. London Sock Company cotton socks, £12
Dior suede calfskin CD1 trainers, £880. Edwin denim ED45 jeans, £150. London Sock Company cotton socks, £12 © Ana Cuba
Prada techno Stretch sneakers, £705
Prada techno Stretch sneakers, £705 © Ana Cuba. Photographer’s assistant, Georgia Coleman. Fashion assistant, Rosa Weait

“Sneakers that do have a kind of crazy ‘futuristic’ thing going on still reference the old greats,” Coles continues. “‘Dad shoes’ have become a huge thing too – chunky trainers that draw on retro running styles like the New Balance 992. The Balenciaga Triple S has a definite ’90s look to it, for example.” This rings true with another sneaker authority, Adam Lewenhaupt, the founder of Stockholm-based sneaker brand CQP. “I think the trend is reversing away from extreme styling to more of a ‘retro-future’ look,” he says. “Runner and hiker styles are strong at the moment and I believe they’ll continue to be strong into 2021. A couple of years ago, the big sportswear brands were dictating the direction of sneaker design and luxury brands tagged along. Now, lifestyle and luxury brands are starting to steer the trends.”

Coles’s podcast co-host, sneaker collector and DJ Kish Kash, has the last word. “High-end sneakers are only going to get bigger. When you can get a retro-looking sneaker that a designer has put their stamp on, it’s the perfect meeting of something old and something new.” 

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