Features

Published: Tuesday June 3, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday June 3, 2014 MYT 9:04:50 AM

Guys step up for fashion

In his shoes: For men, 2014 has seen a number of new, covertable sneaker styles arrive in stores. - AFP

In his shoes: For men, 2014 has seen a number of new, covertable sneaker styles arrive in stores. - AFP

There is a ready luxury market for men who have come to fetishise sneakers the way women lust for heels.

THE windows of Colette, the cool Parisian boutique, attract the attention of passersby the way pastries do elsewhere in this city.

This season, the wall of men’s sneakers, now a mainstay in the store’s side-street facing display, seems to have caught the most eyes.

Here sit rows of tricked-out tennis shoes: from Vans in limited edition Star Wars prints; to Raf Simons’s colour-blocked designs for Adidas; to Buscemi’s handcrafted leather high-tops embellished with a strap and 18-karat gold lock system that resembles an Hermes bag. Price: RM3,350 (which could buy more than a dozen pairs of Converse All Stars).

Buscemi isn’t even a year old and already the Los Angeles-based brand has claimed its place in the rarified circle of status-symbol sneakers. But then, 2014 has seen a number of new, covetable styles arrive in stores and just as quickly sell out, from the R.T. collection for Nike by Givenchy’s creative director Riccardo Tisci to Simons’s take on the iconic Stan Smith. By fall, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West will unveil their designs for Adidas – and both are generating as much anticipation on fashion and sneaker blogs as just about any new album.

Indeed, in the past few years, many designers, musicians and visual artists (see: Tom Sachs’s NikeCraft Mars Yard shoe from 2012) seem to have collectively decided to channel their creative energies into the humble sneaker. In part, they are aware there is a ready luxury market for men who have come to fetishise sneakers the way women lust for handbags and heels. (Unlike women’s fashion shoes, sneakers do not adhere to seasonal cycles, which helps explain why the flow of new releases seems without pause.)

(Left) Nike sneakers by Givenchy's creative director Riccardo Tisci. (Above) Recently, Adidas relaunched its 'mi adidas' sneaker customisation.
Nike sneakers by Givenchy's creative director Riccardo Tisci. – AFP

Now, more than any time in the history of sneakers – which date back to the invention of vulcanised rubber in the mid-19th century – we are witnessing a confluence of high and low, accessible and exclusive styles, including reissued models (the 120-year-old Bata tennis shoe, the Adidas Stan Smith circa 1965), directional styles (Tisci’s Air Force 1s for Nike), discreet niche offerings (Common Projects, Buttero) and pioneering permutations (the Nike Air Jordan Future Premium with its reflective 3M basket weave pattern).

For Jon Buscemi, who entered the sneaker business more than a decade ago at the skater brand DC Shoes, the all-around interest and acceptance of sneakers represents a cultural shift in fashion.

”The customer for this product is very, very influenced by culture and his surroundings and newness,” said Buscemi in a telephone interview, comparing his creative process to the way a star chef would deconstruct a familiar dish. “I don’t think men necessarily want to go too far out of their comfort zone, design-wise. But you can enhance with materials and accessories so you get a sophisticated, reinterpreted classic.”

Of course, the notion of wearing sneakers off the court is nothing new: whether the 1970s-era Nike Waffle Trainers worn to Studio 54; Yohji Yamamoto’s early designs for Adidas; or Prada’s PS0906, which made their debut in 1997 and became instantly popular among arty types, various styles have made the leap to style signifier.

Colette’s founder and creative director Sarah Andelman thinks that fashion sneakers have become a “social phenomenon” and that the standouts become favorites as much for their design object aesthetic as their functionality.

”What did they wear before?” she mused from the store’s lower level cafe, days after the unveiling of Tisci’s Nike sneakers prompted a line that snaked onto the sidewalk. Colette receives two or three new releases each week and often has brands create exclusive products for the store that incorporate its signature royal blue colour.

“Les Baskets are the one area where you can play more because there is the suggestion of sport, yet you are also dealing with technology,” said the designer Pierre Hardy using the French term for sneakers. This season, he has referenced Roy Lichtenstein and Op Art in his eye-catching designs while also continuing his formal men’s collection. “You can be a bit futuristic, a bit pop culture,” he said. Guys appear undaunted; Hardy said his sneakers currently represent 77% of his men’s wear business.

Recently, Adidas relaunched its 'mi adidas' sneaker customisation.
Recently, Adidas relaunched its 'mi adidas' sneaker customisation. – AFP

Thanks largely to editorials in men’s fashion magazines – GQ featured a roundup of the season’s best in its March issue, declaring high fashion sneakers a “full-on invasion” – there are few occasions today where sneakers are off limits.

Elizabeth Semmelhack, who curated a show on sneaker culture at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, said the trend represents part of a larger movement toward men’s self-expression. “Sneakers are enfranchising men into the fashion system without posing a threat to their individuality,” she said.

Dirk Schoenberger has been the creative director of Adidas’ Sport Style division since 2010 and can largely be credited with thinking outside the athletic shoe box. Still, he insists that his vision has never been to stray too far from the brand’s DNA. “I didn’t come here to turn Adidas into a fashion company,” he said from Berlin.

”No matter how far people might think we go from our core,” he added, the designers “came to us to make a sport shoe.”

For Schoenberger, the impact of enlisting a diverse roster of collaborators is “the influence that they have on the brand without overhauling the brand,” he said. “Some work much more closely to the heritage; some take parts of the heritage and transform it into something new. But it still stays Adidas no matter what they do.”

With its distinctive split sole, the Vicious sneaker from Owens certainly stands at the space-age end of the spectrum. “I used to dislike them for their banal conformity until I realised they were ripe for corruption; once I decided to almost parody them, they became essential to me,” he said by email.

Simons said that his industrial background informs the way he thinks about sneakers – and that the collaboration with Adidas gave him new insight on the technical considerations. “I don’t like to ‘style’ sneakers, like most brands do,” he explained an email exchange. “For that reason, I can learn from Adidas. But the method is in the context of high fashion, not in the context of performance only, so both parties learn from each other.”

Buscemi said his namesake company took nearly 15 years to conceive in part because the market needed to reach the point of being ready for such a high-end, high-priced item. “I think the category has been there but the capability for this men’s luxury sneaker is just in the infancy stages.”

Which is why Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum is convinced that the current critical mass is far more significant than simply some flexing of fashion muscle. “For me, it’s a harbinger of larger cultural changes coming down the pike.” – International New York Times

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, sneakers, designer brands, fashion

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