Colgate Couture frequently denounces sneakers as an acceptable choice of footwear, so this next statement may come as a bit of a shock: sneakers are an important aspect of fashion. Colgate Couture maintains that those practical, ordinary sneakers you wear to the gym or slip on to play a brisk game of tennis have no place on your feet or in this column; however, there exists a different breed of sneakers so fantastic that it spurred the evolution of an entire “sneaker culture.” Although they don’t frequent the runways of New York or Milan, sneakers are haute couture for the street-chic. Perhaps it started with Jeff Spicoli’s Vans checkerboard slip-ons or maybe Run-DMC and their laceless Adidas are to blame, but regardless of who’s at fault, today’s sneaker obsession is nothing short of a phenomenon.
Sneakers, or trainers as aficionados call them, exploded in the 80’s when Nike released a limited number of its new Air Force 1 basketball shoe. With revolutionary technology and a fresh new look, sports stars, hip-hop giants, and other urban icons dove feet first into these hot kicks. Then came Adidas Superstars, Nike Air Jordans and eventually, it wasn’t enough just to have a crisp pair of special edition sneaks; you had to have rare shoes with crazy colorways, the hottest new brand, high tops, low tops, celeb endorsed styles, the list goes on! Now, sneakers have become a sort of urban uniform that is telling of status, image and personality.
Sneaker culture revolves around wild trainers that boarder on ridiculous. Headz, as many sneaker fiends call themselves, will pay $2,500 for “box fresh” pair of vintage Jordans and spend countless hours scowering Soho boutiques for screaming color combos that will blow their peers away. An intense competition exists within this elite circle of sneaker connoisseurs and its members will do and pay anything to be on top.
With an increasing demand for flamboyant, unorthodoxly colored shoes, the focus shifted from squeaky-clean sports sneaks to more creative, highly stylized brands like the Japanese label, A Bathing Ape. Designer Tomoaki Nagao, nicknamed Nigo, founded Bape in 1993 and his Harajuku inspired “Bape Sta’s” were an instant hit. These thick-soled patent sneakers in color combos like electric green and fuchsia can be recognized by a cartoonish shooting star on either side and their overwhelming popularity helped to kickoff the recent influx of Japanese brands in New York and London.
Flashy colors, rare editions and high prices aren’t the only elements that constitute a snazzy sneak. This year, influential graffiti artists Kaws and Neckface both teamed up with Vans to create their own limited edition shoe that merged street art and poplar culture. Released just in time for “The Simpsons Movie” premier, each artist designed a “Chukka Boot” that combined his work with the beloved cartoon. Kaws’ white and baby blue crossbone-Simpsons Chukkas were especially popular and, due to their limited production (only 100 pairs were made), go for around $750.
So what does all this mean for mainstream fashion? Many luxury designers keep one ear to the edgy trends of urban culture and this has unquestionably presented itself in recent collections and collaborations. Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci and Prada all have a sneaker that bears an uncanny resemblance to old-skool Air Jordans or a pair of Vans. Stella McCartney for Adidas has become an extremely successful line and the recent collaboration between Alexander McQueen and Puma promises to turn a profit. Whether you’re a haughty high-fashion guru looking to take a break from your Jimmy Choos or a street-smart stylista trying to stand out, you might want to consider slipping your feet into some sneaks.