Michael Jackson managed it with socks. JFK made it work while playing golf. OJ Simpson immortalised it during his infamous murder trial. And now Leonardo DiCaprio sports it throughout the upcoming film The Wolf of Wall Street.
I refer, of course, to the loafer. But while the classic preppy shoe has always had its own quiet brand of glamour (and enjoyed a surge in popularity among frequent fliers when airport scanners began requiring the removal of footwear), it is undergoing something of a hipster rebirth. More Shoreditch than Newport, today’s slip-on is a twisted classic. And it’s everywhere.
Men’s e-tailor Mr Porter offers 44 different loafers from 17 designers including John Lobb, Acne, Church’s and Saint Laurent Paris – 12 per cent of the site’s total spring shoe buy. At Selfridges, loafers make up 15 per cent of its total assortment, with more than 30 options for the Gucci horsebit loafer alone.
“Men are increasingly open to trying an alternative to a more formal shoe – for example in a new colour or an exotic material that can be worn from day to evening,” says Frida Giannini, creative director of Gucci, whose horsebit loafer turns 60 this year. Paired with every look at their recent autumn/winter menswear show, loafers came in such incarnations as pastel suede and studded leather.
Meanwhile, at Fratelli Rossetti, which introduced tassels to loafers in the late 1950s, the brand’s iconic Yacht loafer (£216) has been reimagined with a more tapered silhouette, coloured soles and special distressed leathers. Likewise, Dries Van Noten, Carven and Alexander McQueen all showed opera-pump styles to wear by day, while Tom Ford, O’Keeffe and Ermenegildo Zegna gave the look an elongated European shape. Ford paired his soft version with a slightly narrower, shorter trouser and pale-coloured socks inspired by Cary Grant.
“For me, the ease of the loafer felt right,” says Ford, who chose to feature a trio of loafers in his spring ad campaign: the Henderson for day, the Grant for swim, and an evening loafer in patent leather for night (£710-£800). The same goes for Jimmy Choo, which will open a men’s store in London on Dover Street this spring, and whose creative directors Sandra Choi and Simon Holloway showcased the Radnor loafer (£425) with kilty detail and a slightly louche 1970s vibe exclusively in the ad campaign (though the d’Arblay loafer, which has the silhouette of a burlesque woman engraved on its penny, is already attracting fans).
Choi has indeed bet on the loafer’s resurgence. “The driving shoe has been hugely popular, and now people are looking for a more tailored and substantial style,” she says.
Phil Russo, vice-president of design at Cole Haan, currently at no. 1 in the premium loafer market in the US, agrees. The brand has attracted a new generation of brand loyalists by combining heritage with innovation, such as remaking the classic penny loafer. See, for example, the Air Monroe (£126), which takes traditional hand-stitched moccasin construction and combines it with Nike Air technology in reflective shades of orange, black, silver and blue.
“With one loafer in the right colour,” says Russo, who owns 35 pairs (12 of which are Air Monroes) and wears loafers a minimum of three days a week, “you can get pretty far.”