American swimmer Ryan Lochte, whose Jeremy Scott for Adidas trainers were something of a sideshow during the recent Olympic Games, is not alone in his love of the fancy sneaker. Though the “designer trainer” may sound like a hangover from the late 1990s utilitarian fashion dominated by techno-fabrics and the red Prada Sport stripe, high fashion sport shoes have recently raced back on to the style agenda, especially for men.
For autumn/winter Jeremy Scott has created a silver version of the winged trainers (£155), and labels from Acne to Zegna have offered remixes on the classic trainer by cross-breeding it with a brogue (Acne glued air-pumped rubber soles to Chelsea boots, £400) or crafting them from ultra-luxe skins (Céline offers women Vans-inspired loafer trainer hybrids in python). The spring 2013 menswear shows saw Neil Barrett send out slip-on sneakers in bleached ponyskin, while Raf Simons kitted models in techy, elastic-strung sports shoes not a million miles from a Nike Air Max.
“In all the collections I have created there has always been the mix of formal and informal, sports and suits,” says Lucas Ossendrijver, head of menswear at Lanvin, which has offered deluxe sneakers in silk-satin and patent leather (£295-£520) for almost a decade. “I have always encouraged breaking with formality. At the time when I put sneakers with suits it was shocking for some. Now it has become accepted.”
Stacey Smith, menswear fashion buyer at London’s Matches boutiques, agrees. “I think the divide between formal and casual has become rather arbitrary – when you consider the quality of design, fabrics and finishing in these shoes, they are really on a par with their formal counterparts. And there’s something refreshingly contemporary about a tailored look with running shoes.”
Mixing sneakers with suits has become the norm. Pierre Hardy, the French shoe designer who creates styles for labels such as Balenciaga alongside his own brand, says many men have a “wardrobe” of sports shoes to dress up or down. Meeting demand, Hardy offers his signature high-tops in luxurious combinations of velvet and ponyskin as well as sporty neoprenes and perforated leather (£298).
According to Anders Sølvsten Thomsen, fashion director of LOVE magazine and avowed trainer aficionado, “Putting a trainer with a dress suit, Nikes with a Prada shirt and Lanvin trousers – gives it a bit of street cred.” Thomsen describes his shoes as “fashion trainers” and differentiates between pairs for sport and daily wear, although he says that New Balance and Nike Air Max (£80-£150) work for both.
“Luxury trainers account for a large part of our footwear sales, and it’s an area that continues to grow season on season,” says Stacey Smith, who buys training-shoe styles from the Pierre Hardy collection and labels including Christian Louboutin and Lanvin for Matches.
“Over the past few years they have progressed from a niche product to being considered a real staple.” Hardy confirms that 30 per cent of his men’s footwear sales are sneaker styles. (By contrast, trainers make up less than 10 per cent of womenswear sales.)
There is an oxymoron about the idea of the designer trainer – as Neil Barrett says, “When Nike does it so well, why buy a designer pair?” But he has an answer: they are “the alternative to the obvious.”