How High Fashion Elevates Sneaker Culture

Streetwear, fashion, and the sneaker world are more connected than ever, and that's great.

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Image via Complex Original
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As self-proclaimed “sneakerologist” Matt Powell said: “We are in a permanent state of Sneaker-ness.” The idea that growing up and dressing boring are correlated is false. The accessibility of the Internet, the democratization of fashion, and the rise of the “no collar” job means that “looking good at work” is more complicated than ever. And thanks to stores like MR PORTER, Trés Bien, and Need Supply, the same guy who’s into selvedge denim and oxford shirts can easily cop Common Projects, adidas collaborations, and coveted Nike Tier Zero releases. Sneaker culture and men’s fashion have come full circle, and as always, real recognizes real.

What’s changed most about the growing cross-section between sneakers and style is that the reason guys want shoes so bad isn’t so much because of cultural context as because they simply look cool. The athletic records and performance aspects of a sneaker can get broken or rendered obsolete, but what you can’t take away is a sincere appreciation of form.

Public School x Generic Man Hi-Top Trainers. Image via Public School.

I spent the first tax return I ever got on a pair of black Alden 405s.  I loved those shoes for a plethora of reasons, but mostly because of the same types of things that attracted me to the Black/Royal Jordan 1s. There was that pop culture relevance—Harrison Ford wore them as Indiana Jones, earning them the “Indy” nickname, giving them new life beyond their work boot origins. In the same vein, skaters like Lance Mountain and rockers like Slash took a pair of basketball shoes and gave them all the subcultural street cred usually reserved for beat-up Chuck Taylors.

High fashion’s obsession with sneakers isn’t all about gentrification; it’s about legitimation, too.

But here’s the thing, even though I’m fortunate enough to have witnessed Jordan’s heyday and was reared knowing who Stan Smith is (my dad’s a tennis nut), for the longest time, I didn’t know Chuck Taylor was anything but a shoe, I just thought they looked good. In 2007, I spent the better part of my time trolling message boards like SuperFuture and StyleForum, where dudes would wax nostalgic about everything from Dior Homme denim, to Band of Outsiders oxfords, to Cloak jacket buttons. Menswear blogs didn’t exist in the way they do now, and while I was no stranger to NikeTalk, these places elevated clothing to a different level, appreciating it not from the mindset that dressing well helps you get promoted at work or more attractive to women, but rather that thoughtfully-made clothes that looked good were already worthy of admiration.

Common Projects B-Ball High sneakers. Image via Totokaelo.

That’s why when I look at Common Projects B-Ball Highs, Public School x Generic Man’s Jordan-inspired Hi-Top Trainers, or Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy High-Top Ankle Strap Sneakers (pre-Nike collab, mind you), I don’t see overpriced knock-offs, I see a world I used to aspire to finally speaking my language. When I first encountered the Black/Red and Black/Royal versions of the SL-10H high-tops, I could hear Kanye’s voice in the back of my head screaming: “It’s been like that for a minute, Hedi Slimane!” High fashion’s newfound obsession with sneaker culture isn’t all about gentrification; it’s about legitimation, too.

Dudes have always rocked Dior jeans with Jordans, wore Louis Vuitton with Air Force 1s, and Slick Rick was putting Bally shoes on the map since the late ‘80s. No one’s going to question Kanye West, Jay Z, or A$AP Rocky’s sneaker cred, and Public School designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne are well-versed in the world of hip-hop style, cutting their teeth at Sean John. So it’s no surprise that they’d design a sleek shoe that pares down the silhouette of the Jordan 12 “Playoffs,” or that they could sneak a pair of Jordan V “Oreos” into a J. Crew editorial.

adidas by Rick Owens Tech Runner. Image via adidas.

On the flipside, they aren't the only fashion designers with a passion for sneakers, either. And when brands like adidas tap Yohji Yamamoto, Rick Owens, Raf Simons, and Mark McNairy for special collaborations, it's a win-win. Fashion heads get a more accessible, lower-priced designer creation, while sneakerheads get put up on some of the most lauded designers in the industry. The success of the Nike + R.T. collection, Converse x Margiela collaboration, and consistently good A.P.C. Nike collaborations speak to the growing synergy between the two rabid fanbases. Again, this isn't necessarily a new thing, (remember Marc Jacobs' six seasons of Vans collaborations?), but when cult brands like Engineered Garments and Comme des Garçons start getting a piece of the pie, and Jordan Brand cuts into the market with the luxury-priced Jordan Shine that riffs on Bottega Veneta's signature Intrecciato woven leather, it shows how big the pie has become. 

Don’t get it twisted: for every poser, there are even more pioneers, people who aren’t afraid to willingly exist in both worlds as a sneakerhead and menswear nerd. As sneaker culture gets more mainstream and continues to stratify into specialized markets, it's important for its participants to respect the O.G.'s without feeling like they can't put their own unique spin on things. The "where'd you get those?!" moments still happen on the daily; they just happen more on Instagram and Tumblr. And while that cross-over segment is by no means dominant (yet), it's not hard to imagine that a few years down the line, kids will be breaking their necks trying to ID a pair of Margielas like they would a pair of Foams.

Givenchy High-Top Ankle Strap Sneakers. Image via Barneys.

Saint Laurent SL/10H High Tops. Image via FarFetch.

Nike + R.T. Air Force 1 Collection.

Vault by Vans x Engineered Garments collection. Image via Engineered Garments.

A.P.C. x Nike Air Max 1. Image via A.P.C.

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