The only shoe dilemma faced by many men used to be deciding between black or brown but now, eye-catching footwear is opening up a brave new world of self-expression. “There are studs, sparkle, print and colour everywhere,” says Ed Burstell, managing director of London department store Liberty. “Men are now more trend aware – certain brands and styles hit the floor and they’re gone right away. They’re also prepared to spend more.”
Witness the rapper Tinie Tempah in Jimmy Choo glittery slippers (no socks), paired with a dinner suit; DJ Mark Ronson in rainbow hues; Kanye West in Christian Louboutin’s gold-studded men’s loafers, and Black Eyed Peas star Will.i.am, in eye-catching high-tops. Yet while musicians have always embraced the more outré side of footwear, now they are no longer an exception.
“We’re seeing a lot of customer interest in some men’s styles,” says Stacey Smith, menswear buyer for online retailer Matches. “Christian Louboutin and Pierre Hardy have waiting lists long before the product hits stores.”
Indeed, due to customer demand, Christian Louboutin is opening a new dedicated men’s footwear store on London’s Dover Street this autumn, following New York and Los Angeles locations this summer, and Jimmy Choo recently launched a dedicated men’s store in London’s Burlington Arcade. On the shelves at Louboutin there will be peacock-blue calf-leather brogues with decorative zipper detailing, gold-capped leopard-print slippers and golden-studded tartan fabric loafers (£795). At Jimmy Choo, expect to find ponyskin army-print loafers and purple and pink suede shoe-boots (£350).
Prada has created lace-up shoes decorated with appliqué leather flowers and studs, alongside two-tone lace-ups where the bottom half looks like it has been dipped in cherry-hued paint (£870 and £620 respectively). Alexander McQueen has floral embroidered slippers (£615), and Pierre Hardy is offering leopard-print brothel creepers (£300).
“The best men’s styles are now easily on a par with their womenswear equivalents in price and the use of more luxurious skins and finishes,” says Smith. “The secret is that they’re not too costumey. They’re fun but there’s real workmanship and quality materials,” says Burstell.
“‘Better-made shoes are more popular in general now,” agrees Toby Bateman, buying director at men’s online retailer Mr Porter, adding that hand-made classic John Lobb styles in particular are selling fast on the site.
However, Lobb’s handmade styles (around £600) offer years of wear while these new “directional” designs mimic the seasonal changes usually seen in womenswear and are thus a less reliable investment. Will they catch on with male consumers?
One place that is particularly resistant to passing trends is the City of London. Says one City lawyer: “I wore dark brown lace-ups as a change one week and those were considered ‘statement’ enough. I was mocked for weeks by my conservative colleagues, so I am not sure these would go down well. Perhaps in media …”
Another Lloyd’s broker adds: “I don’t think the commissionaires would let me in to the Lloyd’s building with them on and at the weekend my teenage boys say they wouldn’t let me leave the house in them.”
So why the sudden rush to bolder styles among the sartorially adventurous males? “There’s a growing confidence among male consumers, who are becoming increasingly fashion literate and ready to be more playful with their wardrobes,” says Smith.
The trend started in spring 2011 with Prada’s platform trainers, brogues and espadrilles, which became cult hits, and the reinvention of men’s slippers in opulent fabrics. The growing embrace of brothel creepers has also encouraged men to be more experimental.
“Trainers have also been a major driver,” says Burstell. “There’s been a huge string of statement, bright styles, which have been really popular, and worn by lots of famous people. It’s encouraged men to be braver. These rare styles also appeal to the collector in men, which we’ve seen with sneakers for years. Shoes have become another geek pursuit.”
At the same time, observes Bateman, “the statement shoe is much less scary than a statement jacket. Perhaps our bravery has migrated from our socks – it used to be these that the ‘classic’ man kept as their subversive bit of fashion and now it’s the shoe. A coloured shoe or a velvet slipper makes me feel slightly more rebellious.”