Balenciaga’s Track sneakers in grey feature a special sole design that propels you forward for better ease of movement.
Chartering fashion’s obsession with sneakers from 20th century basketball icons to the latest designer catwalks.
If we had to choose the most powerful fashion trend of the last decade, sneakers would be the first to spring to mind. Trainers – casual, minimalist, chunky – have been riding a wave of momentum with no signs of slowing down.
Embraced by the designer set and hypebeasts alike, they’ve become the statement shoe of choice, spearheading the rise of athleisure, as well as a growing demand for pieces that look as good as they feel.
But when did the obsession with sneakers first take off? In the early 20th century, trainers were most often associated with athletes, particularly basketball players like Chuck Taylor, who was asked to design the iconic All-Star by Converse in 1921.
Their popularity grew alongside the sport but the major catalyst came in 1984. That year, Nike signed Michael Jordan for a five-year endorsement deal that included The Air Jordan. Modern sneaker culture arguably kicked off when the first pair of Nike Air Jordans dropped in 1985. Suddenly, sneakerheads surfaced across the market, hunting down hard-to-find sneaker models and colours.
In the luxury market, trainers made their first appearance on the runway in 1984. That year, Gucci released an Italian-made tennis shoe with its logo printed on the tongue, becoming the first designer to embrace trainers.
In 1996, Prada debuted the streamlined Prada PS0906, an athletic yachting shoe. Then in 2002, Jeremy Scott and Yohji Yamamoto teamed up with Adidas to reinterpret two of the sports company’s earlier models – the first of many collaborations between high fashion and heritage sneaker brands.
Lanvin, Rick Owens, Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin all began flirting with the concept of luxury sneakers in the mid-2000s. Louis Vuitton even went so far as to enlist Kanye West with designing a collection in 2009, which was an immediate hit.
The most influential catwalk moment came in 2014, when the legendary Karl Lagerfeld held a Chanel couture show in Paris where models strutted down the runway in ethereal, bejewelled dresses paired with bespoke sneakers.
Lagerfeld’s pairing of couture – fashion’s most exclusive craft – with trainers was hailed as a different kind of breakthrough. Sneakers could not only be a luxury item; they were now officially high fashion pieces worthy of the red carpet.
In the intervening years, sneakers have become a fixture in nearly every brand’s footwear collections. Countless collaborations between creators, designers and sports companies have followed – Adidas x Kanye West’s Yeezy 750 Boost, released in 2015, is perhaps still one of the most coveted to this day while Adidas by Raf Simons has also been a major hit.
As is often the case with fashion, trainers have only got bolder and more playful over the seasons. In 2017, Balenciaga launched its wildly popular, super clunky Triple S model, paving the way for the affectionately nicknamed ‘ugly sneakers’ (also known as ‘dad sneakers’). Featuring thick double or triple soles, curvy lines and neon colours, the flashy shoe has since become ubiquitous, championed by celebrities, models and more and more designers.
Meanwhile, Gucci’s Flashtreks, Prada’s Cloudbursts, and Calvin Klein 205W39NYC Caramene metallic shell and rubber sneakers were some of last year’s most popular iterations.
And on the 2019 runways? Sneakers continue to evolve. They popped up at Valentino with detachable feathers, while Stella McCartney introduced a new line of chunky platform trainers with vegan leather, and Tory Burch showed off canvas numbers with contrast laces and soles. Simply put, designers are flexing their creative muscles with beloved trainers as the muse.
The next frontier might even see sneakers reinvented as formal shoes. Earlier this year, classic shoemaker Roger Vivier introduced the Viv’ Run, a semi-wedge featuring the brand’s signature diamante buckle and inbuilt heel that’s decidedly sportier than its regular pumps though certainly not made for running.
Not to be outdone, R · SANDERSON debuted ALKE this summer. The collection showcases athletic-inspired, customisable point-toe flats and heels that reinterprets the concept of trainers through a bold and fluid design, cushioned in-soles, and luxurious materials like suede, patent, calf, nappa and plexi with perforated detailing – all juxtaposed with the brand’s iconic 24-carat gold leaf heel.
The brand called it “the first athelegant footwear” – and it very well could be the future of sneakers.
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