Athleticwear has long been a dominant trend, but as seen on the couture runways in Paris this week, the rise of sneakers in high fashion has reached breaking point. At Chanel and Christian Dior, Karl Lagerfeld and Raf Simons, respectively, sent models out in ball gowns. And couture-worthy kicks.
The beginnings of the designer sneaker boom began in 2003 with Y-3, the street-inspired collaboration of Adidas and designer Yohji Yamamoto. Since then, designers, musicians and artists pushed athletic footwear forward into the high-end space—Kanye West and Reebok; Chanel and Adidas; Junya Watanabe and Nike and now Riccardo Tisci and Nike, to name a few. More recently is the trainer’s noticeable impact on womenswear.
First on the street, with style It-girls such as Julia Sarr-Jamois, Jenna Lyons and Vika Gasinskaya pairing kicks with dresses, cropped trousers and romantic skirts—and then on the runways. At the spring 2014 shows, Marc Jacobs, Karen Walker and ICB all showcased sneakers in their looks, and high-fashion houses—Valentino, Céline, Balenciaga, Lanvin—have followed suit with cult-inspiring versions of a traditional sporting shoe.
The slip-on sneaker is one of most popular silhouettes to have been re-interpreted. Remember Céline’s pony-hair and snakeskin slip-on? (Also of note: Phoebe Philo’s preference for pairing sneakers with tailored suits.) “Women are excited to wear sneakers—they’re now a staple in their closet,” says Ashley Ahwah, Category Manager for Vans, the pioneer of the classic slip-on. “We have seen tremendous growth within our women’s line, and it has been exciting to see how our consumer has connected with our brand more than ever before.”
Traditional sneaker brands are also, er, stepping up their game, offering more collaborations, DIY options and fashion-forward designs. “We have the ability to use so many different materials, so the sky is the limit in terms of aesthetics and feel,” commented Kai Marcucelli, Lifestyle Design Manager for New Balance. “We typically work a little over a year in advance so it is very important to follow the pulse of the fashion world.”
Perhaps it won’t be long before the well-heeled sport a pair of Valentino’s Rockstud sneakers or Nike Air Max 1s at their next black-tie event.
Right: Looks from Chanel and Christian Dior spring 2014 couture