Sep 12 2013
Written by David Hellqvist
Generally speaking, bag mania is a female phenomena, and when a handbag is prefixed with an ‘it’ it means that particular bag is the most exciting accessory around at the moment. Women will queue for hours, spend thousands of dollars and put up with just about any hardship to get their hands on a Wang, Balenciaga, Céline or Dior bag. In menswear, rucksacks do not possess the same sort of iconic status. Instead we have trainers. True, shoes are also an object of desire for women, but when it comes to trainer-mania, men are pretty damn good at obsessing themselves. Last year there was a trainer expo in London and when writing a piece on it for London’s local newspaper, the Evening Standard, I spoke to Hannes Hogeman from Trés Bien. From a high-end retail point of view, he confirmed the potentially instantaneous impact trainers can have on his clients: “Certain shoes can sell out in minutes, even seconds. The most intense one for us so far was Nike’s Air Yeezy II. Our web shop was down for eight hours because of the amount of traffic,” Hannes confirmed.
So trainers sell and they sell in massive quantitates. A major player like Kanye obviously helps boost the desirability of them, but even if it’s ‘just’ a standalone Nike trainer, without the hip hop cred, there’s plenty of money to be made. First of all, trainers from the likes of Nike, adidas, Puma, New Balance etc are fairly affordable. Most people can pay round about $150 for a pair without breaking the bank. It’s also one of few men’s fashion pieces it is acceptable to own many of. Trainer heads and sneaker freaks are not looked down upon; it’s socially acceptable to collect trainers whereas if you, say, collected shirts a few eyebrows might be raised. It’s also ‘OK’ to collect watches. I suppose it’s because trainers and watches are more like gadgets than trousers and waistcoats.
What’s interesting to observe is how high-end fashion brands, normally not associated with a streetwear staple like the trainer, have really jumped on the bandwagon and are flogging trainers like their lives depended on it – which, quite ironically, is sort of the case. Because, just as trainers is the male equivalence of a Dior handbag, it also represent the Chanel lipstick and the Gucci sunglasses. It’s an entry-point purchase. It’s a (fairly) affordable way for a first time luxury goods buyer to get his hands on some ‘Made in Italy’ action. Add to that an enlarged logo and you are all of a sudden buying into an aspirational lifestyle.
Luckily not all brands go for the cheap thrill of an oversized logo – if anything, as customers get educated, it’s a dwindling trend – and today the high-end trainers are defined by design rather than marketing. It’s surprising how many Parisian luxury brands today have their ‘own’ trainer design, a calling card that instantly means their footwear is recognisable, not only on the catwalk but, more importantly, on the streets. Kris Van Assche has his laced high top boot, Lanvin is famous for its patent toe cap trainer in suede and Hedi Slimane’s Dior Homme managed to ring fence the retro look with his white low top trainers. Long before that, Gucci helped pave the way with their G logo trainer. The list goes on. Then we have the ‘proper’ shoe brands; high tops from Pierre Hardy, shoe trainers from Common Projects and Mr Hare’s Vonnegut.
Of late, though, we’ve seen a shift from high tops and traditional luxe trainers (leather, suede, gold etc) to a more sport-influenced style. It, of course, goes with the general high-tech tendencies on the catwalk (Gucci showed jackets with taped seams for SS14!) but few other garment types take it as far as the trainers. Look at the pictured ones. The Raf Simons one is the result of an adidas collaboration; big, clunky and a mixture of mesh and plastic, it’s an aesthetic smörgåsbord. The colour combinations are important, and so is the shape. These ingredients form the recognisable ‘garment logo’, they are what breed the desirability.
The pictured Lanvin trainer is, when inspected closely, almost identical. Instead of Raf’s mish mash of colours, Lucas Ossendrivjer went for a tasteful combo of different shades of orange. The visual impact is strong, this is a trainer that will be seen and it’s proud of its extravagance. The price tags is steep, these are not cheap. Still, many buyers still prefer a pair of trainers to investing in a shirt or trousers from these designers. But, when you think about it, you get more use out of a pair trainers; you can wear them seven days a week without anyone questioning it. The same can’t be said for a shirt. Lastly, going back to the hoarding of trainers, Hannes points out that not all customers buy trainers to flaunt them: “There’s a true collectors-aspect to sneakers since they come in different editions and models; collect, not wearing them, keeping the box, selling, exchanging – it can be done with most expensive things, including trainers”. True that.