Haute footing it (Financial Times How to Spend it)

The rise and rise of the luxury sports shoe – an item designed without a single moment’s physical exertion in mind – continues to be one of the most seductive aspects of modern men’s fashion. From the rarefied Parisian houses of Hermes and Louis Vuitton to the rock and roll edge of Rick Owens and Comme des Garçons and the expert tailoring of Zegna, the glam “sneaker” is an integral part of every international collection, and an ever more desirable part of the sophisticated male wardrobe. You might have all the smart black shoes you could ever need, but you’ve always got room for a new pair of trainers.

Christian Louboutin and Todd Lynn A/W 2011

Sitting in his south London studio, surrounded by sketches and mood-boards for his autumn/winter 2011 show, Todd Lynn – famed for his work with U2 and his edgy leather- and fur-infused garments – is looking at pictures, emailed from Christian Louboutin, of the men’s leather lace-up trainer boot (or indeed “hi-top”) that will accompany his new collection on the catwalk. It’s black, with a sturdy, prominent tongue and a chunky buckle on the rear. This will be Lynn’s third men’s collaboration with Louboutin. ‘It’s a back and forth conversation,’ says Lynn of the design process. ‘I start by showing them drawings of the clothes, the fabrics, colours and concept finishing. We’ve been trying to encapsulate the idea of a boot, something that’s less trainer-like and something that lives in the realm of a casual life as well as dressing up.’ Sitting on Lynn’s desk is a Louboutin-emblazoned box with a pair of dark grey Spacer boots (£745) from the current spring collection. Cut high on the calf, they are remarkable for their straps and buckles, reminiscent of sci-fi paramilitary, and the sumptuous nature of the suede and construction. ‘They’re very luxe,’ says Lynn, turning the boot over to reveal the iconic red-flashed Louboutin-logoed sole. ‘If you’re going to work with a shoe brand, who else is there? Christian is the best.’

The collaborations with Lynn sell exclusively at Christian Louboutin’s London store, but there is also an expanding range of Louboutin men’s trainers, from simple, immaculate, black, seven-hole-high ankle boots – the Louis (£445) – to a black suede trainer with silver mirrorball-style embellishment  (£1,795) that sell in his stores worldwide, as well as online in the US. Sitting at his desk in his Paris office on a weekday afternoon, Louboutin wears his own-brand black trainers, adorned with silver spikes, reminiscent of punk leather jackets from the 70s, or Prince’s trenchcoat circa Purple Rain in the 80s. ‘These are actually inspired by the spikes underneath a runner’s shoe, but I’ve put them on top,’ he says. For this spring, there is also a colourful check, ‘inspired by the jerseys that the rugby player Gareth Thomas used to wear when he was in Toulouse.’ Design flourishes aside, Louboutin’s shoes have, as you’d expect, a flawless integrity of their construction. ‘You might not notice the quality of what we do initially, but it’s in the details,’ he says. ‘For instance, when we cut the dyed leather, we colour the exposed horizontal seam to match. The sports brands wouldn’t do that.’

For many men, it’s the reassurance of quality that sees them turn to their favourite designers for off-duty footwear, rather than the high street sports stores. ‘It’s a huge growth market,’ says Neil Steptoe, head buyer for Kurt Geiger and responsible for the stock in Liberty’s men’s shoe department which, alongside the likes of Barneys in New York, the new Sneaker Space at Dover Street Market in London and Oki-Ni online, is a standout source for the best new lines. ‘The customer wants the casual feel of a trainer, but wants it from a luxury brand. Lanvin, Dior, Margiela and McQueen stand out for design and materials. Dries Van Noten’s sneakers fit with a sophisticated look perfectly. Even Zegna and Ferragamo have got involved. And hi-tops have seen a resurgence, with Lanvin really pushing the look.’

Lanvin’s range, which includes a mid-high gold-sheen sneaker with a python body and python-covered velcro ankle tab (£945 online), is big on textile and colour. ‘Texture is extremely important,’ says Lanvin’s menswear designer, Lucas Ossendrijver. ‘When it’s interesting, it makes you want to touch it, so it becomes intimate. And the sneaker is an easy accessory to make your wardrobe less formal and more personal.’ Lanvin even have silver cufflinks in the shape of their hi-top trainers for spring.

The hi-top, basketball-style boot has been reworked repeatedly in high fashion circles over the last few years. This season Louis Vuitton have a crisp white Tao Sneaker Boot (£475) in white suede calf leather. Rick Owens first produced his graphic, cartoonish boot in 2004, and for this spring’s Anthem collection there’s a chunky military-style all-black version (£600). It’s simple, muscular and very wearable. ‘I always hated athletic shoes for being too conformist,’ says Owens. ‘But in LA I liked how gangs used them to anchor oversized T-shirts and shorts in an almost minimalist, kabuki way. And I needed something more stylized myself – I go to the gym every day and I don’t like changing clothes. I’ve worn nothing else since I introduced them into my collection. I think the basketball shoe is the contemporary corsage – a confection as fanciful as a woman’s hat in the 1940s, or a man’s pocket handkerchief, camouflaged to appear functional.’

Rick Owens S/S 2011

Maison Martin Margiela has included a sport shoe in its ‘22’ footwear collection since 1999, and introduced the now perennial hi-top (£340) in 2006. There is virtually no branding on the boot, which is distinguished by the prominence of the laces, lashed and bound across the top of the tongue. Margiela also produce several varieties of a retro-classic trainer that’s a replica of a ‘found’ military exercise shoe from Austria in the 1970s. A white hand-painted version (£270), with rough painterly marks on it, is the epitome of the Margiela artisanal style, while the unpainted version (£255) is simple and chic.

For the man unaccustomed to wearing sports shoes for anything other than jogging or squash, it’s those simple and chic lines that are most appealing. Just as wearing Abercrombie & Fitch logoed items over the age of 25 is risible, so a garish shoe is difficult to carry off if you favour a smart, minimalist, monochrome wardrobe.  Instead, head to Hermes, for their single-tone velvet goatskin Tie Break shoe (£530), with the brand’s H discreetly incorporated into the lacing, or to Etro, which, similarly, uses its first initial as the main design element for its tan and olive reworking of the classic, prosaic, flat-soled sneaker (£360), as well as a more ornate paisley-print version. Similarly simple is Comme des Garcons’ Play Converse All Star plimsoll collaboration (£90), with a unique eye and heart emblem, and Calvin Klein Collection’s new-season soft-grey hybrid of smart casual shoe and running shoe, with a clear injected rear sole (£196).

The shoe/trainer crossover has been developing for several seasons. Much of Prada’s output blurs the boundary completely and Zegna’s Hamptons Line laced sneaker (£295), coloured navy or brown, in a sophisticated grained calf, has an upper front half that’s very close to formal footwear. This seasons Adidas’s Y-3 range includes an actual shoe (£265) and desert boot (£275), incorporating the sporty cues from the rest of the range – a narrow, bright orange stripe in the heel, and black perforated leather panels. Y-3 has, under the design auspices of Yohji Yamamoto, been a runaway success for Adidas – the distinctive three stripes are a common, yet irreverently reworked, visual denominator, and its all-black football-style Field Classic (£190) with overlapping tongues, introduced in the first Y-3 collection, has become a modern classic. The style is sporty, but still has the austere, intellectual Yamamoto design pedigree. ‘I’ve felt for a long time that there should be “sportswear” for my kind of people,’ says Yamamoto. ‘I’ve done this job for 28 years, and I feel like I’ve done everything.  With Y-3 I said to myself, Yohji, you must have fun.’

One of the most influential casual (‘sporting’ would be far too gauche a term) footwear brands in the luxury market today is undoubtedly Common Projects, who have also been edging into the ‘real shoe’ market. The brand launched in 2004 with two uniquely stark styles – the Achilles Low (£230) and basketball-style Achilles Mid (£240), each in white, black or grey. Both were boldly utilitarian, marked unobtrusively with the size and style in discreet modernist letting on the side. ‘We wanted to create shoes for the summer for ourselves,’ says co-founder Peter Poopat. ‘Myself and Flavio [Girolami] weren’t into labels, so Dior Homme wasn’t for us, but we still admired quality.’ The result may be the most versatile footwear ever – a black pair could pass muster where there’s a ‘no trainers’ dress code and you could still take them to the hotel gym if you packed in a rush. The handmade-in-Italy quality is also amongst the best on the market.

Common Projects x Zero+Maria Cornejo S/S 2011

For this spring, Common Projects collaborated with the New York designer Maria Cornejo, feted for her stark, elegant and architectural designs under the moniker of Zero + Maria Cornejo. For her nascent menswear line, Common Projects produced clean-lined, graphic, two-tone, laceless slip-ons ($380). They are serious, stark and sophisticated, but fiercely modern – perfectly in tune with the Zero + Maria Cornejo design philosophy, and her target customer. ‘I like to think that a lawyer or an architect can wear these shoes with his suit to the office,’ says Cornejo. ‘They’re supposed to be a part of the everyday wardrobe.’ They’d certainly be a functional addition to any collection of trainers. And there are men, of course, who have amassed quite a collection.

One of the reasons why many men can count 20 or 30 pairs of trainers in their wardrobe while having just five or six pairs of shoes is that the sports shoe has more scope for difference and design joie de vivre. It’s absolutely fine to own a pair of jaunty red trainers, even if they’ll only make infrequent forays out of their box, but a pair of wild, bright red shoes? Not so much. As Louboutin says, ‘A lot of men, myself included, buy trainers by instinct. They just can’t resist them and they don’t have to be in any way “useful”. I’m trying to inspire the same feeling with my men’s trainers that women have when they try on my skyscraper high heels. They should be thrilling.’


Calvin Klein Collection, 654 Madison Avenue, New York 10065 (+1 (212) 292 9000; www.calvinklein.com) and stockists.

Christian Louboutin, 23 Motcomb Street, London SW1 (020-7245 6510; www.christianlouboutin.com) and branches/stockists.

Comme des Garçons Play, see Dover Street Market.

Common Projects (+1 (646) 257 4103; www.commonprojects.com) and stockists.

Dover Street Market, 17-18 Dover Street, London W1 (020-7518 0680; www.doverstreetmarket.com).

Etro, 14 Old Bond Street, London W1 (020-7495 5767; www.etro.it) and stockists.

Hermes, 155 New Bond Street, London W1 (020-7499 8856; www.hermes.com) and branches.

Lanvin, 32 Savile Row, London W1 (020-7434 3384; www.lanvin.com) and branches/stockists.

Liberty, Regent Street, London W1 (020-7734 1234; www.liberty.co.uk).

Louis Vuitton, 17-20 New Bond Street, London W1 (020-3214 9200; www.louisvuitton.com) and branches/stockists.

Maison Martin Margiela, 22 Bruton Street, London W1 (020-7629 2682; www.maisonmartinmargiela.com) and branches/stockists.

Oki-Ni (020-7608 9186; www.oki-ni.com).

Rick Owens, 64 South Audley Street, London W1 (020-7493 7145; www.rickowens.eu) and branches/stockists.

Y-3, 317 West 13th Street, New York (+1 (917) 546 8677; y-3storeadidas.com) and at Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street (0800 123 400; www.selfridges.com).

Ermenegildo Zegna, 37-38 New Bond Street, London W1 (020-7518 2700; store.zegna.com).

Zero + Maria Cornejo, 807 Greenwich Street, New York (+1 (212) 620 0460; http://www.zeromariacornejo.com).


One Response to “Haute footing it (Financial Times How to Spend it)”

  1. […] here to see the original: Haute footing it (Financial Times How to Spend it) « MARK C.O'FLAHERTY Tags: calvin-klein, london, madison-avenue, […]

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